The Los Angeles Dodgers are one of the best teams in baseball, and one of the driving forces behind their success is ace lefty Clayton Kershaw. He’s coming off a Cy Young winning season where he was 21-5 with a 2.28 ERA. Those are outstanding numbers for anyone, let alone a 23 year old in his third full season in the majors.
However, something has been a little off about Clayton Kershaw this year. His 2.55 ERA is fantastic, ranking 12th in the majors among qualifying starters. It’s tough to find any negatives in his game, as his walk rate is identical to last season and his groundball rate has improved to 48%. However, there has been a noticeable drop in his strikeout rate, which is very concerning for the future success of Clayton Kershaw. He has a career strikeout rate of 9.18K/9, which has allowed him to strike out exactly 25% of all batters he has faced. This season, the strikeout rate has dropped to 7.64 K/9, meaning he’s striking out nearly 21.5% of all batters faced. It’s a significant drop, and it makes you wonder if something is affecting Clayton Kershaw.
Turns out, Kershaw is battling an injury. Fortunately for everybody involved it is neither an arm, shoulder or elbow injury. Sometime last week Clayton Kershaw took a bad step, and as a result he’s been dealing with Plantar Fasciitis. While this wasn’t affecting his strikeout rate in the past, it’s definitely something to keep an eye on going forward. Clayton Kershaw should have no trouble pitching through it, but if he’s in enough pain it might cause him to alter his mechanics. And that would be very bad news for Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers, as it would make him significantly less effective.
Because the Plantar Fasciitis is a relatively new development, it cannot fully explain Clayton Kershaw’s drop in strikeouts. It’s possible he’s trying to become more efficient by pitching to contact, but this might make him less successful in the long run. Kershaw is averaging 14.5 pitches per inning this season, which isn’t significantly different from last season’s average of 14.9 pitches per inning. So if this is Clayton Kershaw trying to pitch to contact, it hasn’t made him much more efficient than he was in his Cy Young season.
Obviously the drop in strikeouts might not be a big deal. His velocity is around where it was last year, and he hasn’t started throwing any of his pitches at a different rate than he has in the past. However, a pitcher is generally more effective when they have a higher strikeout rate, so it will be interesting to see if Clayton Kershaw is able to remain an elite pitcher with the drop in strikeouts.