MLB: 4 Signs That Clayton Kershaw’s Career is on the Downturn

Few pitchers have been more dominant over the last decade than Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He’s been one of, if not the best starting pitcher in baseball during his career. His team is still a powerhouse, going to the last two World Series and leading the NL in odds to get back this season. Things would seem to be looking up for Kershaw.

A closer look at several factors, however, would seem to indicate Kershaw may be heading into the sunset of his career sooner rather than later. While he won’t be coming out of the bullpen for mop-up duty any time soon, anyone who’s watched him closely over his career may notice a few troubling trends in the past few seasons. These four signs show Clayton Kershaw’s career is on the downturn.

He’s losing speed on his fastball

Clayton Kershaw isn't the pitcher he used to be
Clayton Kershaw is still good, but his velocity is down. | Jae C. Hong-Pool/Getty Images

According to his coaches and some opponents, Clayton Kershaw is throwing fewer fastballs than earlier in his career. Statcast reported Kershaw threw fastballs on only 43.6 percent of his pitches last season. This was the 16th-lowest rate out of 114 pitchers. His average velocity was 91.3 mph. Both those numbers reveal a significant drop from figures Kershaw reached earlier in his career.

Kershaw’s fastball has always been his most formidable pitch and he’s struggled to get a handle on his changeup for nearly his entire career. If Kershaw’s throwing fewer fastballs, it’s probably because he has no other choice. As with all aging pitchers, his velocity is beginning to drop.

He is a frequent visitor to the injured list

Kershaw’s been placed on the injured list four times since June of 2016. The last few years it’s been due to bicep tendonitis. This year shoulder issues limited his spring training workload.

It’s impossible to argue with the fact that Kershaw’s injuries have started piling up at a higher clip than earlier in his career. Unless his health or luck improves, they’ll continue to hinder any chance at progress he might have had.

His numbers have declined

Don’t misunderstand: Kershaw’s numbers are still outstanding when he pitches. But there are a few areas where it’s apparent he’s not quite the dominant pitcher he once was.

  • From 2010-16, Clayton Kershaw pitched shutouts every season. He had two seasons with three shutouts. He hasn’t had one since 2017.
  • He hasn’t pitched more than 200 innings in a season since 2015.
  • His ERA last year was 2.73, which is still an impressive figure to be sure. It’s also his highest ERA since 2010 when it was 2.91.
  • In the past two years combined, he’s surrendered 40 home runs. He gave up only 105 in the nine years before that.
  • He’s failed to hit 200 strikeouts in two of the past three years.

To repeat: Kershaw’s numbers are still very good overall. But there are small dips in performance that may be indicative of a larger decline soon to come for the Dodgers’ ace.

He’s not starting opening day

For the first time in nearly a decade, Kershaw won’t start opening day for the Dodgers. Manager Dave Roberts confirmed Kershaw will miss the start due to a sore shoulder.

Injuries happen to pitchers of all ages and skill levels, so the ailment in and of itself might not be indicative of anything in particular. But Kershaw’s opening day starting streak was a big deal. It’s a symbol of his place on top of LA’s pitching staff. To miss this start may be symbolic of his career starting to decline.

Clayton Kershaw is still one of baseball’s best pitchers

When all is said and done, Clayton Kershaw has already done more than enough to punch his ticket to Cooperstown. He’s already had a stellar career and could pitch at an average level for the rest of it without harming his legacy.

But at 30 years old, Kershaw is at the age where most pitchers start to get worse instead of getting better. Unfortunately for Dodgers fans, there are a few signs that he may his production may not be what it once was.