As we enter the 2019 season, there seems to be a new wave of players starting to take the baseball world by storm. During the 2018 season we saw stars being born. Starting in the NL East with Ronald Acuna and Juan Soto all the way out to the AL West with Shohei Ohtani and Matt Chapman. The list goes on and on but I’ll just relax for a minute before I get too excited and my pants start to get tight.
With Jacob DeGrom winning the NL Cy Young last year and Blake Snell winning in the Cy Young in the American League, it got me thinking; is Clayton Kershaw the best pitcher in baseball anymore? These two dudes that won most likely were NOT in anyone’s top 10 starting pitchers in baseball at the start of the 2018 season. The baseball gods had graciously touched both of their arms, Snell the left and DeGrom the right, and put magic that runs through their veins and substitutes the blood with love. Kershaw was not so lucky.
Usually, as in for the past 8-9 years usually, it goes without saying. Almost to the point of disrespect if you mentioned anyone else. It’s the truth though. Without any injuries, I’m sure Kershaw would still be at the top of his game. But time doesn’t work with everyone. It doesn’t pick and choose who it will bless that day, minute, second and or moment. Everyday you and I are getting older and more frail and unfortunately, Kershaw might not be the best pitcher in baseball anymore.
Now, it’s not like he’s not even in the top 10 best pitchers in baseball, because he still is somewhere within the top 5, in my opinion. But when you have guys like Max Scherzer, Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndegaard, Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, Blake Snell and Zach Greinke you have to bring it up in discussion.
Kershaw broke into the league at a young spry age of 20. A young buck with loads of potential, Kershaw was already drawing comparisons to the likes of Sandy Kofax. In case you didn’t know, Kofax just so happened to be a left-handed Dodger pitcher. Mind blowing wow I know. The world is nuts. His first season didn’t go as planned as he finished the year with an ERA of 4.26. No worries though because Kershaw was smart and got the worst year of his career over with first.
From then on he led the league in ERA four years in a row with ERA’s in order from 2011-2014 that read: 2.28, 2.53, 1.83, and 1.77. It’s scary to think he was getting better. He would have had a fifth Year in a row during the 2015 season but Zach Greinke had one of the most unbelievable years that year posting an ERA of 1.66 compared to Kershaws ugly 2.13 mark. Jake Arrieta also had his career year that year posting an ERA of 1.77.
We hold Kershaw to a higher standard just because of how much of an anomaly he is. We’re blessed with being able to watch a man of his stature and skill go out every fifth day, if he’s not hurt, and throw darts. It’s not fair we hold him to the standard of an ERA around 2.00, 200+ strikeouts and a WHIP at or under 1.00. Unfortunately, the new wave of pitchers are here, and i don’t think they’re going anywhere soon.
In 2018, we saw Kershaw produce the lowest strike out rate in his career aside from his rookie season in 2008. His HR/9 rate was also up producing his third highest rate in his career. In 2017, it was even higher. His K% was also his lowest of his career aside from that dreadful rookie season. Perhaps the weirdest and strangest thing about Kershaw of 2018, is he abandoned his fastball. It is a far cry from his days of averaging 95+ on his fastball and working off of that, but for the past three seasons his percentages on his fastball usage has gone down and his slider usage has gone up. Last year, Kershaw threw 40.8% fastballs at an average speed of 90.9 compared to his slider usage of 42.3% that had an average velocity of 88.2. Just for comparison, In his Cy Young and MVP award-winning season in 2014, Kershaw threw his fastball 55.4% of the time at an average speed of 93 MPH while he threw his slider 29.4% of the time with an average velocity of 87.6. Kershaw also threw his curveball 14.3% of the time. Oddly enough, Kershaw’s best pitch, his curveball, was only thrown 13.6% of the time in 2018. His lowest usage of that pitch since 2013.
These numbers don’t lie. He is either pitching hurt, or doesn’t trust his fastball as much as he used too. It’s hard to change yourself with father time when you’ve been a power pitcher and pitched off of your 95 MPH fastball your whole career. The only dude who basically has stayed the same as in repitore and skill is Justin Verlander and those are the guys we call freaks of nature. Don’t forget about Roger Clemens too, his roided out body stayed the same even at age 40. Kershaw still had a good year last year producing a 2.73 ERA and a 1.041 WHIP. Not all is bad but this could be the start of a “decline”. Even though his numbers are still better than more than half the league, it’s not the Kershaw we grew up watching.
I don’t want to be the one to say it, but it might be time for Kershaw to take a step down off his throne and crown someone else baseball’s new best pitcher. I don’t want this to seem like im ripping the guy because I’m not. I have mad respect for him and what he’s done. It just is a strange time in the baseball world and something that i have been thinking about ever since the injury bug started with him back in 2016. Kershaw is coming into the 2019 season healthy and with a new contract extension he earned himself back in November. Hopefully us baseball fans get a taste of the old dominate Kershaw we once had before injury struck him. Either way, he will be right there near the top of the charts when it’s all said and done. Thank you.
BTW, shout out to Punxsutawney Phil for not standing on the right side of the sun and not seeing his shadow. Thank you for your service and shout out to early Spring this year. One of the best days of the year. Go groundhogs.