Clayton Kershaw's Hip And The Dodgers' Chances

PHOENIX, AZ - Starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Clayton Kershaw was thought to be out for the year, but he came back to make a start on Sunday. Is this a good idea?

The Dodgers employ and make use of smart people who went to school for almost a decade to become doctors. They took a look at Clayton Kershaw's hip, and they decided he was okay to pitch. This was not a decision the Dodgers undertook lightly. I am woefully unqualified to pass judgment on that.

But then I read the first sentence from Rotoworld's blurb on Sunday's game …

Pitching with a damaged hip, Kershaw was effectively wild tonight, walking five and hitting a batter before coming out.

Or, maybe just whittle that down to the introductory clause.

Pitching with a damaged hip

Pitching with a damaged hip

Pitching with a damaged hip

That's Clayton Kershaw they're talking about. He was supposed to be out for the season, and more than that, he was supposed to be out for the beginning of next season. But it turns out he might not need surgery on his hip. He has a hip impingement, which is like a regular impingement, but cooler and more modern. Players can have surgery for the impingement, but it's a relatively new procedure.

It's hard not to play the causation/correlation game with Kershaw's performance on Sunday. He walked five and hit a batter -- the first time he's allowed that many free runners since April, 2010. Kershaw has also walked three batters or more in his last four starts, which is also something he hasn't done since April, 2010. Kershaw was still a wild, live-armed lefty back then. The pitcher who won the Cy Young did so because his command moved from sketchy to stellar. That hasn't quite been Kershaw's modus operandi in his last few starts. He looks like the pre-Cy Kershaw.

He's still been effective, though. His ERA is 2.02 since August, and he's still striking out over a batter per inning. Even an impinged Kershaw is better than 99 percent of baseball. And if he's in so much pain, he isn't showing it on the field. Kershaw looked like he wanted to throttle Don Mattingly when he was removed, completely irritated and angry that he came out after five innings and 92 pitches.

But it wasn't the same Kershaw. He was wild, and whether it was the impingement or just one of those things, he was different. And if it is the impingement that's making him wild, it's because it's altering his delivery. And if it's altering his delivery, that means his mechanics are off. And if he keeps pitching with altered mechanics, there might eventually be more problems to worry about. Scarier, more substantial problems.

And for what? Cool Standings has the Dodgers with a 4.5-percent chance to get the second Wild Card. Baseball Prospectus has them at five percent. And that's just to get to the play-in for the playoffs. If the Dodgers charge back and make a run to get to the playoffs, it'll be for the right to travel to Atlanta and play a single game.

That picture you want to punch when you accidentally scroll down too far? Yeah, there's a Giants hat. So you might think this is some combination of concern trolling and a plea for the Dodgers to just give up already. But it's not. I want Kershaw to stay healthy for the next two decades. I want to tell my grandkids what it was like to see him pitch against Madison Bumgarner, Jr. in the 2032 NLCS. The game is better with a healthy Kershaw in it.

One of these years, a team is going to charge back to win the second Wild Card. They'll win the playoff game, the division series, the championship series, and the World Series. It will be an amazing run, and it will retroactively justify every decision made to get to that point.

That doesn't mean it's a good idea to make risky choices, regardless of the odds, because 4.5 percent of the time, it'll work every time.

So I hope the Dodgers and their medical staff know what they're doing. They probably do. They wouldn't risk injury to Kershaw unless the odds of him aggravating the injury (or worse) were almost nil. But if they think they're taking any sort of risk -- any additional risk in an attempt to go for it all this year -- that's just not a smart play. Treating Kershaw like the anti-Strasburg just isn't worth it. Not for the second Wild Card.

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