Clayton Has to Change for the Dodgers to Win!

I was stuck on the tarmac in Houston for three and a half hours Monday evening so I pulled out my Kindle and re-read “The Best Team Money Can Buy” by Molly Knight, and a few things really jumped out at me. But the biggest one is that  Clayton Kershaw is a creature of habit… maybe borderline OCD.  On the days of the games he pitches, he has a very precise schedule or routine and order in which he does things, in fact it is nearly to the minute on much of it.

  • Pregame strategy with Rick Honeycutt is 5:15 to 5:30;
  • Heat packs are placed on his shoulder, elbow and back at 5:58;
  • At 6:20 he walks into the dugout;
  • He starts warming up at 6:23;
  • He starts playing catch at 6:40; and
  • on and on!

This is what has made him great… his obsessive attention to detail and hard work.  His pre-game routine is the same EVERY GAME!  But Molly Knight goes on and writes this:

“Most starting pitchers develop a game plan based upon the weaknesses of the hitters they face that night, but it is subject to change.  Greinke, for instance, pitches by feel:  he corrected course and bounced ideas off A.J. Ellis in between innings.  Not Kershaw.  Since his strengths typically beat a batter’s strengths, once his game plan was set he didn’t often deviate course.  ‘We’re like the pit crew’, said Ellis.  ‘He comes to us when he needs something, otherwise we don’t interfere.'”

Clayton Kershaw’s greatest strength is also his greatest weakness. He develops a game plan, and due to his immense talent and ability, he can usually execute it to a successful completion… except for maybe the playoffs.  Never let it be said that he chokes – nothing could be further from the truth, but in the upcoming series against the D-Backs he will have a game plan that will be somewhat similar to former game plans against the D-Backs and if (BIG IF) he has his best stuff, he will execute his pitches and shut out Arizona.

… except, when he doesn’t always have his best stuff!  If Clayton doesn’t have his best stuff and  does not deviate from his game plan, then it could be a long night.  As a creature of habit, Clayton may not deviate from his former pitching patterns which have been scouted ad nauseum by the Diamondbacks.  This could be his undoing.  Clayton needs to evolve in order to get the playoff monkey off his back.  In 1988, with a 3-2 count, Kirk Gibson “knew” that Dennis Eckersley was going to throw a “backdoor slider, pardner” and he feasted on it.  If Dennis Eckersley had thrown a fastball, Gibby would have been an easy out, but Kirk knew what was coming and was ready for it.

With all of the scouting and film now available, hitters have a good idea what Clayton is going to throw them.  Recently, I have suggested that the Dodgers have deliberately pitched certain ways in August and September so as to obfuscate what they will do in October.  I don’t know that for sure, but I believe it to be true.  Time will tell. What I can tell you, is that for the Dodgers to be successful, Clayton Kershaw has to win all his starts.  He is the best pitcher in baseball and to maintain that title, he has to change things up.  He has to make batter-to-batter and inning-to-inning changes.  He has to do something he has he has never done before. He has to step out of his comfort zone and change his pattern of pitches.

See, here’s the thing: If a hitter knows what is coming, he has a 30% to 60% chance of hitting it.  Change it it!  Clayton doesn’t have to go seven or eight innings, even though that would be great!  He just has to own the D-Backs and he has the ability to do it.  Clayton has to step out of his comfort zone, his routine, his game plan, and his pattern and that factor alone can win this series for the boys in blue!

Clayton Kershaw has to go against the grain and pitch in sequences like he has never done before.  FAZ is smart.  They should know this too.  I’m just reminding them… you know they read this every day!

Posted by Mark Timmons

We started LA Dodger Talk in 2001. This site is about giving another perspective outside of the average day-to-day reporting. We don't do game recaps or such things -- lots of sites do that well. I value sabermetrics, but don't think they are the "end-all-be-all.". This is where you should start your day as a Dodger Fan. Welcome! We'd like to hear your voice.

This article has 56 Comments

  1. Great article Mark. From your lips (errrr….finger tips on the keyboard) to Clayton’s mind. Dirtbags going to be tough I think.

  2. Here’s what I’m watching for Kershaw. Is he too amped up. Is his fastball at 95+ instead of working at his usual 91-93. Same with his slider. It’s much more effective at 87 than a flat one at 90 mph.

