The “Not a Clayton Kershaw Comparison” Comparison

There’s only one Clayton Kershaw. Comparing a pitcher at any level — amateur, minors, majors — to Clayton Kershaw is a terrible, awful, no good, very bad idea. Presumably there will be another generational pitching talent at some point in the future and, when that future ace posts Kershavian stats over the course of multiple seasons, maybe we can start having that discussion. Maybe. Until then, do not make Kershaw comps. In fact, let’s call that The First Rule of Kershaw: no comps.

Alright, with all that out of the way, let’s have some fun comparing a pitcher to Clayton Kershaw… Look, I stand by The First Rule of Kershaw fully, but I’m also partial to this crazy theory that baseball is fun. We’re all smart enough here to recognize that players who aren’t comparable on a macro level can still have similarities at the micro level. So I’m going to ask you to turn off that beautifully analytical portion of your brain for just a moment, sit back, and watch two pitchers.

I know it’s been much too long, but here’s a reminder of what Clayton Kershaw looks like when he throws a baseball:

Full disclosure bordering on sacrilege: there’s a part of me that doesn’t love watching Kershaw pitch. I feel like a monster even admitting such a thing but, well, look at that delivery. It’s herky, jerky and doesn’t live up to my ideal of what an elite pitching motion should look like. But that’s my problem, not Kershaw’s. He’s a generational talent and that’s what this generational talent looks like when he pitches.

Now let’s watch another National League West pitcher:

That’s Tyler Anderson, the lesser known of two rookies currently shoving in the Rockies rotation – the other being former top prospect, Jon Gray. Do you see the similarities between Kershaw and Anderson? Those are two 6-foot-4, left-handed pitchers with serious funk in their delivery. More specifically, those are two 6-foot-4 lefties with serious funk caused by a hitch resulting from a momentary pause in the right leg. I’m neither the first nor the only to notice this parallel between the two.

Allow me to ever so briefly reassert The First Rule of Kershaw is in full effect here before I go on to talk about how wonderful Tyler Anderson has been through his first 10 major-league starts. Seven of his first 10 starts have come at Coors Field and still, somehow, he’s managed to compile an impressive 3.25 ERA. Due to the Coors Field Effect, it’s worth taking a look at his park-adjusted stats. Since he has just 61 innings under his belt, I set a relatively low innings limit of 60 and pulled the stats of the 144 starting pitchers to cross that threshold this season. Here are his park-adjusted stats and MLB ranks:

2016 Park-Adjusted Stats
ERA- MLB rank (out of 144) FIP- MLB rank (out of 144)
Tyler Anderson 67 T-11th 71 7th
Ranks are among starting pitchers w/ 60+ IP

The six pitchers with a lower FIP- than Anderson? Clayton Kershaw (him again!), Noah Syndergaard, Jose Fernandez, Rich Hill, Corey Kluber, and Lance McCullers. And, just for good measure, the next three pitchers after him are Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Jacob deGrom. That’s not a bad little group of pitchers Anderson has joined.

Okay, so we’ve got a left-hander with a hitch who is among the league leaders in both run prevention and our fielding independent pitching metrics. It’s probably time to begin moving away from the Kershaw similarities now, right? Well, since we’re doing this, we should probably also make note of the fact that Tyler Anderson is sporting a 4.7% walk rate, which is tied for sixth among that group of starters with 60-plus innings — Kershaw’s 2.0 BB% is, of course, first.

But from there we can finally start to move away from this “not a comp” comp. Kershaw is primarily a fastball, slider, curveball pitcher; Anderson is a fastball, cutter, changeup guy. Kershaw pairs his absurd walk rate with almost equally impressive strikeout rates; Anderson strikes out batters at a roughly league-average rate. Kershaw is Kershaw; Anderson is not.

There’s inescapable interest and intrigue when a Rockies pitcher performs well and one of the fun things about Anderson is that he embodies two of the popular theories of how to succeed at Coors Field: 1. He doesn’t rely on a breaking pitch and 2. He induces a ton of grounders. His 54.9% ground-ball rate ranks ninth among that group of 144 starters and, more importantly for a Rockies pitcher, that’s helped him to post a 0.74 HR/9 rate which is tied for 17th — not too bad for a guy who’s logged 71% of his innings at Coors Field. (In a trivial but not entirely insignificant related note, Anderson’s rotation mate and name buddy, Tyler Chatwood, ranks just ahead of him at fifth in ground-ball rate and 15th in HR/9.)

What I find particularly intriguing about Anderson’s ground-ball-inducing ways is that he induces them with all three of his main pitches. (Note that he’s made just one start in August, so there’s some small-sample weirdness at the end of the following chart.)

GB per BIP

A cutter inducing lots of grounders? Makes sense. A changeup as a ground-ball machine? Sure. But a four-seam fastball generating grounders at that rate? That’s not something you see everyday. Dig into the numbers and you’ll find that Anderson’s four-seamer is generating grounders on 59% of balls put into play and, what’s more, the 9.8-inch vertical movement on the pitch indicate that he’s doing this with a lack of sink on the pitch. I was curious if this is as much an outlier as it feels like it should be, so I used Baseball Prospectus’ PITCHf/x leaderboard to pull data from the past two seasons on four-seamers thrown 200+ times by starting pitchers. Each data point is one season’s worth, so pitchers who meet the criteria in both seasons show up twice.

Anderson scatter plot

Oh, hi, Kershaw. I promise this is the end of my pointing out largely trivial similarities between the two. Anderson and Kershaw are left-handed pitchers with funky deliveries who both limit walks and generate grounders off their fastballs at a higher rate than you might expect. Now kindly refer to The First Rule of Kershaw. When a pitcher is producing excellent results, as Anderson is, it’s natural that there will be statistical similarities of some kind to the pitcher who produces excellent results in seemingly every single category. The delivery funk just gives it a fun twist.

What is more relevant and important, is that Anderson on his own has truly been performing well. It will be fun to see if he’s able to maintain this success and give further credibility to the idea that repertoires which are light on breaking balls are the best fit for Coors Field. After missing the 2015 season with an elbow injury, Anderson was largely off the radar entering the season, but if he keeps this up, he won’t be able to sneak up on anybody much longer.

Corinne Landrey writes for FanGraphs and's Cut4 site. Follow her on Twitter @crashlandrey.

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Noah Baronmember
5 years ago

Excellent article. Stuff like this is why I read FanGraphs.

5 years ago
Reply to  Noah Baron


5 years ago
Reply to  Noah Baron

I feel like this is the top comment on every article I read. If Fangraphs articles weren’t awesome and insightful none of would come here.

#sorrynotsorry #cantstaysilent