Clayton Kershaw’s Slow Start

clayton kershaw

Picking up from his dominant 2014 campaign that earned him MVP and CY Young honors, Clayton Kershaw hasn’t replicated the greatness that made him the most prolific pitcher in the MLB.

Kershaw hasn’t been bad by any means, but by Kershaw standards, he’s been rather lackluster and average. Most pitchers would sacrifice five years of their career just to have a chance of being as effective as Kershaw has been this season, however, his performance thus far isn’t up to par.

The 27-year-old lefty doesn’t make excuses and even more so, he doesn’t want to be on the same plane as any other pitcher. Greatness is all Kershaw cares about and he knows he hasn’t lived up to his end of the bargain, just yet.

Through 16 starts, he’s 5-6 with a 3.20 ERA. Those numbers are impressive for 95% of the pitchers in the game, but not for this lefty. Kershaw is averaging a career high 11.78 K/9, sending down hitters without putting the ball in play 32.9% of the time.

He hasn’t been as sharp this year, however. He’s walking more hitters—2.10 men per nine innings and 5.9% of the batters he faces (1.41 and 4.1% in 2014). His lack of sharpness has been what’s harmed him thus far. He’s hung breaking balls, occasionally not maintaining a consistent release point, and he’s missed spots leaving pitches meant to be away over the middle of the plate.

There isn’t a mechanical flaw or a decrease in talent for Kershaw. It’s been a combination of bad luck and not being as crisp as he typically is. Although his GB/FB rate is up to 1.98 from 2014’s 1.77, and his FB% is down to 25.6% from last year’s 29.2%, his HR/FB rate has jumped from 6.6% to 17.2%.

This increase in home runs per fly balls is unsustainable and indicative of misfortune and poor control. As Kershaw reverts to a more consistent release point and hangs fewer pitches, he’ll return to his dominant ways. He’s as skilled as he’s ever been this year—2.28 SIERA, 2.61 FIP, 2.11 xFIP, 70 FIP-, 56 xFIP-. He’s just not capitalizing and executing as well as he’s capable of.

His 71% LOB% is below his 77.8% career average. Kershaw’s had some command issues, particularly where he locates his pitches. In high leverage situations, his K-BB% is down to 16.7% from 2014’s 30.9%. With men in scoring position his WHIP has almost doubled to 1.36 from 0.84. The plus side, his K-BB% with men in scoring position is marginally better this year than it was last year: 28.8% versus 28.5%.

The All-Star break should help Kershaw clear his head and regain his dominant groove. He’s still talented enough to be the best pitcher in baseball—he just needs to sharpen his execution. Once he buckles down with men on base, stops hanging breaking balls and hits his spots as well as he normally does, he’ll return to 2014 form and dominate the major leagues. His WPA/LI has been rather pedestrian by his standards, 1.03, which is 14th in the MLB. Last year his 5.37 WPA/LI led the big leagues by almost a full point—Adam Wainwright was second with 4.45.

Kershaw is still having a good season, but he can be better and should improve over the second half of the year. Using the All-Star break to clear his head and refine his execution should put the pitcher in a position to electrify fans like he typically does.


Frank Cesare is a Sports Analyst and Co-Creator of and the Going For Two Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @frank_world and @G42Podcast.