The World Baseball Classic is one of the most unique events in sports, in part because it pulls major leaguers out of their usual teams and into new lineups that create otherwise-impossible matchups. When else are you going to see Mookie Betts try to throw Freddie Freeman out, or Clayton Kershaw face off against the one player who knows him best? The Dodgers will be represented on four teams in Pool C alone, leaving plenty of opportunity for Kershaw (USA) and Julio Urías (Mexico) to face off against some current teammates. Here are all the possibilities.
Clayton Kershaw vs. ...
Freddie Freeman (Canada)
Freeman has batted an average of .269 against lefties in his career, with a 23.3% strikeout rate. Kershaw is partial to his four-seamer and slider, according for nearly 90% of his pitch mix, and Freeman is no stranger to seeing either: in 2022 alone, those two pitches accounted for about 50% of what came his way. With a .304 batting average against four-seamers and .295 against sliders in 2022, this would be an interesting (but unlikely to play out) battle.
Austin Barnes (Mexico)
Austin Barnes bats a career average of .228 against lefties, with a .240 average against four-seamers and .192 against sliders in 2022. As Kershaw’s personal catcher, though, he’s got the huge advantage of knowing exactly how Kersh operates, and we may get a chance to see just how well that information serves him. After all, Barnes has caught 71 of Kershaw’s 189 starts in the past eight years, the second-most after A.J. Ellis.
Trayce Thompson (Great Britain)
Thompson may have the hardest time against Kershaw, in part because he’s only been on the Dodgers for a short period of time. His .210 career batting average against lefties doesn’t help, and with his average against four-seamers and sliders in that same same range for 2022, Thompson could be an easy out if he faces off against Kershaw.
Julio Urías vs. ...
Mookie Betts (USA)
It’s interesting that both Dodgers pitchers in Pool C are lefties. Urías favors his four-seamer and curveball, accounting for an even 81% of pitches in 2022, but isn’t shy about using a changeup (17.5%) either.
Betts is great against lefties, with a career .295 batting average. With a 2022 batting average of above .220 against each of Urías’s favorite pitches, we’re not likely to see this matchup play out — if we did, Betts would have a pretty good edge.
Will Smith (USA)
Like Barnes, Smith’s position as catcher could give him some extra insight into how best to handle Urías. He’s got a career average of .259 against left-handed pitchers and does particularly well against curveballs (.364 in 2022), with strong averages against four-seamers and changeups as well. This one is another unlikely matchup, but a possible one nonetheless.
We know Freeman can handle a southpaw and four-seamer pretty well, but how about the rest of Urías’s pitch mix? Freeman batted .235 against curveballs in 2022 and .315 against changeups, so he’s likely got the advantage on this one, too.
Thompson would possibly have a harder time against Urías than Kershaw: he hit .238 against curveballs and just .125 against changeups in 2022. His best averages, in case you were wondering, come against splitters, cutters, and sinkers, all of which were at .400 or above last season.