Clayton Kershaw a Victim of Outdated Pitching Measures in 2015 All-Star Snub

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJuly 7, 2015

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On Monday, we learned something that wasn't easy to process: Clayton Kershaw is not a National League All-Star this year.

Not easy to process, indeed, and even harder to swallow. For while it would be one thing if the Los Angeles Dodgers' ace left-hander wasn't deserving of an All-Star berth, he is deserving. This should have been obvious to the people who decide such things, but it appears they were too busy looking at the wrong things.

Spoiler Alert: Yes, I did just steer us toward an angry screed laced with know-it-all sabermetrics. But before we get to that, let's start with the simple facts.

After the starters for the 2015 All-Star Game—which will be played at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park on July 14—were revealed Sunday, the rest of the rosters were revealed Monday. And when it got to the National League starting pitchers, there was no Kershaw in sight:

It was at this point that one's mind got all boggly. For while that is a list of deserving pitchers, it's hard to fathom how a pitcher who's made four straight All-Star appearances, won four straight ERA titles and is coming off a year in which he captured his third Cy Young and first MVP award somehow isn't an All-Star.

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That leads to the big question: How could such a pitcher be left out of the mix?

According to Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register, it's because Kershaw was neither voted in by his fellow NL players nor chosen by NL skipper Bruce Bochy:

As David Schoenfield of ESPN.com noted, that the players voted for neither Kershaw nor fellow established ace Madison Bumgarner shows they clearly "didn't put much emphasis on past performance or reputation."

That left it up to Bochy to do so with one of his three selections. But in reality, even Kershaw is aware Bochy really only had two selections to make.

After last October, the odds of Bochy denying Bumgarner an All-Star spot were basically nil.
After last October, the odds of Bochy denying Bumgarner an All-Star spot were basically nil.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

"I'm sure if he left [Bumgarner] off, he'd get more flak from him than from me," Kershaw told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. "If [Dodgers manager Don Mattingly] was manager, I'm sure he'd pick me."

Regardless, Bochy could have honored Kershaw's track record with one of the two picks he had to make. Instead, he went for a pair of first-time All-Stars in Michael Wacha and A.J. Burnett.

Thus, neither the NL's players nor the NL's manager was swayed by what's in Kershaw's trophy case. By process of elimination, that narrows the list of reasons for his rejection down to the obvious one: The responsible parties don't believe Kershaw is having an All-Star-caliber season in 2015.

As it happens, there are only two statistics to support that conclusion: Kershaw's record and his ERA.

Look at the eight starters who were selected to the NL All-Star team, and it stands out that seven of the eight went into Monday's action with ERAs under 3.00. Bumgarner is the lone exception, but the one thing he had in common with the other seven is a winning record.

Kershaw, meanwhile, has neither of these things. Through 17 starts, his record is 5-6 and his ERA stands at 3.08. For a guy who averaged an 18-6 record and a 2.11 ERA between 2011 and 2014, these numbers are decidedly un-Kershaw-like. Clearly, he hasn't been pitching like his usual self in 2015.

Unless, of course, you look at everything else. Do that, and you'll get a picture of a guy who's still arguably the National League's best pitcher.

Given that we're well into the 21st century by now, you're probably already aware of the arguments against judging a pitcher by his record and his ERA. 

But, in the event that you've somehow just arrived in the 21st century, here's the gist: A pitcher's record and ERA are influenced by too many things he can't control. For example, the big ones would be the performances of his offense and bullpen for his record and his defense for his ERA.

This is why it's best to judge pitchers on the things they can actually control, and it so happens that's where Kershaw is shining as brightly as ever in 2015.

There are three statistics called FIP, xFIP and SIERA that estimate what a pitcher's ERA should be based mainly on his strikeouts, walks and ability to keep the ball in the yard. And as far as these stats are concerned, Kershaw entered Monday deserving an ERA that would have put him among the NL's very best starters. Via FanGraphs:

Clayton Kershaw's FIP, xFIP and SIERA
NL Rank211

At the start of Monday, Kershaw's 3.08 ERA was only good for 17th among NL starters. To go from that to the notion that he's been either the best or second-best pitcher in the Senior Circuit is, well, quite a difference of opinion.

But it adds up.

Kershaw's 32.4 K percent is also on track to be a career high.
Kershaw's 32.4 K percent is also on track to be a career high.Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

At the start of Monday, Kershaw was leading all NL starters in strikeout rate with a K percent of 32.4. He wasn't faring quite as well with his walk rate, as his 6.0 BB percent was only tied for 18th. But in terms of balancing strikeouts and walks, Kershaw owned a 5.44 K/BB rate that ranked fourth among NL starters.

Since a pitcher has more control over strikeouts and walks than he does over anything else, this is a large feather in Kershaw's cap. As for why it hasn't helped him achieve a better ERA, that can be chalked up to how he hasn't had much luck on balls in play.

For one, the batting average on balls in play (BABIP) off Kershaw this season has skyrocketed to above the league average. Secondly, fly balls off him have been going over the fence a career-high 16.2 percent of the time.

This suggests Kershaw hasn't been effective at managing contact, which is one area where ERA-estimating metrics like FIP, xFIP and SIERA don't see so well. This suggestion, however, is misleading.

With a ground-ball rate of 51.3 percent, Kershaw entered Monday among the NL's 15 best pitchers at keeping he ball on the ground, i.e. the place where it can do the least amount of damage.

Further, Baseball Savant can vouch that contact off Kershaw has been quieter on average than any other pitcher in the National League:

Average Exit Velocity Leaders
RankPlayerTeamBalls in PlayAverage Exit Velo
1Chris SaleCHW17683.9
2Clayton KershawLAD19484.1
3Dallas KeuchelHOU28984.8
4Jake ArrietaCHC22885.5
5Collin McHughHOU26385.7
Baseball Savant

So, while the argument against Kershaw as an All-Star clearly comes down to him having a bad record and a modest ERA, the argument for Kershaw as an All-Star boils down to:

  • Evaluating a pitcher based on his record and ERA is lazy.
  • The metrics say Kershaw deserves a much better ERA than the one he has.
  • He deserves a much better ERA because he's balancing strikeouts and walks at an elite rate.
  • And also because he's been very good at managing contact.

Should we also mention Kershaw has done this over 114 innings, a total that ranked third in the NL heading into Monday's action? Yeah, let's mention that too.

In all, we can let Zack Greinke sum it up:

Greinke is right. Clayton Kershaw, a pitcher who is not an All-Star, has pitched as well or better than any other pitcher in the league this year. To see that, you just need to know where to look.

Evidently, neither his fellow National League players nor the National League's All-Star skipper had such information. Because of the that, the result was a snub that everyone from Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports to thousands of angry souls on Twitter can see.

Fortunately, there is hope that Kershaw's snub will be short-lived. He may not have gotten in on his first try, but he is one of the five options for the National League Final Vote. If enough fans come out in support of him, he'll get his ticket to Cincinnati and all will be right with the world.

Here's thinking it will happen. He is Clayton Kershaw, after all, and any baseball fan who cares to look beyond his record and ERA will know that's as true now as it's ever been.

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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