Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw’s Path to the Hall of Fame

Jul 25, 2015; Cooperstown, NY, USA; Empty plaque spots await prior to Sunday's Induction at National Baseball Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 25, 2015; Cooperstown, NY, USA; Empty plaque spots await prior to Sunday's Induction at National Baseball Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports /

The Dodgers have a total of 15 players in Cooperstown. Nine players were inducted as Brooklyn Dodgers and six currently represent the Los Angeles Dodgers. Is Clayton Kershaw shaping up to add to that list?

For Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw, the above question can probably be answered in two words: stay healthy. End post.

Sarcasm aside, if Kershaw continues his current trajectory as a pitcher, he will be a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. He would join the ranks of 59 players and broadcasters in the HOF that have worn Dodger blue at some point in their careers (including players like Mike Piazza and Ricky Henderson). As of right now, though, as dominant as he is, he’s not a lock by any means.

After you’ve cleaned up the coffee you’ve just spit out in disgust, let me explain why Kershaw is not a lock. Have you heard of JAWS? Not the lovable shark from the 1975 Steven Speilberg film, but the Jaffe WAR Scoring System. Not only is this the best stat acronym to date, it’s a useful tool to compare HOF’ers to guys who are on the outside looking in. What is JAWS?

JAWS was developed by Jay Jaffe. There’s a great definition of the system on Baseball Reference and I encourage you to check it out. Essentially, it quantifies a players’ calculated score for the HOF when comparing said score to people at the same position that are already members of the HOF.

Los Angeles Dodgers
April 3, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) thrpws in the fifth inning against the San Diego Padres during the opening day game at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

The current JAWS average for pitchers in the HOF is 62.1, Clayton Kershaw currently sits at 51.6 per Baseball Reference. Note that JAWS does not take into account post-season success (or failure), individual accolades like CY Young or MVP awards, nor does it take into account times a player has led in a statistical category like wins or strikeouts.

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What The Numbers Show

To me, it looks like Kershaw is very close. He is 29 years old and in the middle of his prime. He is set for another run at the CY Young this year and hopefully postseason glory. He had a scare last year with a herniated disk, but that seems to be resolved. As Kershaw enters his post-30’s, his velocity will inevitably decline so the movement and mixing of his pitches along with location will become even more important. However, at the moment, it doesn’t seem to be an issue for him.

Kershaw’s fastball velocity per Fangraphs’ PITCHf/x:

  • 2008 – 94.3 mph
  • 2009 – 94.0 mph
  • 2010 – 92.5 mph
  • 2011 – 93.2 mph
  • 2012 – 93.0 mph
  • 2013 – 92.5 mph
  • 2014 – 92.9 mph
  • 2015 – 93.6 mph
  • 2016 – 93.0 mph
  • 2017 – 92.9 mph (one start)
    • AVG: 93.2 mph

His velocity numbers do not exhibit any major signs of decline. After one start, he is at the same velocity as in 2014, and all he did in 2014 was win both the CY Young and MVP awards.

Kershaw’s WHIP per Baseball Reference: 

  • 2008 – 1.495
  • 2009 – 1.228
  • 2010 – 1.179
  • 2011 – 0.977
  • 2012 -1.023
  • 2013 – 0.915
  • 2014 – 0.857
  • 2015 – 0.881
  • 2016 – 0.725 -> lol
  • 2017 – 0.286 (one start)
    • AVG: 1.004

Without the 2016 injury, that mark would have been the best all-time (Pedro Martinez leads with a 0.7373). WHIP is an important stat looking forwards, as it shows Kershaw limiting walks and hits. He has a pretty clear downward trend, which is scary. As his velocity does dip, he will still have to manage to try and generate numbers that are good to very good to get his JAWS number closer to the perceived cutoff of 62.1.

Looking Past 2017 and to the HOF

Eno Sarris at Fangraphs made an interesting discovery yesterday at Fangraphs (highly recommended read)- Clayton Kershaw threw some changeups in his first start. He noted per Brookes Baseball that Kershaw only threw 6 changeups all of last year. He totaled two changeups in his 2017, one of which was to Christian Bethancourt that painted the outside of the plate and generated a swing and miss. This has been a pitch that Kershaw has continued to work on over the past few offseasons. However, he’s never felt comfortable to use it in a live game.

We already know Kershaw has one of the best curveball in baseball along with one of the best fastballs and sliders. If he were to add a changeup, it would flat out be unfair. While his changeup wouldn’t be a double-plus pitch like his other offerings, it would look just like his fastball in terms of arm slot. Many hitters try to sit on Kershaw’s fastball, especially on the first pitch. Adding a changeup would keep hitters off-balance, when they are already struggling to do so as is.

Command, movement, and mixing of pitches – that’s what it will take for Kershaw to withstand a drop in velocity as he enters his age 30 season. He may not see an appreciable drop for a few years, but he may be taking the necessary steps to inch closer towards the HOF. The addition of a changeup will make all of his other offerings that much better as well.

Next: Time to Panic About the Dodgers Struggles Against LHP?

In conclusion, If he can keep away from the injury bug in the twilight of his career, he will not only be a HOF but truly one of the best if not, the best lefty starter baseball has ever seen.