Kershaw’s Dominance An Example Why We Shouldn’t Over-Analyze Spring Performances

kershawThe flight from Phoenix, Arizona and Sydney Australia is approximately 7,792 miles. Despite the globetrotting it took to get to the site of Major League Baseball’s Opening Series, Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw certainly wasn’t suffering from any jet lag.

To borrow from former Arizona Cardinals head football coach Dennis Green, in this morning’s season opener Kershaw was who we thought he was – absolutely dominant.

The lefty tossed 6.2 innings of one-run baseball en route to leading Los Angeles to a 3-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks in the inaugural game of the 2014 MLB season. Kershaw scattered just five hits and struck out seven Diamondback batters while walking just one. The performance was spectacular, and probably ended with a sigh of relief from fans who had most recently seen him getting touched up in Spring Training Action (and this on the heels of giving up seven runs to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 of the NLCS).

Coming into this morning’s regular season contest, Kershaw was 0-3 in four starts in the Cactus League with a morbidly obese 9.20 earned run average. Make no mistake, in terms of production, Kershaw has been dreadful this Spring. But that’s no aberration. He’s dreadful most Springs. And there’s a reason for that.

While winners and losers are declared, Spring Training games are not about wins and losses. For players like Kershaw, who are already firmly entrenched in their roles, March is all about preparation for the regular season.

We don’t see Clayton Kershaw, the ruthless competitor, on the mound in exhibition games. We see a guy polishing his pitches, focusing on building arm strength and honing his location. Kershaw is not focused on game plans. He’s not working on setting up hitters and exploiting their weaknesses. He’s focused on himself. And if he gets hit around while in the process of developing the muscle memory needed to paintbrush the outside corner with his fastball, so be it.

So yes, the Spring numbers this season are gaudy, and not in the good way. Kershaw’s stat lines are dreadful most Springs, but not once has that carried over into the regular season. But don’t take my word for it, check out this graphic that was shown by the MLB Network during this morning’s broadcast.

Let this be a lesson to us all. We, as fans, often overvalue numbers produced during Spring Training exhibition games. If a guy has a good Spring he’s the future, a savior, or the next coming of Willie Mays or Bob Gibson. If a guy has a bad Spring he’s a bum, washed up, or on the decline.

Maybe that is the case in some sporadic instances. But more often than not, we can’t glean any real truths from the numbers posted by players in one month’s worth of games that aren’t being played to win.

As roster cuts are finalized and we find ourselves closing in on the league-wide Opening Day, it’s important to keep in mind that we have been watching players in get-ready mode, not in win mode. Hitters have been working on timing. Pitchers have been working on mechanics. Managers have been shuffling lineups to try and figure out who should earn those precious final roster spots and who should be reassigned to the minor leagues.

Clayton Kershaw was brilliant this morning. His fastball was precise. His slider was crisp. His curveball was filthy. And the Diamondbacks were completely overwhelmed by the way he mixed and matched all three against them.

Spring statistics be damned, that’s the regular-season Clayton Kershaw we’ve all come to know, to respect and for the non-Dodgers fans, to fear.

About Matthew George

Matthew George graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2008 with a bachelor of science in journalism. He spent three years writing sports for the Kentucky Kernel, the university's daily paper, and served as assistant sports editor. After undergrad, Matthew attended Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University where he earned his juris doctorate. He is now admitted to practice law in Kentucky and Indiana.

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