<
>

Is there anything wrong with Clayton Kershaw?

I wanted to dig a little deeper into Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. There's really no need to panic. After all, he leads major league starters with a 32.7 percent strikeout rate. He leads the majors in strikeout rate minus walk rate. In looking at a couple of advanced metrics, he's first in xFIP and SIERA.

However, advanced metrics don't keep actual runs off the scoreboard and Kershaw has a 3.72 ERA through his first six starts. He's allowed five home runs in 38.2 innings after allowing just nine in 198.1 innings in 2014 and 11 in 236 innings in 2013. So this could be something; it could be nothing. It could be just a couple of extra fly balls leaving the park and a few extra bloopers falling. But maybe it is something. You never know. The man, after all, has had an ERA under 2.00 the past two seasons. The only starter since the deadball era with three seasons with an ERA under 2.00 is ... Sandy Koufax.

Home run No. 1: Paul Goldschmidt, April 11

Pitch: 0-0, 85-mph slider

Pitch count: 99th pitch

One reason Kershaw's strikeout rate spiked last year was improved velocity on his slider, from 85.8 mph in 2013 to 88.1 mph in 2014, according to Brooks Baseball. This home run was against an 85-mph slider that looked a little flat, low and middle-in that Goldschmidt lined out to left-center.

Home run No. 2: Troy Tulowitzki, April 17

Pitch: 1-2, 93-mph fastball

Pitch count: 44th pitch

You can see the catcher setting up inside, but this fastball was right down the middle and Tulo yanked it down the left-field line, just a couple rows into the stands at Dodger Stadium.

Home run No. 3: Charlie Blackmon, April 17

Pitch: 3-2, 95-mph fastball

Pitch count: 77th pitch

This was a great at-bat by Blackmon, reminiscent of Matt Carpenter's big double in the playoffs last October. Blackmon fouled off three 3-2 pitches -- two fastballs and a slider -- and then Kershaw tried to blow a high fastball by Blackmon.

Home run No. 4: Buster Posey, April 28

Pitch: 0-0, 92-mph fastball

Pitch count: 42nd pitch

Once again, you can see the catcher setting up inside, but Kershaw left the first-pitch fastball middle-up and Posey teed off, just clearing the wall in left-center.

Home run No. 5: Hector Gomez, May 4

Pitch: 0-0, 94-mph fastball

Pitch count: 82nd pitch

For the third time, we see the catcher setting up inside and Kershaw leaving the pitch out and over the plate.

Of the five home runs, four came against fastballs and three came on 0-0 counts. Three just looked like poor location, the slider to Goldschmidt was just a bad pitch from a guy on his 99th pitch. Blackmon's home run was the one pitch that Kershaw probably delivered where he wanted; Blackmon just beat him. The Tulowitzki, Blackmon and Posey home runs didn't clear the fence by much, so there's some bad luck.

That said, batters are having more success early in the count against Kershaw, hitting .407 and slugging .852 when putting the first pitch in play, compared to .291 and .464 a year ago. Of the 27 balls in play against Kershaw on a 0-0 count, 24 have been fastballs. That's similar to last season, when 105 of the 114 first pitches in play against Kershaw came against his fastball, so that doesn't necessarily suggest batters have been more aggressive against the fastball. They just haven't been missing.

When Kershaw gets to two strikes, he's still been dominant, although not quite as dominant:

2014: .114/.147/.178

2015: .141/.212/.269

The home run to Blackmon was the first he'd allowed to a lefty with two strikes since 2012.

Overall, Kershaw should be fine. He's made some mistakes and got a little unlucky with some of the fly balls leaving the park. After Monday's game in Milwaukee, he told reporters, "I don't feel like answering questions right now. I don't want to analyze it right now. Thanks." He did apparently apologize for his terse response but it speaks to his frustration level.

I suspect he'll figure it out and get that pinpoint command back and go on a big roll soon enough. Until then, opponents better take advantage while they can.