What Happened In 2014: Nobody wanted to take this review, primarily because everything that could be said about Clayton Kershaw has been said already.
In his age-26 season, Kershaw posted a 1.77 ERA that was supported by his peripherals. Most impressively, the only way for contrarian thought to criticize the historic year was to point out that peak Pedro Martinez was better. Alrighty.
2014 for Kershaw was a season that started with a suggestion from Dodgers Digest that he skip the Australia trip, and who knows if that trip factored into his injury, but boy it looked grim when he headed to the DL almost immediately after inking his seven-year, $215 million mega-deal. I think we were all feeling the dread, but the panic that took place led Dodgers Digest to try and assuage the fears again and again and again.
Thankfully, Kershaw was okay, and by June we were watching him throw a no-hitter/perfect game and wondering if he could win the Cy Young Award. But why stop there? By August, we were wondering whether he had an MVP in him and were running out of superlatives to assign to his slider.
By September, it was just about appreciating what we knew by then would be a historic season, and just hoping it wouldn’t end. But it did end, thankfully with the double of a third Cy Young Award and his first MVP.
And yet, the season felt incomplete. Because as we all know by now, after cruising along for six innings in both starts against the Cardinals in the NLDS, Kershaw failed to finish the seventh and took the loss in both games. It was so inexplicable that people were hunting for reasons, and even tried to pin it on him tipping pitches.
It’s completely understandable that fans would be upset by this and be upset at him, and yet, it’s still hard to believe things would’ve went that way if the Dodgers developed a semi-reliable bullpen option that wasn’t closer Kenley Jansen, or if Hanley Ramirez was an inch taller on that fliner in Game 1, or if A.J. Ellis had framed just one called ball into a called strike on numerous occasions. Unfortunately, none of it happened.
As somebody who does believe in the existence of clutch performance (just that we have trouble legitimately identifying said players), I understand the temptation to put that “choker” label on him already. However, everything is so magnified in today’s environment that rushes to judgment also happen more and more frequently, and everything logical in me says that if he wasn’t capable of handling pressure, then we would’ve seen him crumble like this before. For example, that negative trait should be popping up in big games of which a larger sample exist, like down the stretch with the division the line (1.97 ERA in September for career, best of any month), or against against the Braves in the 2013 NLDS, or in ‘Close & Late’ situations for his career (performs 10% better than overall line), but we don’t.
I think his playoff resume will deservedly be a question mark that hangs over his head until he sheds his reputation through performance, and rightfully so, but as for now, I don’t find it all that reasonable to think of the past two playoff series against the Cardinals as a major concern heading into 2015. Basically what I’m saying is: if you didn’t feel like he was going to choke the division away against the Giants in September last year, then I don’t think you should be worrying about that stuff going into 2015 either.
2015 Status: Signed for 2015 at ~$32 million and locked up for the next five years after. Enters the season as the best pitcher in baseball and will be working to somehow improve on a historic 2014.