Is it time for actual baseball games yet?
As the Dodgers spring training continues on, the hangover of 2017 also just keeps lingering. This, of course, is through no fault of the Dodgers themselves; I’m certain that they are more than happy to finally move on from that fated season.
None more so than Clayton Kershaw, I’m sure. (Although, if you haven’t checked out the fantastic article by Jon Weisman with Andre Either, I highly recommend it). Of all the legacies of players on the Dodgers, if Los Angeles never does win that ring in the next few seasons, it will be Kershaw who may suffers the most. He will be doomed to be the Dan Marino of the major leagues, the greatest pitcher to never win a World Series title.
Kershaw recently spoke with Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated and reflected on that marred series. Unlike the Houston players, even though he wasn’t the wronged party, he still puts the blame on his own shoulders. He didn’t change his signs with catcher Austin Barnes because, in his mind, why should he? He had steamrolled the Astros in Game 1 and was cruising in Game 5, up until he wasn’t.
Then, explaining his reasoning, Kershaw said, “To me, it’s like, ‘Well, I’m not tipping my pitches, I give one sign, and they shouldn’t be able to know what’s coming because they’re not getting it from the catcher and they’re not getting it from me.’ They shouldn’t know. And that’s probably just me being naive as well about how they can use technology.”
Kershaw was playing by an old honor code in a den of thieves. It was the equivalent of using “password” as your password while at a hackers’ convention. But who knew? Who would suspect anyone of stealing and relaying signs in real time at the World Series? The Astros, that’s who.
Now, all Kershaw can do is learn and move on. It’s been well documented the digression of Kershaw over the last few seasons. The greatest pitcher of this generation is aging, as it happens to all of the best. 2019 was the first time his ERA was over 3 since his rookie season in 2008, as he finished the year with a 16-5 record and a 3.03 ERA. We have been spoiled as fans, as that is seen as a ‘bad’ season.
Still, that was not as good a season as Kershaw had hoped, and so he’s spent time this offseason working on his his throwing and conditioning routine. “A lot of his success last season was with grit and guile” manager Dave Roberts told reporters Thursday morning.
And so Kershaw works towards a better 2020.
PECOTA is high on Kershaw, placing him as a top five pitcher in both DRA and DRA-, and third in WARP, behind Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer. His full projection is a 2.28 ERA, 171 innings pitched, and 208 strikeouts. That would put him at 11 strikeouts per nine innings. While I would be absolutely thrilled with this season for Kershaw, I don’t think he’ll be quite that successful.
But I do think that he’ll be better than last season.
On Tuesday, Dennis also wrote about Kershaw and his optimism for the upcoming season. In it he states that both Steamer and Baseball Reference are at much lower projections than PECOTA.
Kershaw has had all winter to think about 2017, and the way the 2019 season ended. This has also been the longest offseason for him and the Dodgers, and with the sting of the last few postseasons fresh in his mind, he’ll be more motivated than ever to bounce back. With the new pitching staff and the intell from Driveline, there will be new ideas and ways to make Kershaw a better pitcher—not just a thrower.
My biggest hope is that the Dodgers finally have a bullpen to depend on through the playoffs so it isn’t left up to Kershaw yet again. But there is time for that to work itself out. In the meantime, I am eagerly awaiting seeing No. 22 back in action on the mound.