  3. I agree with you Mark and Hawkeye. Every day is different for an athlete. If it is a normal day Kershaw will be at 93 for his fastball and 87 for his slider. However, not every day is normal. Good athletes realize this quickly when they do not have their good stuff and adjust. This is what I fear the most about Kershaw. He does not like to adjust quickly. Second, he wants to pitch 9 innings. He wants to get ahead of the batter. Quite often his first pitch is a fastball right down the middle. He needs to change this up. In the play offs you need to go as hard as you can for 6 innings and let the bull pen finish it off. If you do not trust your bull pen , we will not win the WS.

    1. Idahoal

      I agree with you, that Kershaw should make sure he is not giving hitters first pitches, that can easily be hit out.

      I think all of our pitchers, need to watch there first pitches, because the Dbacks got a lot of there hits on first pitches, the other night.

      And they did that to almost every pitcher, that came into the game, so even Morrow should be watching his first pitches!

      And I am only mentioning Morrow, because I have seen a couple hitters, jump on his first pitches, at the end of the season!

      And I agree with you, that the seventh inning has been Kershaw’s biggest vulnerability, in the post season.

      But you have to remember that Roberts left Kershaw in to long in the seventh inning last year too, so I hope Roberts learned something from what happened last year, with Kershaw.

      Because remember, Roberts finally brought Baez into the game, after Kershaw loaded the bases in the seventh against the Nats, and Baez’s first pitch, hit the batter, and brought in a run!

      We were very lucky that we came back, and won that game!

  4. Last night I watched the Cleveland game. Bauer had a shut out for 6 innings and he was taken out. The bull pen finished the game. This is how play offs are managed differently. Mattingly never trusted his bull pen. He let Kershaw go too long several times. It was not good. The Yankees had their starter out of the game before the first inning ended in the WC game. With the days off in the play offs, your bull pen pitchers should be able to go one inning every game. The bull pen will win or lose the play offs for us.

    1. Good takes, and having used both Greinke and Ray to win the WC game we get the gift of Walker for Game 1. Almost all of the regulars have hit Walker although small sample sizes except 2B and LF, however Joc was 4 for 8. On the flip side NONE of the DBacks have hit Kershaw except Iannetta and in 1 game Martinez. Goldy is at .238 in 42 AB’s, Pollack .226 in 31 AB’s etc. Jake Lamb has NEVER faced him. Advantage Dodgers, whether Kersh changes anything or not. Why mess with success? I do agree he needs to mix up his 1st pitch selection. Grandal will go tonight hitting .375 off Walker and knows the pitcher well while Barnes has never faced him.

      I believe Ray goes Sat and will be available for a Game 5. Greinke goes Mon against Darvish and Godley on Tues against Wood although most of these starters have not been announced, just how I see it. I attended a game earlier this season between Godley and Wood and it was a 1-0 Dodgers victory at Dodger Stadium. Both pitchers fell off a bit in the second half. Rarely has a Game 1 been such a must win for the home team. I agree the bullpens will be a big factor and the Dodgers is far superior.

  5. More than any other athlete, baseball players are creatures of habit and of superstition. These things lead to confidence which lead to performance on the field. To put it one way, I don’t want Clayton Kershaw to change the things that have made him great. If he has to do the same thing the same way before he pitches, and that gives him comfort and confidence, why change it? I remember Wade Boggs started eating chicken each day when he had a good game in the minors after doing so and he never changed it in a Hall of Fame career.

    Second, I don’t think that Kershaw should be expected to unveil a new pitch for the playoffs. And why should he? If pitching the way that he does has made him the best pitcher of his generation, why would you ever change it? Steve Carlton didn’t suddenly stop throwing his slider in the playoffs; Koufax didn’t change his pitching patterns in the World Series.

    As to the criticism of Kershaw by Idahoal (Kershaw is too focused on getting ahead in the count) in a study by Craig Burney in The Hardball Times in 2004, the author established the importance of getting strike 1 with the 1st pitch. The statistical findings? Only 7.3% of pitches thrown for 1st pitch strikes were hit for base hits, and for the rest of the at bat, the batter’s chance of a safe hit dropped from .266 to .239. I agree that you don’t want to become too predictable, but one of the reasons that Kershaw is great is his great control and his ability to keep runners off base as a result. (his WHIP is the lowest of the modern era as a result – it is actually 1.0 currently.)

