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!