Commentary

Is Clayton Kershaw already declining?

History shows that young, elite pitchers start going downhill earlier than you may think

Updated: February 16, 2010, 4:36 PM ET
By Dave Cameron | FanGraphs
Getty ImagesIf you enjoy watching Clayton Kershaw dominate, well, you'd better get your fill now.

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The setup

There are a lot of things to like about Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw. His fastball averages 94 miles per hour, yet he also can make hitters look foolish with a knockout breaking ball. He struck out 185 batters in just 171 innings a year ago, posting a K/9 that was the seventh-highest of any starter in baseball. He's left-handed in a sport that covets southpaws. Oh, and he doesn't turn 22 years old until halfway through spring training.

Even though Kershaw still struggles with his command and lacks experience, his ERA last season was even with Roy Halladay's, and better than Johan Santana's and Cliff Lee's. When a pitcher is this good and this young, it is easy to dream about what the future may hold. If he's already one of the best pitchers in the game (in this case, he is), what will happen when you give him some time to mature, learn how to pound the strike zone, mix his pitches and study hitters' tendencies?

Unfortunately for Kershaw and Dodgers fans, history suggests that this may be as good as it will ever get for the young lefty. In fact, given the success he has had in the majors at such a young age, he may have already peaked.