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Clayton Kershaw has 5 walks, so we need to study them

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It's May, and Clayton Kershaw has five walks on the season. It's May, and Clayton Kershaw has five walks on the season. It's May, and ...

Clayton Kershaw, first of his name, breaker of spirits, father of curveballs, has faced 309 batters this season. All of them came up with hopes and dreams of reaching base. All of them wanted to help their respective teams. Of those 309 batters, 51 got a hit. Of the remaining 258 batters, five drew a walk.

One way to put it is that five times out of 309, Kershaw failed. He had a goal, and he could not realize that goal. He let five hitters reach first base without even putting a ball in play. Even I could do that.

Another way to put it is, ha ha ha, it's May 31, and Clayton Kershaw has five walks. Someone sneezed while writing the code to his season, and we all have to pretend like this kind of season is actually possible. We're in the middle of one of the greatest stretches of individual pitching in baseball history, and it shouldn't keep getting better, but it does. Here are some pitchers who have had five-walk games this year:

  • Madison Bumgarner
  • Dallas Keuchel
  • Felix Hernandez
  • Bartolo Colon
  • Patrick Corbin
  • Danny Salazar
  • Adam Wainwright
  • James Shields
  • 38 other different starting pitchers

Some of them are All-Stars, Cy Young winners, and rotation leaders. They all had games where they just couldn't find their release point and walked five batters or more. Or, to be precise, as many walks as Kershaw has allowed all season in 86⅔ innings.

It's time to explore these walks. It's time to study them for future generations. What does it take for Clayton E. Kershaw to allow a walk in 2016?

Walk No. 1: Yangervis Solarte, Start No. 1, April 4

It's Opening Day, and you don't know what kind of season Kershaw is going to have. You think you know. You have educated guesses. There's no reason why the brilliance shouldn't continue. But there's a reason why Greg Maddux is golfing and Pedro Martinez is broadcasting. There's a reason why Randy Johnson is more concerned with camera equipment than baseball equipment. Time wins. Entropy wins. Decay wins. Every damned time.

So, even though you know, instinctively, that a walk is just a walk, Kershaw's BB/9 for the young season is suddenly 5.4. Why, that's the kind of walk rate that would lead to think pieces and analyses. It would be a wait-'til-next-year season, with an offseason of worrying. Maybe he'd walk a batter in the first two innings of next season, too, and the horrors would start up again. Never underestimate the silent worries of Opening Day.

I mean, your mind starts racing when Kershaw throws an awful pitch like this:

Uh ...

That, from Brooks Baseball, suggests that not only was it a strike, it wasn't an especially borderline strike. It just had too much movement, and it wasn't received convincingly enough for home plate umpire, Gary Cederstrom.

This is a theme that will be repeated.

What Vin Scully was saying:

You may remember an outfielder by the name of Roger Cedeno. Roger is Solarte's uncle.

Walk No. 2: Hunter Pence, Start No. 2, April 9

This is easily my favorite walk of the bunch, and not just because I'm a raging Giants homer. You'll see why in a bit. Then it will be your favorite walk of the bunch, too.

This was the only one of the five walks that I watched live, and it came in a game where Kershaw was vulnerable. It's not just that he allowed homers to Madison Bumgarner (!) and Ehire Adrianza (!!), but he was missing with location throughout the day. Brandon Belt hit a ball that would have been out in 29 other ballparks, and there were far more line drives than you regularly see in a Kershaw start.

It was one of those eight-inning, two-earned run outings where the pitcher really had to work around his partial dominance.

I mean, look at these awful, wild pitches. Here's the first one:

Clearly a ball. Cough. Hunter Pence should get all of those calls, really. Oh, sure, if it wasn't a ball, then why didn't your fancy broadcasting tools pick up on it?


It was away from the target, though, so Brian O'Nora was reacting to the glove of A.J. Ellis more than the pitch being right down the freaking middle. And that's when Kershaw started getting really wild.

Ha! Clearly high by at least two inches. Maybe one.

Ugh, who is this, Nick Neugebauer throwing with his left arm?


This is the only four-pitch walk of the season for Kershaw. Do you want to see what it looks like, according to Brooks Baseball?

I love this.

It should have been a three-pitch strikeout, according to the lasers. Now, I think Pence has a bit of an exaggerated crouch that made the second pitch a clear ball. No one is going to call it, and it's not like the lasers are a perfected technology. But the plot still makes me giggle. One of Kershaw's five walks was a gift. By all rights, he should have just four.

What Vin Scully was saying:

Sadly, he didn't make the trip, so we'll never know. But he was almost certainly watching the game and telling a story about Pence's grandparents to the orchid on his coffee table.

