It’s been a rough start to the spring for Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw. Through 3 outings, the veteran pitcher has allowed 6 earned runs. That would be 6 more than he gave up in the previous two springs combined. He does have 8 strikeouts compared to 1 walk, but the bottom line is that he hasn’t looked quite like himself.
One possible culprit for the early struggles could be a decrease in velocity on his fastball. While he was averaging 92-93 mph at this point last season, he’s is sitting closer to 89 mph right now. When asked if he was worried about the dip in velocity, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts stood by his pitcher as usual.
It’s funny, I think we have this conversation every year… I’m not concerned about it. I think if you look at it, adrenaline relative to each pitcher, they’re all sort of in that same bucket. Whether it’s Gonsolin, its May, it’s Bauer… it’s the same. The velocity will tick up when the adrenaline and all that stuff. THis is part of the build up process for these guys.
When asked about the importance of velocity to Kershaw himself, Roberts again refused to go down that path.
That’s a question for him. But I think for me, the command – the pitch mix that he has – certainly outweighs the velocity for me. But any pitcher is gonna want to see velocity. And again, I believe that it’s going to tick up as he progresses.
The questions are more than valid, as Kershaw’s impressive 2020 season came with a significant velocity boost. He saw the velocity rise on his heater by 1.3 mph. That being said, Kershaw has relied less and less on the fastball to get outs over the years. He has turned his attention to an increased amount of offspeed pitches to beat hitters. While his fastball usage has dropped over 30% since 2010, his curveball and slider usage has steadily increased year after year with the Dodgers.
The bottom line is that Kershaw doesn’t use his fastball like he used to. Instead of trying to throw the baseball past hitters, he has turned himself into a true pitcher that relies on location and movement.
And while training camp hasn’t quite gone his way, he had a similar experience back in 2014. That was when he had a 9.20 ERA during the Dodgers spring before winning the NL MVP by the end of the year.
Yes, Clayton Kershaw is no longer the same guy he was during his MVP season. His fastball is slower and he’s had to change his approach. Some may say that it’s a sign of an aging player nearing the end. I prefer to look at it as the wisdom and evolution of a seasoned vet, and I’m sure Dave agrees.