It’s not news to anyone that Clayton Kershaw’s spring has been disastrous - it’s on ESPN, SportsCenter, blogs, news sites, and everything in-between. Those who remember 2013 will also recall that Kershaw had a poor spring then, but it was nothing like it was in 2014 – his ERA is more than twice what it was last year.
Some people have posited that it was a change in Kershaw’s mechanics, that he was leaving a lot of balls up in the zone and giving up home runs in the hot desert air. As I write this post, Kershaw is pitching at the Sydney Cricket Grounds against Wade Miley and the Arizona Diamondbacks, and his velocity is markedly reduced, even for spring. Then again, Miley’s velocity isn’t where it normally is, either, so it could be the travel, the time change, or the abnormally early start instead of something more nefarious.
(Of course, we know by now that Kershaw’s results were just fine: five hits and seven strikeouts in six-and-two-thirds in a 3-1 win.)
I cut some video from today’s start and pulled up Kershaw’s first start from 2013 in early April to compare:
There aren’t any major mechanical differences (though the velocity was significantly different; 93 mph vs. 91 mph), but even when you compare the fact that one is from the windup and one is from the stretch (not really relevant since Kershaw’s mechanics are identical from both), the camera angle differences (minor, but important), and the terrible frame rate (ah the joys of broadcast video), I do notice a minor change that seemed to persist throughout the 2014 season opener. Kershaw’s shoulders seem to turn later and produce slightly more spinal tilt into ball release, which causes his pitching arm to arrive into/through the high-cocked/externally rotated position later than usual, and his pitching arm follows through on a more tilted axis.
Given the minor changes in his mechanics, I’d guess he is leaving pitches slightly more up in the zone than he is accustomed to, and his velocity is down due to the shift in kinesthetic sense (“feel”). One start that takes place well before the normal season opener and on a different continent isn’t anything to raise the alarms of the Dodgers faithful, but careful monitoring of his mechanics over time is probably prudent to see if these changes persist.
On another, sadder note…
Years ago, when I left the SB Nation network and abandoned my blog – Driveline Mechanics, may it rest in peace – I eventually approached Dave Studeman to see if The Hardball Times needed someone to contribute articles on pitching mechanics and training. Dave responded that he was very interested in having me write, so naturally, I ignored him for months before contributing my first piece in February 2011 – Pitching mechanics, the uncertainty of data, and fear.
Unfortunately, my time at THT has come to a close. I would like to thank all of those who allowed me to stand on your shoulders, particularly Dave, Joe Distelheim and Brian Cartwright. And to you, the readers, for constantly linking to my work and leaving me insightful comments and emails. The encouragement I got from my audience played no small part in me slogging away at 3 a.m. at my desk, churning out articles and doing tons of research.