Walk No. 3: Freddie Freeman, Start No. 4, April 21

Left-handed hitters are hitting .REPENT/.YE/.SINNERS against Kershaw this year, so it's probably not much of a surprise that it took him four starts to walk a lefty. This is a different kind of walk, though, because the other two came within the first two innings of a game, when he was just getting warm. This one was in the bottom of the eighth inning, when he was already over 100 pitches, and it came in a 1-1 game.

It was the first walk where there wasn't a blown call mixed in.

Of Kershaw's five walks, four of them came with two outs. This is the most understandable of the lot, as Freeman is one of the only Braves hitters with an inkling of power. In the eighth inning of a tie game, discretion is the better part of valor.

Adonis Garcia was the next hitter, and to his credit, he lined a single to right field, moving Freeman to second. That brought up Tyler Flowers, and you can probably guess how that worked out for the Braves.

What Vin Scully was saying:

It was on the road. No Scully.

What the author is saying right now:

You call this a technologically advanced society, and you can't even teleport Scully to the road games? What's on the moon? Rocks. Dust. Nothing important, really. What did the Manhattan Project give us? Bombs. Death. Fear.

All of those billions, all of those millions of hours, spent on projects fueled by geniuses beyond compare, and we're still stuck using long plane flights that discourage our older heroes from traveling.

I'll bet Wakanda would have figured out a way to get Vin Scully to games on the East Coast.

Walk No. 4: David Wright, Start No. 8, May 12

Between Freeman's walk and Wright's plate appearance, 89 batters went up to the plate against Kershaw. Four of them got to a three-ball count. None of them walked. Twenty-nine of them never saw a single ball in the at-bat.

After a first-pitch fastball that missed, Kershaw threw two fastballs up that Wright almost clobbered.

Does a healthy Wright get to those pitches? Eh, seems unfair to speculate with any certainty, but Kershaw wasn't going to mess around and find out. The next three pitches weren't especially close, with Kershaw trying to thread a tiny needle. It was so tense, Bartolo Colon couldn't even watch.

There were two outs, of course. And notice that these are mostly name-brand hitters. This is what it takes for Kershaw to walk people: Him being careful in a situation where a walk isn't going to kill him. He's pitching, in other words. Just like we should have suspected.

What Vin Scully was saying:

And we get to the reason why this addendum is at the bottom of each section. Scully is a master.

My only regret in this world is that Scully doesn't narrate every aspect of my waking life.

SCULLY: Grant, prone to reading too much into innocuous, well-meaning comments from his co-workers, is about to step in it here for no reason.

ME: Oh, yeah, I shouldn't do that, good point.

Walk No. 5: Joey Votto, Start No. 1, May 23

A walk to Joey Votto should count as a half-walk on a pitcher's record. I mean, if we're going to adjust stats like OPS+ and ERA- for park and league averages, there's no way we should blame a pitcher entirely for walking Votto.

This walk is notable because you can totally see Votto breaking an unwritten rule.


And it's as if Ellis can feel it, because he looks up right after Votto looks away. Tsk tsk.

Like the Pence walk, this one is notable because Kershaw probably didn't deserve it. The second pitch didn't have to be called a ball.

Neither did the sixth pitch, which led to the walk.

Let's check in with Brooks Baseball again:

Two of those pitches could have been called strikes, with the 3-2 pitch looking like a strike with my naked eye the first time I watched it. The tie went to the batter with the great eye, though. This was the first leadoff walk that Kershaw allowed all season. It was the only leadoff walk that Kershaw has allowed.

It's also the fifth walk, you know.

On the very next pitch, Brandon Phillips grounded into a double play, and that brings up another hilarious factlet about Kershaw's season. Of the five walks, not one of them has come around to score. The two-out walks have something to do with that, but it's still amazing. We're two months into a baseball season, and there's a starting pitcher who hasn't allowed one of his walks to score.

What Vin Scully was saying:

Meanwhile, Joey Votto, the Kid from Canada, checking in. Johnny Bench and Joey Votto have the most three-home run games in Reds history, and they both did it three times.

Clayton Kershaw has walked five batters this season. It doesn't get less unusual to type that.

J.T. REALMUTO: Hey, what about me?

Sorry, kid. He did that on purpose. It's against the unwritten rules to bat while using an alias. Doesn't count.

Now while we know that this kind of in-depth look means that Kershaw will walk six batters in his next outing, for the time being, we can appreciate just how awesome his season has been, in the truest sense of the word. His pitching should evoke awe. It is filled with things that should evoke awe.

Kershaw is, quite literally, awesome.