    Others on this board have claimed that post-season success is totally random; i have argued that it is not, but for those who think that it is, why would it be random for a team but not for an individual player?

    1. Rick

      Kershaw has given up HRs at a much higher rate this year, and I don’t know how many of those HRs were on one of his first pitches, but it seems like a lot, but I could be wrong.

      And that is probably why Idahoal is concerned, with Kershaw’s first pitches!

      Also if you watched that Dbacks and Rockies game the other night, the Dbacks got a lot of there hits, on first pitches.

      And they have a couple of players, that are hitting at an astronomical rate, on first pitches, just like Corey use to do.

    2. The Dodgers, like all other teams, are built for a 162 game schedule. Teams start adding at the trade deadline to plan for the playoffs. Some help…some do not. The intent is to get to the playoffs. The reason many of us say the playoffs are a crapshoot is because any single player can get hot in the playoffs and dominate or change the outcome by one single at bat. Let’s revisit Game 4 2008 NLCS. Dodgers leading Phillies 5-3 into the 8th. They win this game and the series is tied at 2 games each. Shane Victorino hits a two run HR off Cory Wade in the 8th to tie, and then Matt Stairs hits a pinch hit 2 run HR off Jonathan Broxton to put the Phils up by the final score 7-5. During the season, this game means 1 loss, but in a 7 game series, this changed the dynamic from a 2-2 series to a 1-3 series. Or in 2014, Madison Bumgarner was unworldly. MadBum is a great pitcher, but not as great as he was in 2014. Or Rookie Michael Wacha beating CK twice in 2013 NLCS. Who is considered the better pitcher, Wacha or CK? We all the answer, but not in the 2013 NLCS.

      .
      Teams need to lean on their stars in the playoffs. Clayton Kershaw is considered the best pitcher in his generation for good reason…because he is. But not in the playoffs. CK has started 14 games and has a WL record of 4-7. The team did win all three of his no decision games. So for 14 starts, the team is 7-7 (certainly not Kershaw like). His regular season ERA is 2.36 and his WHIP is 1.002, while his playoff ERA is 4.55 and his WHIP is 1.157. Of his 14 starts:
      .
      0 runs – 1
      1 runs – 3
      2 runs – 2
      3 runs – 3
      5+ runs – 5
      .
      All that being said, there is not another pitcher I want on the mound pitching for my team other than Clayton Kershaw. Other than JD Martinez, the DBacks as a team do not hit lefties well, and CK is not a “normal” lefty. Just as there was no doubt in my mind that CK would win Game 6 of 2016 NLCS, I fully expect a win today. I am proudly wearing my #22 jersey today so that all of my Giants buddies can get upset. I have already had three middle fingers extended in my direction. I love being a Dodger fan in NorCal.

    3. I will say after he got jumped for some dingers this year. Clayton started working in some more first pitch sliders. His mentality is, if I hit my spot, it doesn’t matter if they try to jump his fastball. I’ve only had one real problem with Clayton in the post-season. When things start going bad, he try’s to overcompensate by throwing more fastballs and throwing them harder which is what caused his breaking stuff to flatten out. Starting 0-1 is huge so I can’t fault him for his mentality. He just needs to stay within himself. As for the extra dingers, it has kind of been the theme league wide.

    1. Bobby – I’m nervous here in the U.K.- interestingly much more than the previous 4 years we have reached the Playoffs.
      I guess my expectations are higher this time, although the September slump has added an element of doubt.
      The 25 has to be announced by 10am your time – I think Joc might sneak on – don’t follow he was part of the great chemistry & success we had earlier in the season.

      Bobby, I am envious of you being there tonight, although you’d better give yourself enough time as the traffic will be terrible!

      Hope you see a great performance from Kershaw & a nice comfortable win.

      1. Bobby

        I hope the see an awesome performance from Kershaw, and the whole team!

        And I hope that, for all of us!

  6. Why start the game at 10:30 pm eastern? Don’t they know there are many Dodger fans on the east coast? How many can stay up until 2 am and then go to work the next morning?

    1. SC

      I live on the west coast, but I feel for you!

      I don’t understand why the Yankees played a second game, before we played our first game, either.

      And if it is to give the Dbacks a day, I don’t think the Wild Cards, should get that extra day for there pitchers!

