To avoid any misunderstanding, a preface: Clayton Kershaw was amazing last night. His fastball had terrific late movement, so good that you could plainly see it on television. His slider and curveball were otherworldly. The curveball that befuddled Wilin Rosario in the 7th inning last night will be my lasting memory of the no-hitter. Kershaw deserves every bit of the praise he’s received — from high quarters and low ones like mine — for his performance.
Since I’m a Rockies fan, I want to focus less on Kershaw and more on the Rockies’ plate appearances last night, which generally were abysmal. A few hard shots found gloves instead of gaps but, in the main, the Rockies looked terrible.
I agree with my friend Jordan Freemyer, who rightly notes that Kershaw would’ve dominated just about any batting lineup last night. Great pitching has a way of making hitters look bad. But one corollary, I think, is that the Rockies likely would’ve been dominated by just about any pitcher last night.
What went wrong? Well, a few things, all of which contributed to the Rockies netting a total of one baserunner.
1. Falling Behind. In the mind’s eye, it’s easy to picture the Rockies chasing at Kershaw’s pitches last night. But the chasing generally came later in the at-bats. The Rockies received — and either took or missed — plenty of first-pitch strikes. In fact, Kershaw’s first-pitch strike rate was 75 percent. So far in 2014, the Rockies have seen first-pitch strikes in 63.6 percent of their at-bats, a major-league high that Kershaw well surpassed. And, in the main, these were fastballs thrown by Kershaw. In fact, 71.4% of Kershaw’s fastballs last night went for strikes. Perhaps surprisingly, Colorado had pitches to hit from the outset, but completely failed to take advantage.
2. Missing Out. Once Kershaw was ahead in the count, he drew the Rockies out of the zone, and with terrific success. For the Rockies’ part, chasing Kershaw’s pitches was folly. Here’s Kershaw’s strikezone plot from last night (from Brooks Baseball):
Now, here’s the plot modified to show pitches outside the zone that the Rockies either missed or fouled off. There are 27 of those out of the total 107 pitches Kershaw threw:
Colorado thus swung and made no meaningful contact on 25 percent of Kershaw’s pitches, because they were chased outside the zone. Falling behind put the Rockies’ hitters in a defensive posture, and Kershaw made them pay for it. And, for their part, the Rockies did themselves no favors by obliging Kershaw’s fairly straightforward gameplan. They’d have been much better served by staying patient, even at the risk of taking a second strike, than by expanding the zone for Kershaw.
3. Trouble with the Curve(s). The strikezone plot underscores just how disastrous it was for the Rockies to expand the zone. Twelve of the 27 pitches at which the Rockies swung and missed (or fouled off) were down and in to right-handed hitters. This underscores just how terrific Kershaw’s breaking pitches were last night, with the Rockies flailing haplessly at them (evidenced by the swinging strikes). Here, for example, is a different plot that breaks down Kershaw’s pitches by type (again, from Brooks).
You can see here just how many sliders and curves Kershaw threw down in the zone (indicated in red and orange). But you can also see how many curves and sliders found themselves inside the strikezone. Nonetheless, the Rockies were unable to do anything with them. Colorado swung and missed on over 38 percent of Kershaw’s sliders. Taking fastballs and swinging at the breaking stuff made for a poor combination.
Where does this leave the Rockies? In a way, it remains to be seen. We’ll know more this weekend when they play Milwaukee. It well could be that Colorado ran into a pitcher who unquestionably had the stuff for a perfect game last night. But it also could be that the Rockies’ lineup, at least as it was constituted last night, has a mixed-up plate approach that needs to be corrected to avoid getting blanked again.