The World Series is here and when the Dodgers take on the Red Sox on Tuesday night, there will be two big name starters on the hill. Let’s start by looking at some of the regular season stats for the two starters.
Chris Sale had a better regular season, that’s clear. Kershaw had a down regular season. His average fastball velocity fell from 93.1 mph in 2017 to 91.4 mph in 2018. He also struck out fewer batters, his K/9 fell from 10.39 in 2017 to 8.65 in 2018. As for Sale, he was dominant in 2018, leading all MLB starters (minimum 150 innings) in K/9 at 13.5. Sale has been nearly twice as valuable as Kershaw this season as seen by his WAR and WPA.
In these tables we see Kershaw’s and Sale’s performances broken down by postseason series. Kershaw played a bigger role in success for the Dodgers than Sale for the Red Sox and both pitchers were better in the Division Series than League Championship Series. Overall, Kershaw’s numbers are better in the playoffs, but it should be considered that Sale was battling an illness during the ALCS. The tables below show each pitcher’s last five appearances.
Both Kershaw and Sale have made relief appearances this postseason. Neither starter has reached 100 pitches in a game yet. Sale hasn’t gone deep in any of these games, while Kershaw has. Neither pitcher has been completely lights out as of late. You can see both have given up some runs, but each only one home run in their last five games and Sale is yet to give one up in the playoffs. Let’s take more of a look at what makes these two the most trusted starters on their respective teams.
Scouting Report: LHP Clayton Kershaw
Pitches: Slider (42%), 4-seam Fastball (41%), Curveball (16.5%), Changeup (0.5%)
Kershaw has put the thought of early career postseason struggles behind him and has become a big-game pitcher. Kershaw’s fastball has lost nearly 2 mph from previous years and is down to 91 mph and is as straight as an arrow. His slider gets a lot of ground balls and is thrown very hard for a slider (89 mph). Kershaw’s slower curve (73 mph) has a very big bite to it and can be more of a swing and miss pitch. He rarely ever throws his change and hasn’t gotten many whiffs with it. Kershaw’s increase in slider usage and decrease in curveball usage is probably a reason his strikeout numbers are lower this season. Kershaw threw 187 pitches against the Brewers in the NLCS: 82 sliders, 72 fastballs and 33 curveballs. The three heatmaps below show where Kershaw threw each of his three pitches against the Brewers. He threw sliders bottom right (away from righties), fastballs bottom left (inside to righties) and curveballs below the zone.
Scouting Report: LHP Chris Sale
Pitches: 4-seam Fastball (39%), Slider (35%), Circle Changeup (15%), Sinker (11%)
Ever since Boston acquired Sale from the White Sox in December 2016, he has been a dominant workhorse at the top of their rotation. His fastball (96 mph) gets a ton of swings and misses and has a sinking action to it. His sweeping slider (80 mph) has tremendous depth and is another reason for his massive strikeout totals. His circle changeup is thrown very hard (87 mph), has armside fade and generates a lot of groundballs in addition to swings and misses. His tailing sinker (93 mph) also contributes to high numbers of strikeouts and grounders. Against the Astros, Sale threw 39 fastballs, 29 sliders, 12 changeups and 6 sinkers. The heatmaps below show where Sale threw his fastball, slider and changeup against the Astros last series. Sale works with fastballs up, sliders down and in to righties/ away to lefties and changeups down and in to lefties/ away to righties.
Game One will have a lot experience on the mound and some of the best breaking stuff in the majors. It will be important for the Dodgers to work Sale’s pitch count up and get to that Boston bullpen. On the other side, Kershaw will have to face two big right handed bats in Mookie Betts and JD Martinez. The Red Sox should look to get on Kershaw early on in the game and early on in counts.