Clayton Kershaw postseason stats: Why Dodgers ace has reputation for playoff struggles

There will be no question that five years after Clayton Kershaw retires, he will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He is one of the greatest pitchers of all time, and might have a case as the greatest left-handed starter in the sport’s long history.

But for all his successes, Kershaw has had one lingering blemish to his resume: “Playoff Kershaw.” The three-time Cy Young winner and one-time MVP has built up a reputation that he all of a sudden falls apart in the postseason.

That reputation did not improve in Game 1 of the NLDS. Tasked with starting against the Diamondbacks, Kershaw was crushed by the red-hot hitters, as Arizona rattled off six runs on six hits and a walk. It took six batters for Kershaw to record the first out of the inning, with the Diamondbacks reaching on a double, single, single, double and three-run home run by Gabriel Moreno.

Kershaw retired Lourdes Gurriel Jr., but walked Alek Thomas and gave up an RBI double to Evan Longoria, ending his evening.

MORE: Dodgers vs. Diamondbacks NLDS schedule

To be clear, there is likely more to Kershaw’s disastrous Saturday outing than a playoff problem. Kershaw was out for all of July and several days in August with a lingering shoulder injury, and since returning, he has not pitched more than five innings or thrown more than 84 pitches. 

Still, he has not been able to shake the idea that he falls apart in the playoffs. Why do fans have that belief about the future first-ballot Hall of Famer? Here’s a look at his playoff stats.

Clayton Kershaw postseason stats

There is no doubt that Kershaw has had a historic career. In his career, spanning 425 games, he has a record of 210-92 with a 2.48 ERA in the regular season.

His playoff stats, however, are far less pretty. Kershaw, the long-time ace for a Dodgers team that frequents the postseason, has made 39 appearances and 32 starts, including Saturday. In those outings, he has a 13-11 record with a 4.49 ERA in 194.1 innings, a whole season’s worth of appearances.

That doesn’t mean that Kershaw hasn’t been without his bright spots. He pitched to a stellar 2.63 ERA in two starts in the 2015 postseason and had a 2.93 mark in 2020, with the Dodgers heading to their first World Series win since he arrived in the big leagues. In that World Series, Kershaw made two starts (11.2 innings) and pitched to a 2.31 ERA with 14 strikeouts, seven hits and just three walks. He allowed only one home run.

But then there’s been the rough ones. In the 2014 postseason, he had a 7.82 ERA in two starts (12.2 innings). He has in two other postseasons had an ERA above 6.00, coming in 2009 (6.08 in 13.1 innings) and 2019 (7.11 ERA in 6.1 innings).

The problem with being an all-time great pitcher is that greatness becomes the expectation, and underperformance often stands out more than the success. In Kershaw’s 425 regular-season games, he has allowed four runs or more in just 61 (14.4 percent of his games). In his 39 postseason appearances, he’s allowed at least four runs in 12 (30.7 percent). He’s also had only 12 appearances in the regular season where he’s allowed six runs or more (2.8 percent), while he’s done that now four times in the postseason (10.3 percent)

By comparison, he has thrown 221 outings in the regular season in which he has allowed one or no runs, a ridiculous 49.7 percent of his outings, compared to just 16 in the playoffs, a still-impressive 41 percent.

And Kershaw has not just struggled at one round or another. It has been a bit consistent. Here’s a look at his playoff stats by round:

Wild card 1-1 0.00 8 3 0 1 13
Divisional Series 16-14* 4.68 90.1 82 16 20 106
League Championship 14-10 4.84 57.2 50 8 19 53
World Series 7-6 4.46 38.1 30 6 11 41

* – Record before conclusion of Dodgers-Diamondbacks

For all Kershaw’s struggles, he’s never had an outing as bad as Saturday’s. His shortest postseason start prior to Saturday was a three-inning outing against the Brewers in the 2018 NLCS, where he gave up five runs (four earned) off six hits. He has previously lasted only 0.1 innings when pitching in relief, occurring once in 2008 against the Phillies in Game 4 of the NLCS (one run off one hit and a walk) and against the Nationals in the 2019 NLDS (two runs off two hits).

There is a possibility that will be the last time Kershaw takes the mound at Dodger Stadium. It could be his final appearance as an MLB pitcher. And if it is, it is undoubtedly disappointing to many it was another rough postseason outing to give further belief to those who say he can’t pitch well in the playoffs.

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