UPDATE: Kershaw gets the nod.
7:55 AM: Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has a big decision to make for today’s NLDS Game 4: bring back Clayton Kershaw on short rest to face the Nationals or, alternatively, go with rookie Julio Urias, who is fully rested. As late as last night he had still not named his starting pitcher for today. In our view, however, there’s no choice at all: he has to go with his ace.
Yes, there are factors which may argue in favor of Urias, the most obvious being that he’s fully rested. He likewise pitched fantastically in August and September, although he pitched in relief in three of those outings and a couple of his starts were short, get-your-work in affairs. But c’mon, is a rookie manager going to go with a 20-year-old rookie starter in an elimination game when he has Clayton Kershaw sitting right there?
People who say “yes” to that have some data to back them up in the form of overall numbers suggesting that, generally speaking, starters on short rest do not do too well in the postseason. Indeed, in the Wild Card era (1995-present) there have been 121 playoff games in which pitchers have been used on short rest. They are a combined 35-40, with a 4.35 ERA. Which looks even worse when you realize that managers tend to use their best pitchers, not their worst, on short rest. If your ace is posting a 4.35 ERA, your ace is not doing his job.
Kershaw, though, has been an exception to that rule. He’s pitched on short rest in each of the past three seasons. And he’s pitched pretty well:
- On short rest in last year’s NLDS Game 4 against the Mets, Kershaw allowed one run over seven innings to get the win and help the Dodgers stave off elimination for one more game;
- In 2014 he did the same Friday-Tuesday NLDS Game 1/Game 4 thing on short rest against the Cardinals, allowing three runs in six innings, taking the loss. Not great, but not a disaster; and
- In 2013 he pitched Game 4 of the NLDS against the Braves on short rest, allowing zero earned runs, but two unearned runs, in six innings. There he got the no-decision but the Dodgers prevailed in the infamous Craig Kimbrel-standing-in-the-bullpen-watching-it-all-unfold game.
So, overall, in three short rest playoff starts, Kershaw is 1-1 and has struck out 23 batters with just four walks and posted a 1.89 ERA. He has, in the past, done what the Dodgers need him to do today.
The only caveat in play, of course, is how Kershaw is feeling. Remember, he missed a lot of time with injury this year. And he labored pretty heavily in Game 1 of this series. He only went five innings and his pitch count wasn’t eye-popping, but it was high for just five innings and a lot of those pitchers were in high stress situations. There’s also the matter of who in the heck pitches the deciding Game 5 if Kershaw goes today and wins. We’ll leave that part of the analysis to Leo Durocher, though:
Still I think Dave Roberts has to give Kershaw the ball today. If he falters, he has Urias, who has made several mutlti-inning relief appearances in his rookie year. Think of them as being piggy-backed, perhaps. But think of Clayton Kershaw as the man you want when your entire season hangs in the balance. If Dave Roberts gambles on Kershaw today and loses, well, he lost with his best. If he gambles on Urias today and loses while Kershaw is left sitting for a game that may never come, it’ll be a long, cold winter of “what ifs.”