Now Pitching for the Royals, Clayton Kershaw
Much has been said about Clayton Kershaw’s historic season. From his 41 inning scoreless streak to his 206 ERA+, he’s been compared to Sandy Koufax and many other all-time greats. He’s having the kind of season that we haven’t seen since Clemens, Johnson, Pedro, and Maddux were at their peaks.
Halfway across the country, the Kansas City Royals have a Clayton Kershaw of their own, and it comes in the form of Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera. These three righthanders have combined for a 1.27 ERA (318 ERA+) with a 32% K%. They are among the top 9 relief pitchers in all of baseball in WAR and have combined for 7.7 WAR in 169 2/3 innings. Compare that to Kershaw, who has 7.0 WAR in 161 1/3 innings. No other team this season has any combination of 2 or more pitchers with as high of a WAR/IP rate with nearly as many innings pitched.
But obviously the main difference between the KC trio and Kershaw is how these innings are distributed. Kershaw’s have come in 22 different appearances, average 7 1/3 innings per start. Holland, Davis, and Herrera have appeared in 92 of the Royals’ 135 games. Take your pick. You can have a starter come in every 5th day and completely dominate for most of the game or you can summon 1 of 3 guys in high leverage situations late in the game. Either way, your team’s chances of winning are greatly improved.
With a starting pitcher like Kershaw, the opposing manager has the option to stack their lineup with right handed hitters to take advantage of platoons. Consequently, 489 of 604 batters (81%) who have faced Kershaw have been right handed. But he has held them to .200/.233/.315 slash line, which speaks to just how truly great he has been.
Royals manager Ned Yost has the option to bring in these relievers in any situation. Because of this, the opposing manager is restricted to the lineup he has already set and the possibility of using pinch hitters. Because of this, opposing hitters have had the platoon advantage in just 54% of plate appearances. If you had the opportunity to make one of these three KC relivers a southpaw, you’d probably take it. However, they have limited left handed batters to just a .201/.285/.248 slash line.
Given the choice between the two, I’d chose Kershaw over Holland/Davis/Herrera, as I’d expect most people to as well. Mainly due to the (1) difficulty in finding a left handed pitcher of his caliber, (2) he only takes up one roster spot, and the fact the (3) he’s only making $4 million (Holland/Davis/Herrera are making just under $10 million combined). But regardless, the Royals bullpen has been utterly dominant and facing them in a 5 or 7-game series is a scary thought. With as many off days as the postseason schedule permits, these guys will be available in just about every contest.