Clayton Kershaw’s No-Hit Stuff

When I started looking at the Pitch FX data for Clayton Kershaw‘s no-hitter, I was expecting to find something that stuck out. Did his pitches break more? Were the pitches faster? Let’s compare his numbers from last night to the rest of the season for each pitch (excluding the changeup since he only threw two).

First, the velocities:

Pitch No Hitter Velocity 2014 Average
Fastball 94.03 93.83
Slider 87.36 87.83
Curveball 74.72 74.93

 

Now, the movement:

Pitch Horizontal movement (inches) Vertical movement (inches)
No Hitter Average 2014 Average No Hitter Average 2014 Average
Fastball 1.16 1.32 12.33 11.94
Slider -3.00 -2.32 4.04 4.14
Curveball -2.53 -2.64 -8.00 -8.58

All of the numbers above are close to their 2014 averages and are within the range of values which have already happened this year. The exception is the slider, which had the most horizontal movement of the season last night. However, the pitch averaged higher movement in every season between 2009 and 2013, and last night’s departure from average was less than an inch.

Really, the most impressive part about Clayton Kershaw’s no-hitter, one of the best individual pitching performances of all time, was not that his stuff was better. It’s that it wasn’t. There was no level for him to reach for, he just did what he has been doing all year. He could just have easily have done it before today with the same types of pitches.

The curveball is Kershaw’s big, flashy pitch, the most aesthetically pleasing; it’s very GIFable. The pitch is frequently taken for strikes and generates weak contact. It keeps hitters off balance. It’s why Kershaw’s contract has been viewed as a bargain and why he is on a hall of fame career trajectory. It’s a true 80-grade pitch. It gets a lot of attention, and it deserves it.

However, I want to dwell somewhere else for this rest of this post. The curve is Kershaw’s prettiest pitch, but his slider should not be overlooked. Jeff Sullivan already wrote a fantastic post on the pitch earlier today, focusing on its evolution over the years and why it is better than ever in 2014. It’s worth your time, so go read that and come back.

Last night, Kershaw induced 22 swinging strikes, a career high. Via the excellent Baseball Savant, here’s a plot with all of them:

KershawSwingingStrikesNoHItter

You can put the swinging strikes into three separate “categories.” The first category is comprised of high fastballs (6 of 22 pitches). The second category is the curves (4 of 22). The third and largest category, twelve of the 22 pitches, is low sliders, mostly on the left side of the plate or outside the strike zone in the same area.

Ten of the twelve swinging strikes in the third category were by right-handed hitters, the sliders diving towards their back foot. Here’s an example:

It’s a tool which Kershaw uses to help reduce the platoon advantage that right-handed batters theoretically have against him. Let’s look further into the pitch. For the purposes of the rest of this post, a “back foot” slider is either in the low and inside portion of the strike zone, or off the plate in the same general area.

Kershaw has thrown the back-foot slider to right-handed batters 820 times since the beginning of 2011. Here’s what batters did with the pitch:

Category Occurrences Rates
Swing 509 62.1%
Whiff 311 37.9% whiff/pitch
61.1% whiff/swing
Foul 137 16.7%
In play, hit 16 2.2%

That’s a bunch of numbers which show that the pitch is really, really good. And there’s more. Since the start of 2011, Kershaw has 573 strikeouts against right-handed batters. 143 of the strikeouts (25%) have been on a back-foot slider. 140 of those strikeouts were swinging.

Last night, Kershaw threw 16 back-foot sliders. Batters swung at the pitch 14 times, missed 10 times, and never put it into play.  Four of his fifteen strikeouts were on the pitch, to a specific handedness of batter, in a very specific spot.

Sullivan’s article wrote at length about how Kershaw has been getting his slider low in the zone at a significantly higher rate so far this season. More low sliders means more back-foot sliders. We already established that Kershaw’s stuff last night wasn’t unusual, and we know that the locations were good as well. If he can remain consistent and throw the pitch as well as he did last night, the results will be phenomenal.


About

Daniel Brim grew up in the Los Angeles area and remains a Dodger fan despite currently residing in Salem, MA. As an engineer, he’s fascinated by the math and science behind the game of baseball, which probably explains a lot. He started “Blog To The Score” in late 2013 to dig deeper into the numbers behind the Dodgers. In its brief lifespan, it gained attention from local and national media. You can find him spending too much time in the comments section or on Twitter.


316 comments
DBrim
DBrim moderator

Fuck you if you heard it here first?

Lobo
Lobo

@DBrim For Your Information, Yellow Halibut Is Highly Flammable

DBrim
DBrim moderator

No clue

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler moderator

The Marlins will sign him to replace Giancarlo Stanton after he's traded to the Dodgers.

DBrim
DBrim moderator

Corner Outfield. We need more of those, right?

Uncultured Baby
Uncultured Baby

No hits given up for two straight days.  That's gotta be a record, right?

steelmohawk
steelmohawk

@Uncultured Bastard it looks like the record for hitless innings is 16, but 2 teams have thrown no-hitters in consecutive days. Has not been done in consecutive games.

steelmohawk
steelmohawk

When Greinke throws his no-hitter I want an article that translates his facial expressions and body language into English.

Purple Drank
Purple Drank

sorry Drank just got home after schooling peeps at basketball

Purple Drank
Purple Drank

@Superba[email protected] Drank  and yes

InsideThePark (Stop it.)
InsideThePark (Stop it.)

did you get arrested after?

ohhhh.... basketball.

he's not that tall, and he's not known to handle the rock.

he probably carried over a lot.

KMT59
KMT59

One more for the road...everyone was fretting...Hope you all remember me saying a week or so back that we will be in 1st before july...Here's a preview

KMT59
KMT59

YES!!!! Caught up...now to fall behind again...Night All

steelmohawk
steelmohawk

@nudibranch though, besides players from two teams, I think he is pretty well respected among players.

Disgruntled Goat
Disgruntled Goat moderator

this would be more fun with a baseball game.