It was quite the Opening Day for Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers reaped the benefits with their Opening Day win over the San Francisco Giants. He’s now 8-3 with a 1.20 ERA in 90 innings against them since the start of the 2011 season.
Let’s run through the accolades.
The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that Kershaw was the first pitcher in the Modern Era (since 1900) to hit a go-ahead home run in the eighth inning or later of an Opening Day game, and the second pitcher to throw a shutout AND homer in a season opener, joining Hall of Famer Bob Lemon (a one-hitter for the 1953 Cleveland Indians against the Chicago White Sox).
He was the first pitcher to hit a go-ahead homer in the eighth inning or later of any game since Mike Hampton did so for the 2001 Colorado Rockies and the first to throw a walk-free shutout in a season opener since Rick Rhoden (a prolific homer-hitting pitcher who didn’t hit one that day) for the 1988 Pittsburgh Pirates.
How unlikely was the home run?
Kershaw entered the day with one career extra-base hit ( a double vs Jake Westbrook) in 261 at-bats. This one traveled 414 feet off the bat to centerfield.
Entering Monday, Kershaw’s 332 career plate appearances with 1 or fewer XBH was the 3rd-most among active players. Oliver Perez has the most career PA with 1 or fewer extra-base hits (396), then Barry Zito (375) among active players.
How well did he pitch?
Game Score is a metric created by Bill James that measures the quality of a start. Every pitcher begins with a score of 50 -- points are added for getting outs (with a bonus for strikeouts), and subtracted for baserunners and runs allowed. The typical MLB average is 49 to 51.
Highest Opening Day Game Score
Dodgers Since 1958
Kershaw had a Game Score of 86 vs the Giants, the highest by a Dodgers pitcher in an Opening Day game since the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958, thus higher than any start by Dodgers legends such as Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Don Sutton.
Kershaw was dominant throughout, netting misses on 31 percent of swings against him and retiring 14 of the 15 hitters against whome he got a two-strike count.
Kershaw’s breaking pitches were very effective, netting 13 outs, including six of his seven strikeouts.
And how valuable was he?
Win Probability Added (WPA) measures how much a player helped or hurt his team's chances to win based on the results of all his plate appearances/batters faced and base stealing attempts, given the context of the game.
At the start of a game, each team is given a 50 percent chance to win, so by the end of the game, the winning team will have added 50 percentage points in total and the losing team will have lost 50 percentage points.
In total, Kershaw added 75 percentage points to the Dodgers chances of winning today (50 points with his shutout pitching effort and 25 points with his hitting - the 8th inning go-ahead solo homer added 29 points), meaning that the rest of his team combined to provide negative 25 percentage points to the winning effort.