Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw was forced to miss significant time due to a back issue for the second consecutive season, and for that reason, he was ranked the fourth-best starting pitcher in baseball by ESPN’s Buster Olney.
Olney ranked Kershaw No. 1 heading into each of the last two seasons, but due to the injury troubles. But he’s been replaced by Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer, followed by Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians and Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox.
Kershaw got off to a good start in the first half of last season, going 14-2 with a 2.18 ERA and 0.88 WHIP. But two starts into the second half, he went down with a back injury.
While the injury wasn’t as serious as his herniated disc in 2016, it kept Kershaw out over a month as he did not return until Sept. 1.
In 27 starts on the season, Kershaw went 18-4 with a 2.31 ERA, 3.07 FIP and 0.95 WHIP while striking out 202 and walking just 30 in 175 innings. He finished second in the NL Cy Young voting to Scherzer, who has won it each of the last two seasons largely in part to Kershaw missing time due to injuries.
Scherzer went 16-6 with a 2.51 ERA, 2.90 FIP and 0.90 WHIP, striking out 268 and walking 55 in 200.2 innings of work.
Kershaw will head into the 2018 season at the age of 30, so he still has some good years left in him if he can prove that he can get past the back issues. He’s finished in the top five of the National League Cy Young voting in each of the past seven seasons and has led the NL in ERA in five of the last 10 seasons.
This season will be a big one for him in terms of proving his health though, as Kershaw can opt out of his contract at the end of the year and become a free agent.