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On Clayton Kershaw, scoreless streaks, and fractions

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Kershaw hasn’t allowed a run in his last 18 innings

MLB: Washington Nationals at Los Angeles Dodgers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Dodgers and Padres are four for four in providing exciting games so far this season, with starting pitching leading the way. The best duel of last weekend gets a rematch at Dodger Stadium, with Clayton Kershaw battling Yu Darvish on Friday night.

Last Saturday in San Diego, the two hurlers combined for 13 innings, and the only run scored in those frames was a bases-loaded walk by Kershaw against Darvish.

The starting pitching has been magnificent for both teams in their first four matchups:

  • Dodgers: 25 innings, 16 hits, five runs, five walks, 28 strikeouts
  • Padres: 21⅓ innings, five hits, three runs, seven walks, 25 strikeouts

That’s not a typo. The Dodgers have only scratched together five hits in four games against San Diego starters. That included only one hit in seven innings on Saturday against Darvish.

But the Dodgers were able to pin the loss on their ex-teammate in that game, thanks in large part to Kershaw, who pitched six scoreless innings of his own.

After allowing a run in the first inning in Oakland on April 6, Kershaw pitched six more innings that day. Since then, he’s pitched six scoreless innings in each of his last two starts.

While the 18 consecutive scoreless innings is impressive, that he’s still 41 innings shy of Orel Hershiser’s major league record underscores how incredible a feat Hershiser’s streak was. But Kershaw’s no stranger to scoreless streaks. This is the 12th time in his career he’s had a regular season streak of at least 18 scoreless innings.

Clayton Kershaw scoreless streaks

Dates Starts Innings
Dates Starts Innings
Jun 13-Jul 10, 2014 6 41
Jul 3-Aug 1, 2015 5 37
Oct 3, 2012-Apr 12, 2013 4 23
May 8-19, 2012 3 22
Sep 24, 2015-Apr 9, 2016 5 21⅔
May 17-29, 2016 3 20
Jul 9-Sep 1, 2017 4 20
Aug 17-27, 2013 3 18
Sep 21, 2013-Mar 22, 2014 3 18
Jul 20-31, 2014 3 18
May 12-23, 2017 3 18
Apr 6-present, 2021 3 18

But I’m cheating a little bit here. Three of these streaks carry over from the end of one season into the next, which probably shouldn’t count. Two of those streaks had playoff starts in between in which Kershaw gave up runs, but we’re talking about regular season here. It does bring to mind the fact that Hershiser pitched eight scoreless innings in his first 1988 playoff start before allowing runs in the ninth, so if you want to count his streak as 67 innings I wouldn’t fault you. One of his Donruss baseball cards heading into 1989 even had “59 & counting” on the front, though the Reds quickly foiled any plans of a carryover streak by scoring against Hershiser in his first inning that season.

Kershaw during his peak got within reasonable striking distance of Hershiser, with a 41-inning scoreless streak in 2014 and a 37-inning string of zeroes in 2015. That 41-inning stretch is tied for the eighth-longest streak in the live ball era (since 1920).

But he’s also had so many streaks that extend for at least part of three starts. One of them, that stretches over the 2015 and 2016 seasons, is 21⅔ innings. Fractions of an inning are generally a no-no for these streaks, though with some exceptions.

Don Drysdale’s streak in 1968 was long listed as 58⅔ innings, but as Hershiser was chasing him down 20 years later, the Elias Sports Bureau clarified a rule based on a 1968 decision by the Baseball Writers Association of America, so Drysdale’s streak is officially 58 innings. From Ross Newhan at the Los Angeles Times in 1988, “The writers decided that in terms of a scoreless or hitless streak a starting pitcher should not be credited with a partial inning if the opposition scores in that inning.”

However, the third-longest scoreless streak since 1900 is by Walter Johnson, and officially recognized by MLB as 55⅔ innings. More from Newhan, who talked with then-head of Elias Seymour Siwoff:

Siwoff said that recent research showed Johnson made two relief appearances in scoreless innings and that there is no way to reflect that except by the fraction.

If Drysdale had been lifted for a relief pitcher after the first out of the fifth inning of his start June 8, 1968, against the Philadelphia Phillies, and that inning had remained scoreless, he, too, would have been credited with the fraction. Drysdale finished the inning, his streak ending when Howie Bedell hit a sacrifice fly to score Tony Taylor. Bedell’s fly was the second out. Thus, Drysdale never really pitched 58⅔ scoreless innings in the first place. He pitched 58.

For that 2015-16 Kershaw streak, his final start of 2015 was a shortened tuneup before the postseason, and he pitched 3⅔ innings without allowing a run. Because he was removed in the inning without allowing a run, and the runner he left on base did not score after he left, Kershaw gets credit for the two-thirds of an inning.

But for his current streak, Kershaw doesn’t get credit for the two outs recorded after the run scored in the first inning in Oakland, because he pitched the entire inning and allowed a run, thus it was not a scoreless inning.

Make sense?

Game info

Teams: Dodgers vs. Padres

Location: Dodger Stadium

Time: 7:10 p.m. PT

TV: SportsNet LA, MLB Network