If the pressure placed on Clayton Kershaw hasn’t yet reached an all-time high it will this season as he’s tasked with leading a Los Angeles Dodgers starting rotation that is without Zack Greinke.
While the Dodgers managed to rebound from losing the 32 year old to the Arizona Diamondbacks by signing Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda, Los Angeles is without a bonafide second ace.
By no means does two aces on a staff comes with any guarantees — the Dodgers experienced that firsthand over the past three seasons — but it can bring a certain calmness.
Such was the case last season as Greinke shouldered the load while Kershaw worked to recapture his 2014 National League MVP form.
The left-handed ace finished 16-7, 2.13 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and led the Majors in several advanced metrics. Chief among them were, FIP (1.99), xFIP (2.09), SIERA (2.24), strikeout percentage (33.8 percent) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (29.1 percent).
Kershaw also led the Majors with 232.2 innings pitched and compiled the first 300-strikeout season since 2002. His 301 strikeouts were 25 more than second-place Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals.
Additionally, Kershaw tied with Chicago Cubs ace and 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta with 33 starts, four complete games and three shutouts. With the season ending short of a World Series title for the Dodgers, Kershaw adjusted his training program.
The focus for Kershaw this offseason has been working with Dodgers strength and conditioning coach Brandon McDaniel to improve conditioning, as the three-time Cy Young Award winner explained in a video provided by J.P. Hoornstra of the LA Daily News:
The 232.2 innings Kershaw tossed last season are the third-highest of his eight-year career. Moreover, he’s thrown a minimum 204.1 frames in five of the last six seasons.
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As noted in the table above, the one instance over that six-year stretch where Kershaw fell short of reaching the 200-inning benchmark came in 2014. That being said, he narrowly missed it despite starting the season opener in Australia and spending the next six weeks on the disabled list with a shoulder strain.
Kershaw is projected by Steamer to start 32 games this season, which translates to another year of at least 3,000 pitches thrown. Considering the fashion in which he closed out the 2015 regular season, improved conditioning could spell more trouble for opposing batters.