MLB

People Say Clayton Kershaw Will Soon be Past His Prime, But He’s Not Done Yet

Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw is undeniably one of the savviest pitchers in the game. Yet questions surrounding his physical health continue to dog him. In the wake of a string of disastrous postseason appearances, this is not exactly an out-of-left-field line of thinking. But there are equally strong signals that Kershaw still has a lot left to give.

Let’s explore Kershaw’s recent career, how his body is holding up, and why pundits might have him pegged all wrong.

Why Clayton Kershaw wasn’t the Dodgers’ Opening Day starter

Kershaw was named the Opening Day starter for the now delayed 2020 season. He didn’t get the honor in 2019, however. This sent a signal to the media that the ace who got the Opening Day nod every previous year starting in 2011 might not be the same as he once was.

Yet, according to MLB.com, his regular-season performance did not quite bear that out. He put up a 3.03 ERA, easily keeping him at the top spot of the pitching rotation. Yes, that trends away from his 2.44 career ERA. It’s still elite stuff, especially given his ongoing bicep and back injuries.

This regular-season work turned the narrative on Kershaw missing that 2019 initial start on its head. But that isn’t to say there’s nothing to worry about. Kershaw’s immense postseason problems continued.

Ongoing injuries may explain Kershaw’s postseason woes

Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers walks through the dugout in 2019
Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers in the dugout in 2019 | Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The Kershaw of the regular season has never been the Kershaw of the postseason. While forgiveness is in the air for his horrific 2017 starts against the sign-stealing Houston Astros, this doesn’t account for what came after. The Nationals also exposed the fall version of Kershaw in a similarly explosive fashion.

Few MLB players make it through their careers without several acute injuries that bring their numbers down. Kershaw, unfortunately, seems to be struggling with chronic problems. Recurring back issues, in particular, tend to go public shortly after he’s a string of bad starts. When Kershaw looks rough for an extended period, one can almost count the days to when the Dodgers put out a press release on an upcoming MRI.

Kershaw also suffers from arm issues, but this is par for the course for MLB pitchers. His back that seems to drag him down the most. Despite multiple MRIs, no long-term solution appears to have been found.

Are Kershaw’s finest days really behind him?

The last time we see a player tends to spin the narrative around them going into the next season. Game 5 of the NLDS was that moment for Kershaw. He entered with a 3-1 lead and held on for dear life. An inning later, he tied the game on just two pitches. This was the playoff Kershaw we’d known since 2017.

It’s a small sample size, sure, but the difference between his postseason ERA and his regular-season ERA is astounding. According to Baseball-Reference, Kershaw put up a shocking 7.11 ERA. But this is in the same year as his regular-season run amounted to a 3.03. That’s an enormous contribution across 28 starts. He was instrumental in getting the Dodgers to the postseason in the first place.

Kershaw went 2-1, including a save, in the 2016 postseason. Apparently, his health issues make him less effective by the time October rolls around ever since. That points to a notable decline only in the sense that manager Dave Roberts needs to use him entirely differently during fall baseball. He isn’t 2016 Kershaw, but during the regular season, he might as well be.