Pedro Baez

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As “Clayton Kershaw can’t pitch in the playoffs” narrative resurfaces, a reminder

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Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw couldn’t make it through the fifth inning of Sunday night’s start against the Astros in Game 5 of the World Series. He gave up six runs on four hits and three walks with two strikeouts on 94 pitches. That sent his career playoff ERA, now across 23 appearances and 118 innings, up to 4.50.

Prior to Sunday’s start, Kershaw had pitched well this postseason, carrying a 2.96 ERA in four starts. And most of the damage came in his Game 1 start in the NLDS against the Diamondbacks, when he surrendered four solo home runs. His World Series Game 5 start, however, resurfaced the old “Kershaw can’t pitch in the playoffs” narrative.

It’s true: Kershaw’s stats in the postseason aren’t good. But there’s a bit of context that’s often left out of the conversation, which is that relievers that have come in after Kershaw have also not done a great job. Following Jose Altuve‘s three-run home run off of Kenta Maeda in the fourth inning, on which two of Kershaw’s runners scored, Dodgers relievers had allowed 10 of 16 of runners inherited from Kershaw to score. That’s a 62.5 percent rate of failure, or a 37.5 percent success rate. Since Kershaw debuted in 2008, the major league average strand rate (success) for relievers has ranged between 72.8 percent and 75.2 percent. In other words, Dodgers’ relievers — when relieving Kershaw — have been half as effective as a major league average reliever.

Here’s the full list:

Year Series Game IR Scored IR Scored% Reliever(s)
2008 NLCS 2 1 0 0.0% Cory Wade
4 2 1 50.0% Chan Ho Park
2009 NLDS 2 1 0 0.0% Ronald Belisario
NLCS 1 1 0 0.0% Ramon Troncoso
5 0 0
2013 NLDS 1 0 0
4 0 0
NLCS 2 0 0
6 2 1 50.0% Ronald Belisario
2014 NLDS 1 1 1 100.0% Pedro Baez
4 0 0
2015 NLDS 1 3 2 66.7% Pedro Baez
4 0 0
2016 NLDS 1 0 0
4 3 3 100.0% Pedro Baez, Luis Avilan
5 0 0
NLCS 2 0 0
6 0 0
2017 NLDS 1 0 0
NLCS 1 0 0
5 0 0
WS 1 0 0
5 2 2 100.0% Kenta Maeda
TOTAL 16 10 62.5%

If the Dodgers’ relievers had done their jobs perfectly, stranding all 16 of runners inherited from Kershaw instead of six, Kershaw’s postseason ERA would be 3.28. Kershaw’s mental fortitude wouldn’t even be a topic of discussion. Of course, one would argue that Kershaw shouldn’t have allowed those runners to get on base to begin with, but the purpose of a bullpen is to sometimes bail out a starter once he gets into a pickle — especially in the postseason. Dodger relievers — notably Pedro Baez — have done an absolutely terrible job of backing up Kershaw over his career and that needs to be remembered when people bring up Kershaw’s perceived postseason issues.