Clayton Kershaw had one of the worst starts of his career last night, throwing 84 pitches over only 2.2 innings. It was the second-shortest start of his career. He walked four batters, and was pulled after throwing two straight balls to pitcher Kevin Correia with the bases loaded.
Joe Torre had seen enough. I would say he was angry, but one of Torre's strengths is his ability to stay even-keeled, or at least give the outward appearance of calmness. However, I was angry, and judging by the comments during the game, you were angry too.
Its not an unnatural reaction. Of the 58 National League pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, nobody has walked more per nine innings than the 21-year old Kershaw (5.48). There is something about walks by a pitcher that are maddening. This is the flip side of the aesthetic unpleasantness of a batter striking out. Its the reason those two old guys that sit behind BHSportsGuy hate Matt Kemp.
Watching Kershaw nibble around the strike zone, give up a seemingly endless stream of foul balls (29% of his strikes have been fouled off, the ninth-highest percentage in the NL), and walk batter after batter can be frustrating. However, if we take a step back and analyze what we have in Kershaw, we will realize he's not so bad after all.
Here are Kershaw's rankings among the 58 qualified NL starters:
Even with all his struggles, Kershaw is a middle of the pack starter, almost by definition a 2nd or 3rd starter (remember, there are 16 NL teams). He has just been inconsistent, that's all. He has mixed in three excellent starts (seven innings each time), three awful starts (last night, plus the two road bombings in Houston and Colorado), and five so-so starts (pitching well but throwing far too many pitches to last deep into the game). The highs he has already reached -- not to mention the highs he is sure to eventually reach -- make the lows much more bearable.
With Hiroki Kuroda healthy, Kershaw only has to be the fourth starter, something he is more than qualified and capable of being. There's no reason to believe that Eric Stults (5.60 x-FIP), Eric Milton (5.26 x-FIP), Jeff Weaver (4.89 x-FIP), or even Shawn Estes would be any better than Kershaw right now, or pose any threat to Kershaw's rotation spot.
There are growing pains we all have to endure with a 21-year old pitcher. However, Kershaw has been, and will be a very good pitcher for the Dodgers, and he's here to stay.