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Clayton Kershaw’s postseason reputation marred by incompetent relief pitching

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If you didn’t watch Tuesday evening’s NLDS Game 4 between the Nationals and Dodgers and just looked at the box score, it looked like manager Dave Roberts’ decision to go with Clayton Kershaw on short rest didn’t pan out. The lefty’s final line: 6 2/3 innings, seven hits, 5 earned runs, two walks, 11 strikeouts on 110 pitches.

It was a little bit more complex than that. Kershaw was a bit shaky early, allowing a first inning run, but really gave the Dodgers exactly what they needed. He faltered in the seventh inning. He allowed a leadoff single to Danny Espinosa, then struck out Pedro Severino and got pinch-hitter Chris Heisey to fly out. Trea Turner then singled and Bryce Harper walked after another long at-bat (Harper saw 25 pitches in his four at-bats against Kershaw) to load the bases.

At that point, Roberts finally pulled Kershaw, bringing in Pedro Baez with the bases loaded and two outs. Baez threw only one pitch and it hit Jayson Werth to force in a run. Let’s count: Kershaw left with three runners on base and so far, the bullpen allowed one to score. Roberts then brought in Luis Avilan to face Daniel Murphy and Murphy ended up knocking in two runs with a single. Three inherited base runners, all three scored. Those three runs were charged to Kershaw’s ledger. He now has a career 4.83 ERA spanning 12 playoff starts and three relief appearances. For as much as Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner is revered for his postseason performances, Kershaw is reviled for his.

The truth is that the Dodgers’ bullpen has let Kershaw down in the postseason a lot. I went through Kershaw’s postseason game logs and found that he had left the game with 15 runners on base. The Dodgers’ relievers allowed  eight of them to score.

  • October 10, 2008 (NLCS Game 2) @ Phillies: Kershaw, in his second inning of relief work, walked Eric Bruntlett before departing in the eighth inning. Cory Wade got Jayson Werth to line out to end the inning. [1 inherited runner, 0 scored]
  • October 13, 2008 (NLCS Game 4) vs. Phillies: Kershaw walked Ryan Howard and allowed a single to Pat Burrell to lead off the sixth inning. Shane Victorino advanced both with a bunt before Kershaw left. Chan Ho Park came in and uncorked a two-out wild pitch that allowed Howard to score. Burrell would be stranded. [2 inherited runners, 1 scored]
  • October 8, 2009 (NLDS Game 2) vs. Cardinals: In the seventh, Kershaw allowed a single to Mark DeRosa followed by a double to Colby Ramus that allowed DeRosa to score. Rasmus was thrown out at third base trying to stretch it into a triple. Kershaw induced a pop-up from Adam Wainwright, then yielded a single to Julio Lugo before departing. Ronald Belisario came in with two of Kershaw’s runners on base and stranded both. [2 inherited runners, 0 scored]
  • October 15, 2009 (NLCS Game 1) vs. Phillies: In the fifth, Kershaw allowed a two-run double to Ryan Howard before departing with two outs. Ramon Troncoso came in and got Jayson Werth to fly out to end the inning. [1 inherited runner, 0 scored]
  • October 21, 2009 (NLCS Game 5) @ Phillies: Kershaw pitched two innings of relief and did not leave in the middle of an inning.
  • October 3, 2013 (NLDS Game 1) @ Braves: Kershaw pitched seven innings and did not leave in the middle of an inning.
  • October 7, 2013 (NLDS Game 4) vs. Braves: Kershaw pitched six innings and did not leave in the middle of an inning.
  • October 12, 2013 (NLCS Game 2) @ Cardinals: Kershaw pitched six innings and did not leave in the middle of an inning.
  • October 18, 2013 (NLCS Game 6) @ Cardinals: In the fifth, Kershaw allowed consecutive singles to Yadier Molina and David Freese followed by an RBI double to Matt Adams. Belisario came in and induced a fielder’s choice ground out from Shane Robinson, getting Freese out at home. Adams would later score on another fielder’s choice. [2 inherited runners, 1 scored]
  • October 3, 2014 (NLDS Game 1) vs. Cardinals: Kershaw left after allowing a three-run double to Matt Carpenter in the seventh inning. Pedro Baez came in, walked a batter, then served up a three-run home run to Matt Holliday. [1 inherited runner, 1 scored]
  • October 7, 2014 (NLDS Game 4) @ Cardinals: In the seventh, Kershaw allowed back-to-back singles to Holliday and Jhonny Peralta before serving up a three-run homer to Matt Adams. Baez came in and relieved him. [0 inherited runners, 0 scored]
  • October 9, 2015 (NLDS Game 1) vs. Mets: Kershaw walked three batters before departing with two outs in the seventh. Pedro Baez came in and allowed a two-run single to David Wright. [3 inherited runners, 2 scored]
  • October 13, 2015 (NLDS Game 4) @ Mets: Kershaw pitched seven innings and did not leave in the middle of an inning.
  • October 7, 2016 (NLDS Game 1) @ Nationals: Kershaw pitched five innings and did not leave in the middle of an inning.
  • October 11, 2016 (NLDS Game 4) vs. Nationals: Kershaw left with two outs and the bases loaded. Baez came in and hit a batter. Avilan came in and allowed a two-run single. [3 inherited runners, 3 scored]

So that’s 15 inherited runners, eight of whom were allowed to score by Dodger relievers. As Kershaw has allowed 41 total runs in the postseason, they account for 19.5 percent of the total runs Kershaw has allowed. If these inherited runners scoring didn’t factor into Kershaw’s ERA, he would have a 3.89 ERA in the playoffs. Still not amazing, especially considering it’s Kershaw, but it’s a lot better than 4.83.

Cubs, Red Sox, Yankees exceeded competitive balance tax threshold in 2019

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Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times reports that the Cubs, Red Sox, and Yankees exceeded the competitive balance tax (more colloquially known as the luxury tax) threshold for the 2019 season, set at $206 million. It will rise to $208 million for the 2020 season and $210 million in 2021.

Teams that exceed the CBT threshold pay a penalty on the overage, which is compounded depending on how consistently they have exceeded the threshold. The base penalty is 20 percent. If a team has exceeded it in a second consecutive year, the penalty rises to 30 percent. Three or more consecutive seasons yields a 50 percent tax on the overage. Furthermore, teams that exceed the CBT threshold by $20-40 million see an additional 12 percent tax. Above $40 million brings a 42.5 percent penalty which rises to 45 percent if the team exceeds the CBT by more than $40 million in a consecutive year.

The luxury tax has acted as a de facto salary cap. Front offices typically have gone out of their way not to exceed it, especially in recent years. The Cubs, Red Sox, and Yankees are each widely believed to be looking to stay below $208 million in 2020.

In pursuit of payroll efficiency, the Cubs are believed to be willing to listen to offers for catcher Willson Contreras, third baseman Kris Bryant, outfielders Kyle Scharber, Albert Almora, and Ian Happ, as well as pitcher José Quintana. The Red Sox are believed to be pursuing trades of outfielder Mookie Betts and/or J.D. Martinez. Outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is also believed to be available. The Yankees, meanwhile, haven’t been linked to any of the top free agents. Accounting for projected arbitration salaries, their current 25-man roster is above $190 million already.

As we have been discussing the ongoing labor tension in baseball lately, one wonders if the CBT threshold might also be changed within the next collective bargaining agreement. It has served ownership well, giving them something to point at as a reason not to invest as much into putting together a competitive and entertaining product for fans.