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Breaking down Los Angeles Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw

Los Angeles Dodgers v Chicago Cubs Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

As of April 27th, the St. Louis Cardinals offense has been slumping. They’re averaging 4.44 runs which is 18th in the league and an even worse number of 3.92 runs per game at home, tied for the 6th worst mark. However, against left handed pitching they have the highest average, on base percentage and slugging. The Cards are facing a left hander this weekend against the Los Angeles Dodgers which could get the bats going. The problem though is he is one of the best left handers in history in Clayton Kershaw. This season, the former MVP and 3-time CY Young winner has pitched to a solid 2.32 ERA, but with a less impressive 3.62 xERA. Down below we are going to break down what the 35-year-old still has in his arsenal.

Pitch #1 - Slider - 2023 usage rate - 44.4 percent

2023 stats - .223 xBA, .418 xSLG, .245 xwOBA

Average velo - 86.7 MPH - Spin rate - 2,484 RPM - vertical movement - 30 inches (4 inches below average) - horizontal movement - 5.8 inches

In every season since the start of the 2018 season Kershaw has thrown his slider 39.1 percent of the time or more. Despite being relied on so heavily by Kershaw, this is a pitch that historically has gotten hit hard for him. This season the hard-hit rate against is 47.5 percent which is by far the highest amongst his pitches. Last season it sat at 36.4 percent, which was also the highest that year. With a high hard-hit rate also comes a higher average exit velocity which is currently at 89.6 MPH, up 1.6 from last season. What has been the saving grace for Kershaw with his slider is historically, hitters have struggled to get this pitch in the air as from 2020 to 2022 it carried the lowest fly ball percentage amongst his three most used pitches. This season though, it is up to 27.5 percent, the highest rate between his slider, four seamer and curve.

Pitch #2 - Four seam - 2023 usage rate - 38.5 percent

2023 stats - .293 xBA, .478 xSLG, .349 xwOBA

Average velo - 91.2 MPH - Spin rate - 2,309 RPM - vertical movement - 14.2 inches - horizontal movement - 0.5 inches (6.9 inches below average)

When batters swing at Kershaw’s four seam fastball, they hardly ever miss as the whiff percentage against it is just 11.4 percent. Kershaw has been able to fill up the strike zone with this pitch as the in-zone percentage on it is 61.8 percent this season, which is paired with an in-zone swing percentage of 55.5 percent. However, the strike zone whiff rate is just 11.5 percent. After back-to-back seasons with a ground ball rate of around 41 percent, hitters are doing a good job of getting it in the air this season with a ground ball percentage of just 31 percent. To have success against Kershaw, it starts and ends with hitting his four-seam fastball. He can slice a lineup up with his slider and curve if they expand against it. But, if the Cardinals hunt his four seamer early and often, they have a shot to hit the future Hall of Famer.

Pitch #3 - Curveball - 2023 usage rate - 16 percent

2023 stats - .184 xBA, .271 xSLG, .196 xwOBA

Average velo - 73.7 MPH - Spin rate - 2,277 RPM - vertical movement - 66.4 inches - horizontal movement - 4.3 inches (5.1 inches below average)

The most famous pitch in Kershaw’s arsenal and one of the more notable pitches in baseball, Kershaw’s curve has been a consistently dominant pitch. Kershaw has never used it at a high rate with it only being used more than 20 percent of the time in one season, which was 2008, his rookie year. When Kershaw throws it out of the zone and hitters swing at it, he produces an extremely high whiff rate with it at 61.1 percent this season. The chase rate on it has never reached the height of his slider, but it is still effective in getting batters to leave the zone with a 42.9 percent chase rate this season and 33.3 percent last year. This is a pitch that Kershaw does not like to throw to righties as the highest single season usage rate it has had against them since 2020 is 11.9 percent.

Didn’t include his sinker and changeups which he’s thrown a combined 4 times.

Key matchup - Paul Goldschmidt - Goldschmidt and Kershaw have an extended history. Even though Goldy has dominated lefties and four seam fastballs throughout his career he has struggled against Kershaw. In his career the reigning NL MVP has 63 career at bats striking out 23 times with a .206 lifetime batting average and .254 on base percentage against the Dodgers ace. With the Cardinals offense slumping, Goldy has to continue dominating to propel this offense especially against one of the games greats.

Prediction - Kershaw throws 6 ⅓ innings, allows 2 earned runs, strikes out 5 and walks 1.