We learned over the weekend that Ryan Freel, who took his own life a year ago this Sunday, suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a condition caused by concussions and which has been linked to suicide.
But Freel suffered from so much more. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, ADD and depression. He was an alcoholic with impulse control problems and anger issues. He was addicted to baseball and the thrill it gave him and was unable to find happiness in his life when his career ended. He seriously abused steroids in a vain effort to make a baseball comeback and ballooned in size. He became estranged from his family and surrounded himself with guns. Just as he hit bottom, his mother took all of his guns away from him. Or so she thought. His final words to anyone before taking his own life came in a text message to his mom: “you forgot one.”
Back in April, Brett Popplewell of SportsNet told the story of Freel’s downward spiral and final days. It’s reposted today in the wake of the CTE diagnosis and the approach of the anniversary of Freel’s death. It’s a difficult yet gripping read. And one anyone who forgets that there is a human side to the athletes who entertain us every day should take in as soon as possible.
For years, a bulk of the postseason coverage surrounding Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw focused on his poor results once the regular season ended. The three-time Cy Young Award winner carried a career 5.68 postseason ERA following his NLDS Game 1 start against the Diamondbacks last year, a sample size spanning 15 starts and four relief appearances totaling 95 1/3 innings.
Kershaw had a subpar start against the Astros in Game 5 of the World Series last year and the narrative hit a fever pitch. I dug into the numbers at that point and found that a not-insignificant portion of Kershaw’s playoff ERA could be attributed to relievers coming in after him and failing to strand their inherited runners. At the time of that writing (October 30, 2017), Dodger relievers allowed 10 of 16 runners inherited from Kershaw in the playoffs to score, a strand rate of 37.5 percent. That’s roughly half of the league average (around 75 percent).
Kershaw finished out the World Series last year by pitching four scoreless innings of relief in Game 7. He returned to the postseason, starting Game 2 of the NLDS against the Braves this year and tossed eight shutout frames on just two hits with no walks. The narrative should have died there, too. It, of course did not. As the Dodgers advanced to the NLCS, Kershaw got the Game 1 nod against the Brewers and struggled. The Brewers got him for five runs (four earned) across three-plus innings. One of those runs included a home run hit by the opposing pitcher (Brandon Woodruff). Kershaw was also hurt by a passed ball and catcher’s interference on the part of Yasmani Grandal in the third inning. Not a great outing, but not as bad as the line score read, either.
In Game 5 of the NLCS on Wednesday evening, Kershaw once again redeemed himself. He limited the Brewers this time around to a lone run on three hits and two walks with nine strikeouts over seven innings of work. The only run came around in the third inning when Lorenzo Cain hit an RBI double to center field. Kershaw’s career postseason ERA is now 4.11 and it would be much lower if his bullpen had, in the past, done its job more effectively.
According to Katie Sharp of The Athletic, tonight’s postseason start was Kershaw’s eighth in which he allowed one run or fewer and three hits or fewer. No other pitcher in baseball history has made more than five such starts. That’s partially a function of opportunity, as the Dodgers have been in the postseason every year dating back to 2013 as well as in 2008 and ’09. But Kershaw still has to go out there and make the pitches, and he largely has. The “Kershaw can’t pitch in the postseason” narrative is dead. It never should have lived.