Welcome to part 11 of the annual Dodgers Nation player grades and season reviews, this time for the 2022 season. Up next in the series is a future Hall of Famer who had a Hall of Fame-caliber season: Clayton Kershaw. Check out the full series here.
The 2021 season felt like it might be the beginning of the end for Clayton Kershaw. He missed ten starts with a variety of injuries, including a serious arm injury that ended his season, and he posted a “pedestrian” 3.55 ERA.
We have to put “pedestrian” in quotes because, while it was a bad season by his standards and his highest ERA since his rookie year in 2008, it was still good for a 119 ERA+, meaning he was still 19% better than the average pitcher. There are 28 pitchers in the Hall of Fame whose career ERA+ was lower than 119, meaning their entire careers were worse than Kershaw’s second-worst season. Ever heard of Tom Glavine or Nolan Ryan or Don Sutton or Steve Carlton?
But still, we wondered if 3.55 with arm injuries in 2021 would turn into 3.95 in 2022 and 4.35 in 2023. Well, we don’t know how 2023 will play out, but it’s safe to say 2022 was okay, as he went 12-3 with a 2.28 ERA. The injuries still nagged — he missed 10 starts again and threw just 126.1 innings — but his arm was healthy and he was outstanding when he was on the mound.
Fan Vote Results
The fan voting results for Kershaw were basically exactly what we would expect, to be honest. The 1,364 votes were dispersed in a pretty reasonable manner.
— Dodgers Nation (@DodgersNation) December 30, 2022
For 30.1% of our voters, the elite pitching was enough to give him an A for the season. For the majority — 57.6% — that elite pitching was tempered by the time he missed due to injury, so the best he could get was a B. And 10.6% dinged him a little harder for missing 10 starts, giving him a C. (We won’t talk about the 1.7% who gave him an F, because we’re serious people who discuss serious matters.)
Dodgers Nation Take
Yeah, this was a classic B season from Kershaw. If you’re assigned a five-page paper and turn in four pages of truly excellent writing, you’re probably getting a B on that paper.
Part of Kershaw’s struggles in 2021 were due to an inflated BABIP — his career BABIP allowed coming into that season was .274, but he somehow allowed a .292 BABIP in 2021. He got that number back down in 2022, with a .269 BABIP that’s much more in line with his elite years. He also got his home run rate down to 2.0%, the lowest it’s been since 2016.
Kershaw is a different pitcher than he was when he was winning the Cy Young Award every year, but what we saw in 2022 was about the best we’ve seen from a pitcher with a 90-MPH fastball. His curveball and slider remain elite pitches, allowing his fastball to remain effective despite the diminished velocity.
The only knock on Kersh is quantity, and that might just be something we have to expect from now on. He hasn’t made 30 starts in a season since 2015, and after averaging 222 innings per season from 2010-15, he’s averaged just 152 innings over the past six years (not counting the shortened 2020 season).
The Dodgers would love to get even that 152 out of Kersh in 2023, because when he’s on the mound, he’s still one of the best pitchers in baseball.
Kershaw signed another one-year deal this offseason to come back for his 16th season with the Dodgers, and he’s said he will only play for L.A. or the Rangers going forward. He also said he might have retired if Los Angeles had won the World Series in 2022, which means he might retire if they win it in 2023, too.
Hopefully, Kershaw will never wear another team’s uniform. As long as he wants to pitch, the Dodgers will want to have him. And if he can put up a year in 2023 like he did in 2022, maybe that second World Series title is in reach.
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