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Entries in Clayton Kershaw (13)


Which Pitchers are Really Getting Squeezed?

Earlier in the week we took a look at which pitchers have been squeezed the most based on total pitches called balls within the PitchFX established strike zone.  While it appeared that pitchers like C.J. Wilson (TEX) and Jon Niese (NYM) have been getting a tight strike zone, the truth is that these pitchers tend to stay around the strikezone with the majority of their pitches.  In fact, C.J. Wilson leads the league in called strikes within the strike zone:

(Data from all 2011 games through May 10th)

So in reality, while pitchers like Wilson do lose a lot of called strikes on the borders, it's mostly a product of the volume of pitches they locate there.  In fact, through Tuesday, Wilson was leading all pitchers in total called strikes, regardless of location, with 194.

If we really want to see which pitchers have had a tough time getting calls from umps, we need to look at the percentage of called strikes out of all taken pitches within the strike zone.

 (Data from all 2011 games through May 10th - Min. 40 taken pitches in the strike zone)

Wilson still cracks the top 50, but he's far from the most squeezed pitcher in the league.  Mariners' closer Brandon League is not getting the majority of close calls so far this season.  The league average for called strikes in the PitchFX defined strike zone has been around 77%, meaning umpires have called 23% of pitches in the zone balls.  Of course, the majority of these are borderline pitches as the following graphic shows:

All MLB Called Balls in Strike Zone
(Click to enlarge)

League's missed strikes consist of 18 pitches, the majority of which were thrown to the bottom of the zone.  Batters have taken only 42 total strike zone pitches against him, so his "squeeze rate" is mostly a product of small sample size.  However, when we filter the list down to starters....

(Data from all 2011 games through May 10th)

Among starters, Wilson and Niese still near the top of the list of pitchers getting squeezed. And perhaps Nelson Figueroa would still be pitching in Houston if we had robot umpires.

So we've seen which pitchers have not gotten the majority of close calls so far this season.  In an upcoming post, we'll look at pitchers that have benefited most from expanded strike zones.


Young and Old Dodgers

Hiroki Kuroda and Clayton Kershaw are two Dodgers pitchers off to good starts in 2011.   Kershaw plays 2011 as a 23-year-old fireballer.  Kuroda, at 36 can still strike out batters, but he depends much more on working the count.

Look at Kershaw's pitch location by count (click graphic for a larger image):

Clayton Kershaw pitch location by count, 2008-2011.Clayton always goes after batters in the strike zone.  Even on 0-2, when most pitchers waste one, Kershaw hits the strike zone quite often.  His wOBA goes way up with three balls on the batter, but that's where the walks happen.

Now look how the mature Kuroda approaches each count:

Hiroki Kuroda pitch location by count, 2008-2011Notice how Kuroda moves away from the middle of the plate as he gets closer to two strikes, and into the plate as he approaches three balls.  Unlike Kershaw, Hiroki can't over power a batter on any count.  He wants them to chase balls when he's ahead, and hit the plate when he's behind.  The pitchers use different approaches that play to their strength and weakness, but both are effective in getting batters out.


The Three Strikeouts of Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw started the season with 17 strikeouts in 13 innings pitched.  He's maintain a high strikeout rate throughout his career, as he uses three main pitches to knock out batters:



Clayton Kershaw with two strikes, career.
Statistic Fastball Curve Slider
Pitches 1549 494 383
Plate Appearances 734 194 198
Strikeouts 273 110 126
K Pct. 37.2 56.7 63.6


While Kershaw's fastball results in a high number of Ks, his curve ball and slider are much more efficient at delivering the punch out.  Part of that comes from the change in movement.  Kershaw's fastball does not drop as much as expected:

Clayton Kershaw, career fastball movement with two strikes.His curve and slider both drop quite a bit:

Clayton Kershaw, career movement on the curve and slider.The curve drops a little more and stays show less lateral movement.  The three pitches show a great separation in speed as well.  In the following graph, you can see the speed, as well as why each of the pitches is effective (click graph for a larger image):

Clayton Kershaw, batters swinging with two strikes.The fastball doesn't fool batters.  When they swing at Clayton's fastball, they can see it's a strike, and they make contact often.  Often enough, however, they don't make contact and go down swinging.

The slider comes in around 81 miles per hour.  Like the fastball, batter do a good job of recognizing the pitch as a strike, but with the good movement, they make contact much less often.  The slider is his swing and miss pitch.

The curve ball is the pitch that fools batters in multiple dimensions.  They swing a lot less at the curve, and when they do it's less likely to be a strike in the first place.  With fewer swings, the curve can be dropped over for a called strike three.  While batters make more contact against the curve than against the slider, they make less contact than against the fastball.  When batter are swinging at pitches out of the strike zone, even making contact will often result in something good for the defense.

With three pitches capable of getting a batter, Kershaw keeps hitters guessing.  Three different speeds and three different movements means lots of strikeouts, and less pressure on the Dodgers defense.

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