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2018 Dodger Player Reviews: Clayton Kershaw

Sep 24, 2018; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) reacts after pitching during the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Dodgers drafted Clayton Edward Kershaw as the 7th overall pick in the 2006 MLB draft. Since then, he’s been pretty good. That was a poor attempt at humor obviously, as Clayton Kershaw has been arguably (in the opinion of this writer there is no argument) the best pitcher in baseball since 2010. Since then, he’s won 3 Cy Youngs, an MVP, thrown a no-hitter, and taken two trips to the World Series. That last part has enough subtext to fill a large yacht, but we won’t touch on that at this moment.

 

Regular Season Performance

  • IP: 161
  • W/L: 9-5
  • SO: 155
  • WHIP: 1.041
  • WAR: 4.0

If we were talking about a lot of other pitchers, this would appear like a positive performance. For Clayton Kershaw, it was very obviously a ‘down’ year. The results were still surprisingly good, but the trends are what concerned most Dodger fans.

Down Trends

  • SO/9: 8.6

His strikeout per 9 innings being at 8.6 was his worst since his rookie year, when he had an 8.4. He hasn’t posted a SO/9 below 10 since 2013.

  • H9: 7.8

His hits per 9 innings continued the trend from 2017 where he had a 7.0. He hadn’t posted anything above 7 since 2010.

Average Fastball Velocity:

  • 2014: 93.0
  • 2015: 93.6
  • 2016: 93.1
  • 2017: 92.7
  • 2018: 90.9

That’s a huge leap down from 2017-2018. The interesting thing is that the biggest change in his repertoire usage was not his curveball usage, or his fastball usage. It was his slider. He threw his slider 42.3 percent of the time which was a whopping 7.4% more than the year before. Clayton Kershaw’s idea was clearly to pair his fastball and slider as a 1-2 punch combo. The problem with that is those two pitches this year only average a 2 MPH difference. His slider is wicked to be sure, but that’s not enough speed difference to use those two pitches exclusively.

I don’t want to lull anyone to sleep who isn’t a huge fan of sabermetrics, but they are obviously extremely helpful numbers to look at. On Fangraphs.com you can find Kershaw’s wFB number. This is “Fastball Runs Above Average.” This number is drastic.

From a high 30’s mark to below 0 in the span of a few years is a very alarming number. Hopefully Clayton Kershaw can find ways to make his fastball more useful, by incorporating his other pitches.

Highlights

All this to say, King Kershaw was not without his gems this season. Here’s a few videos of great outings he had.

This first one is a game where he destroyed the Diamondbacks.

Here’s an outing where he played on the aggressiveness of the young Atlanta Braves team. This would play out in the playoffs, too. Kershaw as always was also good with the bat, driving in 2 runs and reaching all 4 PA’s.

These were the types of outings where Dodger Nation collectively thought Kershaw was back in younger form.

October: The Two Kershaws

Dodger fans were surprised to learn that Hyun Jin-Ryu was to start game one of the NLDS. Kershaw was given the 2nd game. This has been parsed and touched on everywhere, including at Dodgers Nation. It doesn’t need any more parsing. Well King Kershaw pitched an absolute gem against Atlanta in game 2. He pitched 8 scoreless innings, allowing only 2 hits and striking out 3. That’s a fairly low strikeout total, but the Braves also were very aggressive and put the ball in play quite a bit.

The NLCS was not as kind to Clayton Kershaw, at least not in his first outing. I believe it was our own @FRG who predicted that Kershaw would have one bad outing followed by one good outing. In game 1 of the NLCS he had his shortest postseason outing of his illustrious career. He pitched only 3 innings and allowed 5 runs on 6 hits, with 2 walks. Kershaw did not have his best stuff. In game 5 he had a rebound outing, pitching 7 innings and allowing only 1 run. He struck out 9, which impressed everyone.

The World Series was a rough show for Clayton Kershaw. In game 1 he pitched 4 innings and gave up 5 runs. Game 5 was a little better, as he pitched 7 innings but allowed 4 runs, which included 3 home runs. His 2018 World Series totals were not pleasant.

  • ERA: 7.36
  • IP: 11
  • H: 14
  • ER: 9
  • SO: 10

This unfortunately added to the growing reputation that Clayton Kershaw has of struggling in the playoffs.

Final Thoughts

When your team makes the playoffs 5+ years in a row, your numbers no longer have the benefit of being ‘small sample size.’ What is lost in this is that while Clayton Kershaw has certainly had some heavy playoff struggles, the gems he has thrown in the playoffs (while not lost in this writer) tend to get lost in the mire of the poor outings. Other pitchers whose playoff successes are the stuff of legends, tend to have smaller sample sizes. This isn’t an excuse for Clayton Kershaw, who certainly has to own the results, but it’s also unfair in this era to hope your ONE elite pitcher can carry every your team every series.

Overall, yes a ‘down’ season for Clayton Kershaw. The concerns for his injuries and his dip in velocity weigh heavy for Clayton Kershaw. What 2019 holds depends on those facets. If his fastball velocity is to now be at 90 mph, Clayton is certainly going to have to rely on his pinpoint location as well as using his other pitches in perfect tandem.

I still see a WS crown for our King.

Written by AJ Gonzalez

AJ is a lifelong Dodgers fan who grew up in California. His whole family are also lifelong Dodgers fans. He lives in Tennessee with his wife, daughter, beagle, and strat.

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