Dodgers: Can Clayton Kershaw Get LA Back to the World Series?

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Clayton Kershaw
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Clayton Kershaw /

Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw is no doubt the best pitcher of our generation. He is well on his way to Hall of Fame induction once he hangs them up. With 2018 spring ball underway at Camelback Ranch, many uncomfortable questions loom.

Going into his age 30 season, has the invincibility begun to wear off of Kershaw? When will the window of his all-time greatness start to close? How long can Kershaw’s back hold up in 2018? The durability of his back might be the deciding factor to Kershaw finally getting a World Series title that will immortalize his legacy.

Padding his stats

Kershaw has a trophy case that is so decorated, one might think he doesn’t really need a World Series title to solidify him for Hall of Fame status. The 8-time All-Star has three Cy Young Awards, an MVP, and a Gold Glove among many other accolades. What I am more impressed with, however, is how long Kershaw has sustained his remarkable dominance.

Since 2010, Kershaw has had five seasons where he threw more than 200 IP and had more than 200 Ks. He tossed 198.1 IP, good for 239 Ks in 2014, which is when the back issues started. The other two seasons in that span (2016, 2017) were also shortened because of his back. Even with the back injuries, amongst all pitchers with a minimum 100 games started from 2014-2017, look at how elite he was:

Clayton KershawLAD6710810.91.360.661.99
Corey KluberCLE6312710.331.940.812.83
Chris SaleCWS/BOS5912111.181.850.952.99

 Limit the long ball

Throughout his career, Kershaw has been among the best in the majors at keeping the ball in the park. In 2015, he posted 7th best mark in the league, at 0.58 HR/9. 2016 was even better at 0.48 HR/9. Last season saw him become just average in this department, his HR/9 ballooned to 1.18, still not too bad if you realize it means allowing one home run while pitching a full nine-inning game.

The juiced ball theory is the most popular excuse for way more balls flying out of the park across the league the last couple seasons. Whether MLB is doing this on purpose or not for more fan engagement and improved ratings, the huge jump did have a negative effect on Kershaw. It would be good to see him get back near his career norms in limiting home runs.

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More of the same

The main peripheral stats I look at, 10.39 K/9 and 1.54 BB/9 last season, are right in line with what he has put up since his 2014 MVP and Cy Young season. Despite missing time with injury, Kershaw led the National League in wins last season. Something he can easily do again with the juggernaut offense behind him again.

With a strong bullpen returning this season, Kershaw doesn’t need to go more than the 6.2 innings per start he has averaged throughout his career to lock up wins. Manager Dave Roberts has been masterful managing his pitching staff and not overextending them in his tenure with the Dodgers. All signs point to Kershaw contending for the league lead in strikeouts, ERA, wins and another Cy Young again.

Don’t forget about the grey

Kershaw’s greatness has gotten so normal for those of us who have been watching because he makes it look so damn easy. Any given game it seems like the difference between a normal (for him) game and a no-hitter is a matter of two or three hits or walks. The difference between a six strikeout game and twelve strikeout game is how much bite his nasty curveball has that particular day.

Kershaw’s type excellence on the mound might be the standard for him, black and white. For the rest of the league, it comes across as simply impressive. I heard a great quote from my favorite podcast yesterday, “don’t forget about the grey”. It was referencing living life only looking at the black and white: rules, standards, etc.

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The grey is the unknown for Kershaw, his health. It is the biggest question for Kershaw this season and the rest of his career: can he get the Dodgers back to the World Series in 2018 and bring back the franchise its first title since 1988? It will be fun, and nail-biting to see what will happen.