Four Clayton Kershaw Facts That Might Amaze You

Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches against the Houston Astros in the fourth inning at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

For whatever reason, Clayton Kershaw strikes me as being relatively underappreciated despite being totally awesome. So here are four things about him you might find amazing. (Might.)

In a Thursday matinee against the Milwaukee Brewers, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw earned himself a win by spinning eight shutout innings. He didn't walk anybody, he struck out six dudes, and he became just the 16th visiting pitcher all season to earn a win in Miller Park. It was, suffice to say, an impressive and dominant effort.

And it was just the latest dominant effort from a guy who's turned into a reliably dominant pitcher. Kershaw is obscenely good, and still, for reasons I don't understand, he doesn't seem to get his due attention. I know people are always talking about players who don't get enough attention, and it can be an empty statement, because how do you measure attention? But with Kershaw, I think he is generally underappreciated. I don't think enough people know enough about him.

So I'm going to try to make a dent. A very little dent. What follows are four things about Kershaw you might find amazing. You might not, maybe because you already knew them, but if this post reaches just one person, then I've done my job. More of the country needs to learn about Clayton Kershaw.

(1) He's one of the best starting pitchers in baseball
Might as well start out with the biggie. Among all starters this season, Kershaw's strikeout rate ranks number one, ahead of Brandon Morrow, Justin Verlander, and everyone else. He has a lower walk rate than James Shields and Josh Beckett. He's allowed just 13 home runs. He averages just one fewer out per game than Roy Halladay. By ERA, he's near the top, and by FIP and xFIP, he's even closer. Yes, Kershaw does pitch in the National League. Yes, he does make his home starts in a run-suppressing environment. But those things aren't the reason why Kershaw is so incredible.

(2) He's cut his walk rate in half
When Kershaw first came up in 2008, he walked 11 percent of the batters he faced. The next season, that jumped all the way up to 13 percent. He improved a year ago, and this season, his walks are all the way down to six percent. A hair above six percent, to be fair, but still. People always talk about young pitchers continuing to improve in the major leagues, but it doesn't always happen, and seldom do we see improvements like the one Kershaw's made. Ubaldo Jimenez still walks a lot of guys. Edinson Volquez still walks a lot of guys. Jonathan Sanchez still walks a lot of guys. Kershaw doesn't. Kershaw made The Leap.

(3) He's 23 years old
March 19, 1988. That's when Clayton Kershaw was born. To underscore how young he still is, here is an incomplete list of players who are older than him:

Jeremy Hellickson
Aaron Crow
Tommy Hanson
Brandon Beachy
Colby Rasmus
Cameron Maybin
Andrew McCutchen
Asdrubal Cabrera
Dustin Ackley

Kershaw is four months older than Stephen Strasburg. He's a year and a half older than the guy who just got selected second overall in this summer's amateur draft.

(4) He has basically replaced his curveball with a slider
This is only really amazing if you were familiar with Kershaw when he was younger and then kind of stopped paying attention. When Kershaw first came up as a top prospect, he was known for his absolutely terrifying curveball, which Vin Scully famously nicknamed Public Enemy Number One. It was expected that Kershaw would ride his mid-90s fastball and impossible curve to a long, successful major league career.

Well, he's well on his way to having a long, successful major league career, but it isn't because of his curve. Some pitch usage data, courtesy of FanGraphs:

Kershaw curveballs thrown

2008: 23.0%
2009: 16.8%
2010: 7.0%
2011: 4.6%

Kershaw sliders thrown

2008: 0.3%
2009: 6.9%
2010: 19.6%
2011: 24.0%

Over time, Kershaw has elevated his game, and over time, Kershaw has dramatically increased his slider usage. He hasn't phased out the curveball entirely, and he still throws the occasional changeup, but these days he's mostly fastball/slider, and he's pitching better than ever.

His slider, by the way, looks like this:


So, yeah.

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