  7. I have ordered a Kershaw jersey for this year’s post-season. This is the year that he gets it done.

    Here’s Houston Mitchell’s observation about Kershaw in the post-season compared to other pitchers who have won at least 3 Cy Youngs:
    Roger Clemens, 12-8, 3.75 ERA, 1.221 WHIP, 2 World Series titles
    Randy Johnson, 7-9, 3.50, 1.140, 1 World Series title, 1 World Series MVP
    Steve Carlton, 6-6, 3.26, 1.480, 2 World Series titles
    Greg Maddux, 11-14, 3.27, 1.242, 1 World Series title
    Clayton Kershaw, 4-7, 4.55, 1.157, 0 World Series title
    Sandy Koufax, 4-3, 0.95, 0.825, 3 World Series titles, 2 World Series MVPs
    Pedro Martinez, 6-4, 3.46, 1.080, 1 World Series title
    Jim Palmer, 8-3, 2.61, 1.214, 3 World Series titles
    Tom Seaver, 3-3, 2.77, 1.086, 1 World Series title
    Kershaw has the worst ERA, the worst winning percentage and is the only pitcher with three Cy Youngs to not have a World Series title.

    1. The last sentence is not all on CK, but he has had his fair share of problems, just not for 2017. You will get to wear #22 for the WS, because that is where he is taking this team

    2. Dodger Rick

      Thanks for posting that!

      I had already read that, but I thought that was a different take, by Mitchell!

    3. I know he only won 2 CY, but one of my all-time favorite post season pitchers was Bob Gibson. 7-2, 1.89 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 2 World Series Titles, 2 World Series MVP. Koufax and Gibson…it was great being a kid in the 60’s.

      1. Agree with you about Gibson – but I remember the ’68 Series when it was supposed to be Gibson vs. Denny McClain and it ended up being Mickey Lolich who won 3 games (beating Gibby in game 7) who ended up being the pitching hero of the Series. Gibson was one of the toughest competitors that I ever saw pitch and he was like Kershaw in the sense that on a day when he was pitching, no one was allowed to even approach him, let alone talk to him. Very focused.

  8. LAD NLDS Roster set. Farmer and Baez in…Joc and Locastro not. 13 position players, 12 pitchers.

    1. AC

      I hope we don’t have to use Baez in this series, because he has given up three HRs to Arizona this year!

      And Baez is very lucky that number is not four HRs, because Puig saved Baez, from giving up a fourth HR, by leaping up, and making a really good catch!

      But I hope if Baez is used, he proves me wrong, and I don’t have to wonder why we haven’t got better middle relief help before now, like Mitchell brings up in his article, that Rick posted above.

      1. MJ, I do not think we will see Petey in any high leverage situations. I cannot see him coming in with runners on in a 1-2 run game. But just like for everyone else, the playoffs is a new season. Maybe Kenley got to him. All we can do is hope he is up to the task. No negative thoughts.

  9. Well from my prediction yesterday, I was correct about the first 24. Farmer is on the roster. However, I missed #25. They took Stripling.

    1. I missed on Farmer for Joc. I thought Joc could make it as another LH PH, and defensive OF in the late innings. He has hit against the DBacks pretty well. .262/.385/.615/1.000 over 65 AB. 6 HR. Including 4 hits off Greinke, and 3 off of Bradley…two right handers we know the Dodgers are going to see. The Dodgers are not going to let Farmer catch when the only LAD pitcher on the NLDS roster he has caught is Fields. If Barnes PH, he could have stayed in the game at 2B, and if Grandal PH, he could go in to catch, and Barnes could go to 2B. I cannot see Doc taking a chance in having to catch Farmer. So, IMO, Farmer is a RH PH which I am okay with. I would rather have a LH PH with the number of RHP the DBacks have, and a solid defensive OF for the late innings, or would we rather see Ethier/Grandy out there?

  10. If Kersh is throwing 3 pitches with command it’s an easy win for Dodgers. Snakes can guess all they want. Pretty big if though.

  11. Farmer was the only one I missed on. I had Joc on the roster. The only possible reason to have Farmer is to be able to start Barnes and Grandal together, Hummmmm….

    Could it be that we may see Forsythe, Grandal and Barnes together in the lineup? Farmer is simply the Emergency Catcher. He has no experience with the Dodgers pitchers. Puig doesn’t hit LH pitching this year.

