There’s probably no other player on the Dodgers‘ active roster scrutinized more than lefty starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw. When he was at the peak of his game just a few years ago, many folks rivaled his success with the legendary Sandy Koufax; but now that he is on the backside of his impressive career, there are actually some fans who feel he’s not even worthy of a rotation slot.
Aside from his rookie season in 2008, most of Kersh’s 2019 regular season numbers were among the worst of his career, specifically his 3.03 ERA and 3.86 FIP. However, it goes without saying that many rival teams around the league would be happy if their ace produced those kinds of numbers. That’s a great example of how much fans of the Dodgers have been spoiled for decades by superior starting pitching.
Of course, Kershaw has been hampered by the monkey on his back as far as throwing in the playoffs goes. During the regular season, he has a lifetime record of 169-74 with a ridiculous 2.44 ERA, yet during his postseason career, he has tallied a 9-11 mark with a not-so-impressive 4.43 ERA. Obviously, some of those figures involve the scandalous numbers of the Red Sox and Astros that Kersh will forever have on his personal ledger, but his five earned runs in just 6-1/3 frames during the 2019 NLDS are still quite revealing.
It goes without saying that Kershaw has passed the reigns of the “ace” pitcher to 23-year-old righty Walker Buehler. Despite the No. 2 label, the projections by many outlets still have Clayton producing All-Star caliber numbers for the upcoming campaign. According to the Steamer figures on Fangraphs, CK will post a 14-9 record with a 3.55 ERA, a 3.68 FIP and a 4.4 fWAR over 32 appearances and 202 innings pitched. Coincidentally, Baseball Reference has Kershaw tallying a 12-6 record with a 3.24 ERA over 164 innings of work.
Heading into the new campaign blind, I’d probably agree that the aforementioned predictions are as good as any, but something inside me seems to think that the now 31-year-old Kershaw might have a trick or two up his sleeve in order to succeed in 2020. Perhaps he has been putting in extra time this winter when it comes to pinpointing his command, or maybe he has optimized the spin on his deadly slider to produce better results. Despite the apparent decline in velocity on his four-seam, maybe Kershaw will finally discover a way to come somewhere close to the success he once experienced in his heyday.
Instead of avoiding reporters after his squad’s season-ending loss to the Nationals in the 2020 NLDS, Kershaw decided to speak, seemingly revealing the attitude with which he might take the field during the upcoming season.
“Every year is no fun. This year, the abruptness, the way it happened. It’s no fun. It’s not. It continues not to be,” Kershaw told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com after being eliminated by the Nationals. “But you have two options: you can either crawl into a hole, or you can move on and try to get better for the next year. I don’t want to crawl into a hole yet, so I’m going to try to get better for next year.”
My personal guess is that he will indeed get better. And, although he is viewed as the No. 2 starter in the rotation from a theoretical perspective, I’d be willing to wager skipper Dave Roberts still gives Kershaw the ball against the Giants on Opening Day.