Should the Dodgers Shut Down Clayton Kershaw for the Rest of the Regular Season?

Political theorists often base their beliefs on character and interaction not just on what they deem fundamental human nature, but also an idea of rational self interest. While most agree that actors will pursue a course of action that in some way benefits their self interest, a great deal of debate centers around the distinction between short-term self interest and long-term self interest.

Are people motivated equally by each? Is long-term self interest more abstract than the primal needs satisfied through short-term self interest? Do people process long-term self interest on a spectrum of consciousness that varies depending on the individual? Whether a theorist directly addresses it or not, there’s a distinct difference between the two. Short-term self interest will sometimes conflict with long-term self interest, and vice-versa.

The Dodgers find themselves in a precarious situation regarding these distinctions. Clayton Kershaw’s comeback is at a crossroads right now, and the Dodgers have to take a long look in the mirror and decide how they want to proceed with it.

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This is a scenario where short-term and long-term self interest are in drastic conflict, especially considering the context of the NL West right now. For argument’s sake, we’ll treat this as purely a team decision, because Kershaw’s desires will be too biased to trust.

An athlete will want to compete no matter what, and it’s a team’s responsibility to make the correct decision to not only do what’s best for the organization, but protect a player from themselves.

It’s even more graphic with pitchers, just because there’s so many recognizable instances of injuries derailing hurlers in the prime of their career. Success seems so much more fleeting with pitchers, and the fear is that mishandling an injury can evaporate tremendous ability with a snap of a finger. Considering that Kershaw’s regular season numbers since 2009 are unbelievable, the stakes are very high.

In those 8 seasons, he has never had an ERA above 2.91. He has had an ERA below 2 three separate times, including this season, and won the ERA crown 4 times.

His lowest strikeouts per 9 inning rate for a season has been 8.8, and has lead the league in WHIP 4 separate times.

Quite simply, he has been the most dominant pitcher in baseball in recent memory. His career ERA is lower than any starting pitcher who was born after 1895. He’s the type of gem who comes around maybe once every half century, and that’s not hyperbole. Yes, his postseason numbers have been underwhelming, but it doesn’t change the fact that this guy has put up unrealistic pitching statistics in an era defined by offense.

Even if he never pitches another inning in a big league game, he’d still go to the Hall of Fame, or at least deserve to. Eight seasons of dominance has proven to be enough in voters’ eyes to gain entry to those hallowed halls.

People immediately reference guys like Sandy Koufax and Pedro Martinez to prove the quality over quantity argument, and Kershaw’s last 8 seasons compare extremely favorably to those guys.

[graphiq id=”f1TVe5vbHz7″ title=”Clayton Kershaw Career ERA, WHIP and K/BB” width=”600″ height=”515″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/f1TVe5vbHz7″ link=”http://baseball-players.pointafter.com/l/8619/Clayton-Kershaw” link_text=”Clayton Kershaw Career ERA, WHIP and K/BB | PointAfter” ]

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Martinez’s run of dominance is mapped out in 7 iconic seasons from 1997-2003. He lead the league in ERA 5 times during that stretch, finished with an ERA below 2 in two separate seasons, and never had an ERA above 2.89.

Sound familiar? Pedro didn’t finish his career with the usually requisite 300 wins for enshrinement, but baseball fans are starting to realize how flawed that statistic is in demonstrating success.

During Martinez’s 1997-2003 run, he pitched 1,412 innings and gave up just 344 earned runs.

During Kershaw’s 2009-2016 run, he has pitched 1,624.1 innings and given up just 408 earned runs.

You can’t praise one of them without equally praising the other. What about Koufax? How does Kershaw compare to him? Besides the Dodgers connection, very similarly. Koufax’s run of dominance only lasted 5 seasons, though, from 1962-1966.

During that span, he never had an ERA above 2.54 and 3 out of those 5 seasons he had an ERA sub-2. Koufax was an average pitcher for the first half of his career, and then became a Hall of Fame guy through just 5 seasons of dominance.

Of course, those 5 seasons were truly remarkable, but if the Hall of Fame is based on precedent, it’d be hard to deny Kershaw entry at this point. In Koufax’s 5 year run on dominance, he pitched 1,377 innings and gave up just 298 earned runs.

Again, very comparable. If voters value consistency, then Kershaw is getting to the Hall of Fame based on this run of preeminence, regardless of what he does from here on out.

That doesn’t mean that the Dodgers don’t want him to pitch long into the future, though. Rushing back from these back problems could end up hurting his production going forward.

