Coming into the season, the Dodgers knew Clayton Kershaw would not have the same type of stuff he had in his prime years. Through two starts it’s been no problem.
All throughout spring training, Dodgers fans expressed their concern about if Clayton Kershaw could be as effective as he once was with decreasing velocity. While Clayton’s fastball velocity has definitely lost a few ticks over the years, he still has the stuff to be an above average pitcher just as he was last season for the Dodgers.
These days, Kershaw is sitting right at ninety miles per hour with his four-seam fastball, which is nothing new since he sat at the same velocity and finished with a 2,73 ERA. If he had enough innings to qualify for the leaderboard, that would have ranked Clayton seventh in MLB for ERA. Certainly not too shabby for being on the “downside” of his career.
Through two starts against the Reds and Brewers, Kershaw has posted a 2.77 ERA and held the opposition to a .159 average. While that will go up as the sample size enlarges, for his career, Kershaw has allowed an opponent’s average of .207. His 0.85 WHIP is also lower than his career WHIP that is an even 1.00.
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Since his fastball has lost velocity, Kershaw has compensated for it by throwing it less. His career average is 59.6% on his fastball and for the first few seasons of his career, it was over 70%. Last year his fastball dipped to a 40.8% usage rate and through two starts it seems that is what he plans to do this season as it currently sits at 39.8%.
As he throws even few fastballs, the curveball could see its usage rate go up. For his career, Kershaw has a 13.7% usage rate on his 12-6 curve and this season through two starts it stands at 19.9%. The only other time he used his curve more was in his rookie season when he broke into the big leagues throwing nothing but fastballs and curveballs.
As one time Dodger Greg Maddux showed, it’s not always about avoiding contact, it’s about putting pitches in a good spot so when a batter makes contact, it is weak contact. In his two starts this season, Kershaw has a hard hit percentage of just 22.6%. That is lower than his career average of a 28.2 hard hit percentage.
While Clayton Kershaw is definitely on the back end of his hall of fame career, he is still effective and reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated. With less margin for error, Clayton will pay more for his mistakes but when he is spotting his offspeed pitches he is still a number one pitcher. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out but don’t be surprised if Kershaw finishes in the top ten for most major pitching statistics.