Sullivan: A moment of not taking Clayton Kershaw for granted

From Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs on May 15, 2013:

The first memory I think a lot of people have of Kershaw is a curve he threw to Sean Casey in 2008 spring training. Granted, people were familiar with him before as a draftee and as a prospect, but the Casey curve turned into a baseball viral video before those things really took off. A lot of people knew what Kershaw was about, but this pitch provided visual evidence. This pitch made Vin Scully temporarily lose control of his restraint, at the beginning of March. This pitch earned a Scully nickname before it had ever once been thrown in the major leagues.

And that curveball has never not been dominant. The usage pattern has fluctuated, but, well, Kershaw’s career aligns nicely with the PITCHf/x era. He broke in in 2008, and his pitches have always been easy to classify. So we have basically a complete history of Kershaw’s pitching, broken down by pitch. According to Brooks Baseball, he’s allowed dozens of home runs off of his fastball. He’s allowed 17 off of his slider, and three off of his infrequent changeup. He’s allowed one home run off of his curveball, ever. He’s thrown almost 2,000 of them. It came in the 2009 playoffs, meaning Kershaw has never allowed a curveball home run in the regular season. The curveball homer was hit by Matt Holliday, and he was out in front of the pitch, barely leaving the yard. Even this curveball wasn’t confidently blasted.


I was asked in my most recent FG chat about my favorite kind of baseball play to watch. Few things, to me, can top a rangy shortstop making a play way to his right or left. Like everybody, I’m fond of a good clobbered home run, and I’m a sucker for a high fastball that’s cut on and missed. But I melt at a sweeping, perfectly-located curveball. It’s when I find baseball is most like an art form, and no one’s curveball tickles my senses quite like Kershaw’s does. At least not nearly so consistently.

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Originally published: May 15, 2013. Last Updated: May 15, 2013.