It’s tempting to indulge the impulse to get him back as soon as possible, though. The NL West is separated by just 1.5 games, with the Dodgers holding the slight edge over the Giants.

The Dodgers have come back from 8 games behind in the NL West without the best pitcher in baseball to aid in that pursuit.

With Kershaw in the rotation, the Dodgers would look like the favorite to win the division, despite all the injuries they’ve battled this season. This is a perfect example of short-term vs. long-term self interest, though. Nobody doubts that the Dodgers are a better team with Kershaw in the rotation.

However, is getting Kershaw back with the staff worth making any injuries worse going forward? What would be the payoff for having him return this season? The Dodgers would probably win the NL West if Kershaw were to return with enough time left in the regular season, but I think they can do that without him anyway.

Maybe it’s not as safe of a bet minus Kershaw, but they’ve overcome so much adversity this season already that they’ve proven that the NL West is extremely winnable even without the best pitcher in baseball.

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With how the standings look as of now, the consolation prize in the NL West is probably going to be a Wild Card birth. 

My thinking is that the Dodgers should shut down Kershaw for the rest of the regular season in preparation for the playoffs. Get him as healthy and well rested as possible for the postseason, particularly that Wild Card game if the Giants do end up winning this division.

Even with his lackluster playoff track record, it’s hard to go against Kershaw in a one-game series that a Wild Card game essentially is.

It’s nice to be able to have your cake and eat it to, and this is the plan that satisfies that. The counter argument would be that if Kershaw is shut down for the regular season, the Dodgers may not make the playoffs.

My response to that is that not only do I disagree with that assessment, but even if the Dodgers were to miss out on the playoffs sans Kershaw, dare I say that they wouldn’t have had any business being there.

This is what Dodgers Nation had to say:

I realize that so much of playoff success is based on getting hot at the right time and riding that momentum, but if the Dodgers end up collapsing in September without Kershaw and not making the playoffs, it’s likely that they wouldn’t have had the fortitude to do damage in October even if they had made the postseason.

It would end up being a blessing in disguise, because using Kershaw in what would ultimately end up being unnecessary innings would run the risk of exacerbating his injuries. The team could use the offseason to heal up and hopefully make another run next season without the bizarre plague of injuries that has hit them in 2016.

Once you’re in the postseason, though, all bets are off. Anything can happen, and a team that hits a hot streak at the right time can end up hoisting the World Series trophy. All hands are on deck in October. Bring Kershaw back to aid in a World Series endeavor, but only once the team proves that they can be a playoff team without him.

It’s too risky to rush him back before the playoffs start. Imagine if he were to get even more hurt in a mundane regular season game, and negatively affect his career going forward.

An injury is an injury from a human perspective, and the pain is the same regardless of what month it is. However, if the Dodgers are instead viewing Kershaw as a commodity to help them in their pursuit of a championship, which is the end goal of any organization, it’s far more understandable to unleash Kershaw in a playoff run.

Championship opportunities must be seized. Any team that proves worthy of postseason competition after the marathon of a 162 game regular season is capable of winning a championship.

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Kershaw is a weapon that the Dodgers possess that is unrivaled. He’s the best pitcher in baseball, and if he’s healthy enough to be able to pitch without pain by the time October rolls around, he needs to be out there.

The best way to ensure that he’s healthy by October is to shut him down for the rest of the regular season.

This Dodgers lineup is good enough to make the postseason without Kershaw. However, their odds of winning the World Series once they’re in the playoffs increase dramatically with Kershaw’s presence.

[graphiq id=”cMaMhmdMFE1″ title=”Los Angeles Dodgers 2016 Lineup Production” width=”600″ height=”618″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/cMaMhmdMFE1″ link=”http://mlb-teams.pointafter.com/l/28/Los-Angeles-Dodgers” link_text=”Los Angeles Dodgers 2016 Lineup Production | PointAfter” ]

Of course, this is all predicated on Kershaw’s personal feelings regarding his health status. If he doesn’t feel comfortable pitching in a Major League setting by October, then he needs to sit out the playoffs. It’s his body, and nobody besides him is going to be able to determine if he’s ready to go or not.

What I’m arguing is that to best ensure he’s healthy enough to pitch in October, the Dodgers would be prudent to shut him down for the rest of the regular season.

The regular season should be completely off the table at this point. Rest him for now, and if he feels up to it, pitch him in October. He may feel like he can come back before the regular season ends, but tell him to rest up for the playoffs. This team is most likely going to make the playoffs even if Kershaw doesn’t pitch again this regular season.

Their play over the last month or so has proven that assessment. At the very least, the Wild Card game is firmly in their grasp.

