Clayton Kershaw might be back

Clayton Kershaw (Photo: Cody Bashore)

It’s been a rough couple of years for the best pitcher of this generation. Well, rough by Clayton Kershaw‘s standards. Most pitchers would kill to go 25-10 with a 2.89 ERA, 3.54 FIP and a 20.2 K-BB%, but that wasn’t what we as fans were used to and not the standard Kershaw set.

We’ve explored the reasons for his regression in the past, with the most common thing being his diminished fastball velocity and lack of separation between his heater and slider. He has averaged 90.8 MPH and 90.3 MPH in over the last two seasons. And while his 2020 debut — delayed by a stiff back, even — is a small sample size, let’s just say there were many a Dodger fan thrilled to see what he did yesterday.

So, he threw more pitches at 92+ MPH yesterday than he did in all of 2019. He topped out at 93.3 MPH — his highest since April 3, 2018, when he hit 93.4 MPH in an at-bat against Ketel Marte. Kershaw averaged 92 MPH on his fastball on Sunday, which he hasn’t done in since the aforementioned start.

Here it is in visual form.

He also threw this fastball — intentionally or not — that had some wicked cutting action.

Velocity isn’t everything for a pitcher, but for Kershaw, it’s plenty important because of his slider.

His slider isn’t a traditional one, as it has always been close in velocity to his fastball. When he was sitting 92-94 MPH, it wouldn’t be uncommon for his slider to check in at 89-91 MPH. Yesterday, there was 4.2 MPH of separation between his fastball and slider. Here’s what that looked like in 2018 and ’19.

YearFB VeloSLD VeloDifference
201890.888.02.8
201990.386.93.4

He still produced solid Whiff% in ’18 (25.9%) and ’19 (34.1%). In his first start of 2020, his Whiff% on his slider was 52.4%, so the increased velo, combined with the high spin rate, did wonders.

Oh, and his curveball looked as good as ever — just in case you thought I forgot about Public Enemy No. 1.

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It remains to be seen if Kershaw is truly back. Don’t misconstrue this as we’re going to get 2013-16 Kershaw. I don’t think we ever see that guy again. But if we can get 2017 Kershaw on the regular, coupled with the shortened season, then that could means good things for the Dodgers come October … if we make it there.

Take solace that, for at least one start, we saw some vintage Kershaw. Here’s hoping for even more.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.