    1. Or to use Barnes in any situation they want. It’s been the MO for them. They carried Barnes last year in order to bring Ruiz in when necessary.

      I thought Joc or Locastro for #25. Hopefully Stripling is well rested and not needed.

  12. I really hope if Kershaw has a rough 5th or 6th inning, Doc pulls him. We have the bullpen to back him up, don’t let him hang out there for one more inning just because he’s Kershaw. Done that one time too many over the years. I will take a Kershaw shut-out going into the 5th and 6th and call it good.

    1. I used a lot of keyboard strokes in 2012 and 2013 suggesting the Dodgesr should trade for Altuve,even sugegsting the Dodgers should trade Dee Gordon, Jerry Sands, Scott Elbert, Carl Crawford, and half his salary (he’s from Houston) for Altuve (maybe I was smoking something). I knew he would be good, but not THIS good!

  13. From Jon Chappert of the Dodgers:

    Wanted to drop you a note to let you know about some additional pre and post-game coverage that the Dodgers will have on Facebook Live throughout this postseason. Both home and road, the team will host Dodger Insider shows on Facebook Live starting approximately ninety minutes before games and also stream SportsNet LA’s Leadoff LA (hour before gametime), Access SportsNet Dodgers (30 minutes before gametime) and the network’s hour-long postgame show. Dodger Insider shows will also air on Facebook Live on workout days with TBD times (depending on team workout schedule).

    The combined coverage, featuring SNLA’s Alanna Rizzo, John Hartung, Orel Hershiser, Nomar Garciaparra, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Ned Colletti, will be produced by the Dodgers and SportsNet LA.

    Daily Postseason Schedule on the Dodgers’ Facebook Live:
    :90 before Game: Dodger Insider (tonight’s Dodger Insider will start at 5:30 pm due to longer pregame ceremonies)
    :60 before Game: SNLA’s Leadoff LA
    :30 before Game: SNLA’s Access SportsNet Dodgers
    Postgame: SNLA’s Access SportsNet Dodgers

    Hopefully you can help us spread the word about the coverage, and be sure to let us know what you think:
    https://www.facebook.com/Dodgers/

  14. Dodgerrick-I was not criticizing Kershaw. He is a great pitcher. During the regular season Kershaw always wants to go 9 innings. Therefore, he wants to get ahead of the batters. Therefore, he would often throw a fastball pretty close to the middle of the plate. Announcers and players have felt the only good pitch you may get from Clayton is the first pitch. The play offs are different. Change it up. Going 9 innings should be the last thing on his mind. Going 6 strong innings is all that is being asked. That is all I was saying.

  15. Nice start, but I wanted that 5th run. Now I just hope that Kershaw is on tonight, and the Dodgers don’t do what they do too often, namely score a bunch of early runs, and then shut it down.

    1. 5 sure seemed like the magic number. Poor AB by Granderson. I thought he would get the runner over but nice start by the big 5.

  16. I can’t believe this is the best TBS can do.
    `
    This broadcasting team has done literally zero research.
    `
    They don’t even know what pitches these guys throw.

    1. Dodger fans are spoiled, – we had Vin for 65 years and now we have Joe Davis. Most of the others just suck!@

  17. Ugh. I was hoping to never see that 3/4 arm slot again from Clayton. It never fools them. He hasn’t really had his slider so I’m guessing that’s why he’s pulled that look out twice.

    Keep adding on!

      1. If Clayton wants Yasmani I’m fine with it. I’m fine with Forsythe tonight too. However when I need a runner advanced with Clayton out of the game, I’m hitting Barnes.

  18. Granderson and Grandal the last two guys I want up there. I do think Puig scores on the ball to LF but terrible AB’s.

  19. 1 – Kershaw didn’t really look good after the 3rd inning. He was described by Eck as looking out of sync and I think that was right.
    2 – Bellinger is really pressing – he was swinging at a lot of bad pitches and missed the good ones
    3 – Turner, Seager and Puig were smoking! Barnes came through in a pinch too.
    4 – I don’t have confidence in Tony Watson. Brandon Morrow’s a stud though.
    5 – Grandal and Granderson were horrible up there tonight.
    6 – The Dodgers blew a lot of chances to score more runs than they did – Belly and Granderson each left 4 on base. Dodgers had 18 LOB tonight. They can’t give the Snakes that many chances.

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