Clayton Kershaw’s Overrated

Ha, no, not really. He’s actually a 22-year-old who after starting the season off with five consecutive starts not allowing more than three runs, threw out a total stinker yesterday. Hey, he was horrendous last night, and I’m not going to deny that. But that sort of thing happens to every pitcher now and then, and what really got me is the level of panic this raised on the internet.

SI’s Jon Heyman started us off with these two Tweets:

kershaw may be regressing faster than billingsley. not sure. close competition. #howcanbradpennybebetterthanboth?

@dodgerthoughts 1.53 WHIP coming in. not good. i dont blame him tho. just a shame hes not progressing

Tony Jackson chimed in, saying that “Kershaw’s awful outing raises issues”, and even Phil at True Blue LA, a blog which I greatly respect and link to practically every other day, titled his post ”Is Kershaw already declining?” (update: okay, I missed the joke: read here.)

But as usual, Jon Weisman at Dodger Thoughts chimed in as the voice of reason:

The last time Clayton Kershaw started but failed to get past the third inning – June 10, 2009 – this is what happened the rest of the season: 107 innings, 122 baserunners, 123 strikeouts, 1.77 ERA.

And he’s exactly right. It’s one start, people. Yes, it was one unbelievably horrific start, but I defy you to find a pitcher, no matter how great, who hasn’t tossed out a stinker like that from time to time. For example, the very first name that came to mind for me was Roy Halladay, who’s tearing up the NL right now and whom everyone wanted to see the Dodgers get last year. A quick look at his 2009 game log shows you August 24 at home against the Rays, in which he allowed 12 hits and 8 runs. (Granted, he at least made it out of the 2nd inning). Or how about C.C. Sabathia? He allowed 6 earned runs in two of his first four starts last season. Do you think anyone was frightened that they had suddenly lost it? Of course not. It’s a lousy start, and it happens to everyone.

No, what’s happening here is that the absolutely destroyed state of the Dodger rotation has put everyone on edge. Since the back end of the rotation is occupied by unheralded rookie John Ely (for now), and Rule 5 pick Carlos Monasterios (though he had to come in to relieve last night, so who knows), and that’s without even considering how unreliable Chad Billingsley is, if either Kershaw or Hiroki Kuroda has a bad start, people take it as proof that the entire rotation is doomed. And in that, they’re probably right. But it doesn’t mean that a 22-year-old kid who dominated the NL last season, and who got off to a pretty good start this year, is somehow “regressing” or “declining”, based on one start.

If there’s blame to be placed, here… well, I won’t pretend I know how to judge a pitching coach. There’s not really a stat that you can put towards it. But at what point do we start looking at Rick Honeycutt? There was a running joke all spring that whenever he’d go to the mound to give advice, the situation would immediately get worse. He hasn’t been able to fix George Sherrill, Billingsley’s been better but still inconsistent, and overall this is a club with ten pitchers who have ERAs over 5. That’s obviously not all his fault – Cy Young himself couldn’t repair Russ Ortiz, and many of those lines are in very small samples – but if you look at the one starter who is excelling this year, it’s Hiroki Kuroda… who’s 35, always good when healthy, and doesn’t really need Honeycutt’s advice. I’m not saying it’s time to make a move right now… just that if as a coach, you’re judged on the performance of your students, he’s not looking great at the moment.

In slightly better news, lets hear it for the embattled Charlie Haeger, who was probably going to lose his job once Jeff Weaver comes back this weekend. His allowing just one run over four innings saved Joe Torre from having to destroy the entire bullpen, and even if he’s not going to make it back to the rotation, having a guy like that is an invaluable piece out of the pen – especially this year.

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