Who better to start that game at full health than Kershaw? Again, this is assuming that his postseason numbers aren’t reflective of the type of playoff performer he is.

I value empirical evidence as much as the next person, but I still believe in the law of averages. Players will get their numbers, and a guy with a lower career regular season ERA than any pitcher born in the 20th century or later isn’t going to continue having a career postseason ERA over 4.59. That’s going to go down, and his 2.63 ERA last postseason in 13.2 innings is promising.

Save Kershaw for when it truly matters: the playoffs. If the team doesn’t make the playoffs this season as he sits out, then they didn’t belong to begin with.

It would be a shame if they panicked and rushed him back too hastily. This is when the team really needs to consciously differentiate between short-term self interest and long-term self interest.

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Yes, the team will probably win more regular season games and win the NL West if Kershaw returns this regular season. However, is that worth the risk of compounding an already serious injury?

Long-term self interest dictates that they need to be cautious with Kershaw, even if it means missing out on a division win that pales in significance to the production Kershaw can provide down the road if healthy.

The middle ground here is probably the best route to take. Shut down Kershaw for the regular season with the intention to bring him back for the playoffs.

A World Series win makes everything worth it in the end. Ask the Giants if giving Barry Zito that huge contract was acceptable in hindsight. They don’t win in 2012 without him. You can’t put a price on a championship.

The problem with the Dodgers is that their spending hasn’t resulted in accomplishments to that extent. Division crowns are nice, but at the end of the day, championships are what create powerful legacies.

[graphiq id=”7Y5p3Fm7FGd” title=”What did it cost to make the MLB playoffs?” width=”520″ height=”951″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/7Y5p3Fm7FGd” link=”https://www.graphiq.com/vlp/7Y5p3Fm7FGd” link_text=”What did it cost to make the MLB playoffs? | PointAfter” ]

The Giants have won just 2 NL West crowns since 2010, but they have 3 World Series titles. The Dodgers have 3 NL West crowns in that same time frame, but no World Series titles.

It sounds dramatic, but there’s truly 1 champion and 29 other teams, in some order. The point being that if a team proves talented enough to make the playoffs, they must go all out to bring home the only hardware that distinguishes collective transcendent greatness.

Division titles don’t matter. World Series titles matter. The only benefit to winning a division is avoiding the potentially anomalous play-in game, and all the stress that creates.

Yet at the same time, avoiding a Wild Card game isn’t worth risking the career of a pitcher whose regular season performance for almost a decade has left him peerless.

The Dodgers need to shut down Kershaw until the playoffs. It’s not worth the risk to bring him back this regular season. If they make the playoffs, then send him out in improved health to help in their quest to bring a World Series back to Los Angeles for the first time since 1988.

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DodgersNationTV: Dodgers History Save No. 162


Ian Smith

Sports enthusiast. Staff writer at Dodgers Nation and Last Word on Hockey. Former editor at Warriors World, SenShot and Rink Royalty. Former co-editor at Air Alamo. Former staff writer at Hashtag Basketball. B.A. in political science from San Jose State University with a minor in humanities. Pursuing M.A. in government at CSU Sacramento.


  1. While I would agree that having Clayton for this year’s playoff run would be helpful, if he is not able to go at the tail end of the season then he should be shut down even for the playoffs.  There will be no rehab assignments, so he is going to have to get into a game or two before the playoffs to get game ready.  In looking at the calendar, I would think that he should look at a start by Friday Sept. 23 against the Rockies.  He would then get one more start against the Padres, and then the playoffs.  If he cannot go before the playoffs, there is no reason to risk him for a WC game or Game 1 of NLDS.  Kershaw is a human being and even he is going to have extra juices flowing in playoffs.  There is no reason for him to try and overpitch on a 1st game back in the playoffs.  Let him get his bearings with a less stressful game at home against the Rockies.

  2. i remember sandy koufax coming back from a finger injury to pitch in the playoffs vs SF in 1962. arguably, b/c he had not pitched for months prior (although i think he may have had a start or 2 b/f the p/o) he was rusty and got shelled. i recall his saying that he felt like a certain point during spring training when he was not yet ready-not for physical reason- b/c his arm wasnt built up

  3. AlwaysCompete Totally agree and we’ll said!! And if he can I think we might be able to say World Series!

  4. Yes. If he wants to pitch well in the playoffs he needs to be in an established rhythm. He is always a slow starter in that respect. Some seasons slower than others before he’s rolling along at his best, and we all know he needs to be at his very best in the playoffs. He’ll need a few games prior to the playoffs to get into that rhythm.

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