Now Pitching for the Royals, Clayton Kershaw

Much has been said about Clayton Kershaw’s historic season. From his 41 inning scoreless streak to his 206 ERA+, he’s been compared to Sandy Koufax and many other all-time greats. He’s having the kind of season that we haven’t seen since Clemens, Johnson, Pedro, and Maddux were at their peaks.

Halfway across the country, the Kansas City Royals have a Clayton Kershaw of their own, and it comes in the form of Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera. These three righthanders have combined for a 1.27 ERA (318 ERA+) with a 32% K%. They are among the top 9 relief pitchers in all of baseball in WAR and have combined for 7.7 WAR in 169 2/3 innings. Compare that to Kershaw, who has 7.0 WAR in 161 1/3 innings. No other team this season has any combination of 2 or more pitchers with as high of a WAR/IP rate with nearly as many innings pitched.

But obviously the main difference between the KC trio and Kershaw is how these innings are distributed. Kershaw’s have come in 22 different appearances, average 7 1/3 innings per start. Holland, Davis, and Herrera have appeared in 92 of the Royals’ 135 games. Take your pick. You can have a starter come in every 5th day and completely dominate for most of the game or you can summon 1 of 3 guys in high leverage situations late in the game. Either way, your team’s chances of winning are greatly improved.

With a starting pitcher like Kershaw, the opposing manager has the option to stack their lineup with right handed hitters to take advantage of platoons. Consequently, 489 of 604 batters (81%) who have faced Kershaw have been right handed. But he has held them to .200/.233/.315 slash line, which speaks to just how truly great he has been.

Royals manager Ned Yost has the option to bring in these relievers in any situation. Because of this, the opposing manager is restricted to the lineup he has already set and the possibility of using pinch hitters. Because of this, opposing hitters have had the platoon advantage in just 54% of plate appearances. If you had the opportunity to make one of these three KC relivers a southpaw, you’d probably take it. However, they have limited left handed batters to just a .201/.285/.248 slash line.

Given the choice between the two, I’d chose Kershaw over Holland/Davis/Herrera, as I’d expect most people to as well. Mainly due to the (1) difficulty in finding a left handed pitcher of his caliber, (2) he only takes up one roster spot, and the fact the (3) he’s only making $4 million (Holland/Davis/Herrera are making just under $10 million combined). But regardless, the Royals bullpen has been utterly dominant and facing them in a 5 or 7-game series is a scary thought. With as many off days as the postseason schedule permits, these guys will be available in just about every contest.

Book Review: The Last Best League

Every year, the top college baseball players gather about 70 miles southeast of Boston to hone their skills and showcase their talents in front of amateur scouts from all 30 Major League Baseball teams. This is the Cape Cod League, the most prestigious of all the college summer leagues, made of 10 teams that play 40-game schedules. In the summer of 2002, Jim Collins chronicled the season for the Chatham A’s of the Cape Cod League.

The A’s manager is John Schiffner, a high school teacher and baseball coach in Plainfield, CT for most of the year. His challenge is to recruit these 19-21 year old prospects by cultivating relationships with Head Coaches from schools all across the country to put together the best team possible. Once assembled, he has to ensure adequate playing time for each of his players in order to appease the head coaches from their respective schools.

In assembling his 2002 roster, Schiffner takes the risky path by recruiting a good number of players who were taken in the June draft. It is often in these players interest to play in the Cape Cod League against a high level of competition while increasing their bargaining leverage. But the downside is, once they sign a professional contract, they become ineligible to play for their Cape team. It’s a bold move since these drafted players are among the most talented, but they can be gone in an instant.

Jim Collins takes you through all that goes into one season in the Cape Cod League. From recruiting players throughout the year, to the volunteers who help procure uniforms, to the host families that take in the ballplayers during their time on the cape. It’s almost as if the entire community is involved in one way or another and they are rewarded with free baseball from the top college players in the country.

Collins also describes the day to day life of the Chatham A’s players. How they are required to find a day job during the season and the relationships they establish with their host families. You learn that while all these players have elite talent for their age, they also all have different motivations, goals, and expectations for their careers.

As a baseball fan, the beauty of reading a book from a decade ago was recognizing and following players that I’ve seen on top prospect lists and even the select few that have made a career in the Major Leagues. Even twelve years later, Tim Stauffer and Chris Ianetta, two Chatham A’s are still in the big leagues. Other future Major Leaguers from around the league are Anthony Gwynn, David Murphy, David Aardsma, and Jeff Niemann.

Brad Ziegler was even viewed as sort of an antagonist. As a member of the 2001 Chatham A’s, he made a comment in the local newspaper that rubbed some of his teammates the wrong way. He would return to the Cape in 2002, but this time with the Harwich Mariners and he would face off against his old team more than once along the way.

The most current release of The Last Best League is the “10th Anniversary Edition” (the book was originally released in 2004). This edition includes a chapter titled “10 Years Later”, which catches up with each of the ’02 Chatham A’s. All throughout the book, I had the urge to hop on the internet and check out how each player fared in professional baseball. Knowing that this chapter was included, I avoided doing any research until after I was finished. These players are still just in their early 30’s, but it’s surprising just how many of them are already out of professional baseball. Jim Collins continually refers to the baseball “pyramid”. By this he means that at every level, only the very best of the best will advance to play at the next level, all the way up to the “tip” of the pyramid, the Major Leagues. Ten years later, it’s easy to see that only a very few make it to the “tip”.