Since his first full season in 2009, Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw has inarguably been the most dominant pitcher on the planet.
Among pitchers who have pitched at least 1000 innings since 2009, Kershaw ranks first in ERA (2.25), first in WAR (56.5) and fourth in K/9 (9.94). These numbers do not just point to his being the greatest pitcher of the current era, they also squarely place him among the greatest pitchers of all time.
Despite his nearly decade-long streak of dominance, one black mark still stains his otherwise immaculate slate of achievements: Clayton Kershaw has been average in the postseason. The 4.55 ERA he carried into the 2017 postseason was approximately double his career ERA, and the narrative surrounding his October mediocrity saw pundits questioning his makeup, as he has seemed utterly incapable replicating his regular season form in crucial postseason games.
Mainstream sports media is very clear on the idea that to truly be considered one of the greatest to ever play the game — no matter the sport — athletes must perform in high-pressure situations.
The reality is, despite the narratives that swirl whenever Kershaw steps in the mound in October, he has performed in high-pressure situations. The totality of his postseason performances creates a somewhat false representation of the way that he usually pitches in October.
For example, Kershaw allowed two or fewer runs in seven of his postseason starts prior to 2017, and across 89 postseason innings from 2008-16, Kershaw struck out 106 batters. Kershaw’s “stuff” has obviously not suffered in the postseason; instead, his numbers have been slightly inflated due to his pitching on short rest and pitching through injuries. When these factors are considered, his actual postseason numbers do not fall as far below his expected numbers, so the notion that Kershaw is a terrible postseason pitcher has always been false.
The idea that a mysterious mental block inhibits his success has now been thoroughly disproven, as in the 2017 postseason, Clayton Kershaw has looked like, well … Clayton Kershaw.
He boasts an ERA of 2.96 and has held opposing hitters to a paltry batting average of .174. In Game 1 of the World Series against the Houston Astros, Kershaw scattered three hits and one run across seven impressive innings. Houston struck out the least of any team in the regular season, but Kershaw managed to sit down 11 Astros via strikeout.
After his World Series debut, Kershaw, always seeking perfection, stated, “I made a few mistakes, obviously Bregman got me, then threw one down the middle to Correa that he popped up; that could’ve gone a long way, too. So for the most part, though, I’ll take it.”
One reason for Kershaw’s dominance in 2017 could be the Dodgers’ bullpen. Relief pitchers Brandon Morrow and Kenley Jansen each have a sub-one ERA this postseason, and Kershaw’s knowledge that he can comfortably hand the game over to his bullpen likely helps give him some peace of mind on the mound.
If the Dodgers win the 2017 World Series, Clayton Kershaw will have cemented his place among the greatest starters in baseball history.