Clayton Kershaw is going to go down as the greatest pitcher of his generation and the greatest pitcher in Los Angeles Dodgers history. He's undeniably a first-ballot Hall of Famer and has accomplished all he possibly could've thus far in his MLB career.
Because of all his success and the fact that he debuted so young, there's a perception that Kershaw is up there in age with the likes of Justin Verlander and Adam Wainright. Unlike Verlander and Wainright, Kershaw is not in his 40s and is hardly haflway through his 30s (he'll turn 35 this March).
Part of the reason why Kershaw is perceived as being older is the fact that his fastball velocity has dipped over the last half-decade. Once a mid-90s southpaw, Kershaw now finds himself in the high-80s more times than anyone could have expected. He has learned to pitch (at a high level, keep in mind) with this reduced velocity, but there was a learning curve.
While his days as a hard-throwing lefty are behind him, Kershaw appears to be ahead of schedule as we approach the 2023 season. Kershaw's first Spring Training start was not great from a runs-allowed perspective, but as far as velocity goes, he turned a lot of heads.
Dodgers fans are hyped for Clayton Kershaw's 2023 because of his fastball velocity
Look, 93 MPH is by no means jaw-dropping in today's MLB, but this is a significant number for Kersh. The fact that he was able to hit that number in his first start of the year indicates that he's strong and (hopefully) his back is feeling great.
While Kershaw has learned to pitch at a decreased velocities, having that extra 2-3 MPH is a huge difference. In 2019 we saw Kershaw's fastball velocity reached its lowest average point (90.4 MPH) and, in conjunction, it yielded the highest home run rate of his career.
We've seen Kershaw's velocity steadily climb since then. In the shortened 2020 season, he averaged 91.6 MPH (posting a 2.16 ERA). It came back down to earth across a 162-game slate, but still rose to 90.7 in 2021 and 90.8 in 2022.
If Kershaw can get his average fastball velocity back to around 91.5 MPH then we could be in for a special season. Again, velocity seems trivial, but when you have that curveball and that slider, it makes a difference. If he can get up to 92 MPH average then there's legitimate Cy Young talk. The last time he averaged 92 MPH+ for a full season, he finished second in Cy Young voting and led the league in ERA.
The Dodgers are going to need Clayton Kershaw to pitch at a high level in 2023, especially with injuries already hitting the starting rotation. Despite the three runs allowed, Kershaw's spring debut is a sign of good things to come.