Can Clayton Kershaw Finally Put 2017 Behind Him?

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.

What Are the Possibilities for Jimmy Nelson?

When it eventually comes time for the management crew and coaching staff of the Dodgers to select the team’s roster for Opening Day, they may be dealing with a few difficult decisions.

In Tuesday’s column, besides discussing the current mindset of lefty starter Clayton Kershaw, we stated that up to nine different pitchers might be considered for the Los Angeles starting rotation, which will presumably create an overflow of arms that could be relegated to the bullpen.

The right arm of 30-year-old Jimmy Nelson might be one of them.

Recently, front-office boss Andrew Friedman went on record saying that Nelson may conceivably be a Brandon Morrow-type of reliever, drawing a few chuckles from the fan base in the process.

Nevertheless, it isn’t as funny as it sounds, as both players have had several similarities over the course of their respective pedigrees.

Morrow missed 18 months with a shredded shoulder before the Dodgers took a chance on him prior to the beginning of the 2017 season, nursing him back to life as a reliever. Before his injury, Morrow registered five consecutive years with 10 or more starts from 2009-2013 with both the Mariners and Blue Jays. He was a double-digit winner in three consecutive seasons as a starter for Toronto from 2010-12. Of his 334 career appearances, 113 were starts.

Similarly, Nelson missed the entire 2018 season after having surgery for a partially torn labrum in his right shoulder. He dealt with significant elbow issues last year, pitching in just 22 innings over 10 games, three of which were starts. The three starts came in June and the seven appearances in relief came in September. Lifetime, Nelson has made 119 appearances with 107 starts—almost the same number of starts as Morrow before he was converted to a reliever.

Morrow has the ability to throw from a vast selection of pitches, always being known to tinker with different styles and release points. His fastball sits at 94-96 MPH, while occasionally topping out at 98 MPH on the gun.

Nelson also has a decent mix in his own repertoire—a four-seam, a sinker, a slider and a curve. Occasionally, he mixes in a variation of a change. Before his shoulder surgery in 2018, his heater mostly sat in the 94-95 MPH range. However, since his return, he has lost a few ticks, as he has lived right around 92-93 MPH. Those velocities could theoretically increase if he’s limited to much shorter outings in the bullpen.

The similarities between the two are certainly there.

Regardless, all the comparisons and projections in the world won’t help Nelson if he’s unable to stay healthy. That might be the primary reason the Dodgers boosted his contract with incentives.

As far as Nelson’s contract goes, he will earn a base salary of $1.25 million this year with a chance to increase that payout to $3 million, mainly based on the number of days on the team’s active roster—not starts. He also has a mutual option for next year. If he finds a way to remain a Dodger through the 2021 season, there’s a possibility he can bring home more than $13 million across those two years.

Indeed, the opportunity is there for him to resurrect his career.

Nelson has no minor league options remaining on his contract, so as long as he’s healthy and still part of the team, he’ll be among those included on the Opening Day roster.

 

Clayton Kershaw Begins 2020 Spring Training Full of Optimism

For the first time in a few years, Clayton Kershaw has entered spring camp with a full head of steam.

Ken Gurnick of MLB.com recently pointed out that spring training last year was borderline dreadful for the lefty starter, as he was dealing with a shoulder issue that eventually kept him on the shelf for the first three weeks of the regular season.

In 2017, it was a bad back that bogged Kersh down early—an injury that would resurface in 2018, causing the three-time Cy Young winner to spend time on the DL for 23 of the team’s games that summer.

Some fans actually believed it was that same back injury that seemingly put his career on a downward path.

Despite all that, the 2020 season appears to be following a different narrative—at least for now.

“I feel a lot better,” Kershaw told Gurnick on Sunday. “It’s fun. It feels good. Throughout the course of the season I felt pretty good, but to have a truly healthy offseason, I think I knew what to do a little better.”

Perhaps the biggest difference could be the fact that Kersh was able to keep his arm relatively loose all winter long.

“I did do something different this offseason,” Kershaw said. “I never really did stop throwing. I took a week off, then played catch twice or three times a week leading into the actual throwing program. It’s the first year I’ve done that. We’ll see if it pays off.”

Aside from his health, the fact that Los Angeles dramatically improved the team’s player roster may be another reason why Kershaw has entered camp with so much optimism and enthusiasm.

“That’s the beauty of being on this team,” Kershaw said to Gurnick. “We added Mookie Betts, we added David Price. Walker Buehler continues to get better. Julio Urias is going to have the reins taken off. We signed Alex Wood back. Jimmy Nelson looks good, Ross Stripling looks really good. We’ve got a lot of guys. Dustin May’s going to get better, Tony Gonsolin’s going to get better. There’s just so many. It’s just the signs of a good team.”

According to depth-chart models from several outlets, the front three of the Los Angeles rotation right now might consist of Buehler, Kershaw and Price, alongside two of either Urias, Wood, Nelson, May, Gonsolin or Stripling as the fourth and fifth starters.

With that particular grouping, it gives the team nine legitimate starters from which to build a front five and strategically work the injured list when somebody needs a break. Plus, there’s always the possibility of a front-line acquisition before the summer trade deadline at the end of July.

As far as the regular season goes, the projections by many outlets still have Kersh 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.

 

Dodgers News and Notes from Early Days of Spring Training

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It’s the first full day of all position players reporting to camp at Camelback Ranch. It’s also day 12,472 of the Houston Astros cheating scandal.

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Who in the World Is Kieran Lovegrove?

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While the Dodgers have certainly had their fare share of under-the-radar acquisitions this winter, none may be as interesting as the recent signing of pitcher Kieran Lovegrove.

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Kenley Jansen Hopes to Find Peak Form Early

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(Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports)

While the state of the Dodgers‘ bullpen was one of the most heavily discussed topics of the winter, it comes as no surprise that many eyes have been focused on Kenley Jansen during the early days of spring camp at Camelback Ranch.

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Catching Up with Pitching Prospect Braydon Fisher

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(Photo Credit: Phrake Photography)

While pitchers and catchers continue to settle back into their routines at Camelback Ranch, we thought it would be a good idea to briefly drift back to the minor league-side of things while re-exploring the depth of the Dodgers‘ stacked farm system.

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On the Astros ‘Apologies’ and Looking Ahead to 2020

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I try not think about what might’ve been. ‘Cuz that was then, and we have taken different roads. We can’t go back again, there’s no use givin’ in. And there’s no way to know what might’ve been” – Little Texas

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Apparently, Dodgers Have Been Eyeing Mookie Betts for Quite Some Time

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(MLB.com photo)

On Wednesday afternoon, both Mookie Betts and David Price made their first appearances at Chavez Ravine as members of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Needless to say, high praise for each player from front-office boss Andrew Friedman and skipper Dave Roberts was not spared in the least.

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Dodgers Finally Set 40-Man Roster After Latest Trade Flurry

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(Richard Mackson/USA TODAY Sports)

For a few quick moments, it looked like the 40-man roster of the Dodgers was stuck at the magical number of 42, despite MLB rules not allowing such a scenario.

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