There’s never been a more exciting time to be a Diamondbacks fan in recent memory. The win streak stands at 13. The team never trailed for nearly 100 straight innings, and once they fell behind, they quickly tied the game, then beat the Dodgers for the 10th time this season. They’ve cut the gap between them and Los Angeles in half over the last two weeks for the NL West crown while simultaneously putting impressive distance between themselves and the other Wild Card contenders. J.D. Martinez hit for dingers in a game. The pitching has been excellent. Paul Goldschmidt should be back any day now. It’s all clicking.
But this whole “beef” between Arizona and Los Angeles continues to be a thing. There’s bad blood from a few years back when Miguel Montero decided to get physical and the benches cleared. That was over four years ago now, but it lingers. The Dodgers went on to clinch the NL West that year while playing a September series in Phoenix and celebrated by throwing a pool party in center field. The Diamondbacks weren’t amused and neither were fans. But after watching the Dodgers come falling back to earth this month and seeing the Diamondbacks take off, the tables feel like they’re turning. Can you safely say the D-backs are the best in the west? Probably not, but I think you could argue without being a homer that it’s a dead heat, and that has the Dodgers and their fans feeling uneasy.
So the debate has been building, which is great in its own right, with fans from both sides staking claim to dominance. And with these two teams seemingly destined to face one another in the NLDS, it should make for quite the showdown. The most common refrain from Dodger fans has been that the D-backs haven’t had to contend with Clayton Kershaw as the race has tightened. This is true as he faced Arizona back on America’s birthday, but hasn’t since. In the meantime, Arizona’s budding lefty ace, Robbie Ray, has had his own little run of dominance over his division rival. On request, I looked into the two hurlers, Kershaw and Ray, to see just who has the edge when it comes to squaring off with their NL West nemesis.
Looking back, one thing jumps out immediately. The Diamondbacks have only faced Clayton Kershaw five times in the last three years combined. For a guy who pitches in the division, Arizona sure hasn’t seen much of him, thanks in part to some DL stints this season and last. By contrast, the Dodgers have seen Robbie Ray five times this year alone. If that seems unbalanced, well it is. Kershaw has been dominant for almost a decade now. Ray has only been truly dominant for about five months. Sure, Kershaw is four years older, but he was doing things at 21 that Ray is only just now sniffing. Kershaw is a lock for the Hall of Fame, Ray just got his first All Star nod this year.
Comparing the two careers results in plenty of differences, but what if we only looked at what happens when Kershaw faces the Diamondbacks and Ray faces the Dodgers? And, what if we looked at the most recent history of these starts? Do either of them hold an advantage over their opponent the last five times they’ve faced one another? After all, this is primed to be an October story line, so let’s get ahead of the curve (bad pun).
Here are Clayton Kershaw’s results from the last five times he’s faced the Diamondbacks:
Yes, those starts span parts of three seasons, but Kershaw has been very effective. His team has only lost one of those games. Meanwhile, he’s pitched to 2.91 ERA in these contests with 11.65 K/9 against 2.18 BB/9. Kershaw allowed three home runs in these five contests, but none have been hit this season. And that one clunker of a start, well that was nearly two and a half years ago, so we’re really having to stretch back to find a time the D-backs knocked him around. That’s fine, though, because it’s Clayton Kershaw and no one really knocks him around.
Now it’s Robbie Ray’s turn:
Ray’s last five starts against the Dodgers are nothing to sneeze at either. The Robbie Ray of 2017 is obviously quite different than the version we saw in 2015 and 2016 and this is a fine example. Los Angeles hasn’t struggled quite as much recently against left-handed pitching as they did in the past, but don’t tell Robbie that. His team has won four of these starts while he’s pitched to the tune of a 2.27 ERA with 15.06 K/9 and 3.41 BB/9. It seems that the Dodgers do provide Ray an opportunity to shine — 21.7% of his starts this year have come against the Dodgers while 28.8% of his strikeouts have come via the boys in blue.
This is a fun debate with a pretty simple answer: Clayton Kershaw is very good when he faces everyone, including the Diamondbacks, while Robbie Ray has been very good this year and especially good against the Dodgers. Do either provide their team a more favorable edge if Los Angeles and Arizona face off this fall? Kershaw tends to pitch deeper into games. Ray seems to be especially capable of keeping the ball out of play. The Diamondbacks will have a tough time hitting Kershaw, the Dodgers will have a tough time hitting Ray. Both teams have some capable right-handed hitters, but each pitcher has kept righties in check. Health, as always, could play a role.
So maybe it comes down to who’s better on their given night, and come October, would you want it any other way? If Zack Greinke pitches the Wild Card play-in game, we could see Kershaw and Ray take the mound for game one of the NLDS (provided Arizona advances), and again later in the series. Kershaw is unarguably one the greatest to throw a baseball in the modern era. Ray is one of the games budding young stars on the mound. This should make for a hell of a good time.
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FanGraphs Stats Glossary
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BP Base Running Stats
Previously on The Pool Shot, the guys explained some of their favorite advanced stats. Hitting, including wRC+, HHAV and batted ball; pitching (38:00), including FIP, xFIP and SIERA; and baserunning and defense, including UBR, UZR and DRS (58:00).