It’s not hard to argue that Clayton Kershaw is one of the top pitchers in the game, if not the very best. Through his first 5+ big league seasons, Clayton has an ERA of 2.70, two All-Star appearances, and a CY Young award…
… Oh, and he’s only 25 years old.
It’s easy to forget that Clayton was just 13-13 after his first two seasons with the Dodgers and had a very hard time going deep into games.
What changed? What got him over that hump? What can other aspiring pitchers learn from him?
I’m super excited to bring in Dodgers’ Pitching Coach Rick Honeycutt to answer these questions and more.
Rick himself was an excellent pitcher himself over 21 seasons in the big leagues… yes 21! He has been the Dodgers’ Pitching Coach since 2006.
Many thanks to Rick for taking the time to talk with Next Level Ballplayer and share some of his best pitching wisdom.
“Some pitchers are willing to pay that price, and some aren’t. The game will eventually weed those guys out.”
–Dodgers’ Pitching Coach Rick Honeycutt
What in your opinion makes Clayton Kershaw such a great pitcher?
Clayton has one of those internal intangibles – he takes total responsibility for every action he does whether it’s his workouts or on the field. He is always getting better. He wants the fullest day that he can, each day.
That’s really what I admire about such a young guy – he’s only 25 years old. He wasn’t always this good. Back in 2009, he started seeing that he had to make adjustments. Fortunately, he was open-minded. The great ones are stubborn and only work on what they know they need. They don’t take every suggestion and try to please everyone like I see happen a lot.
Clayton was a pretty young, stubborn player who didn’t want to change anything because he thought he was good enough. But when he hit that roadblock and saw that he wasn’t being successful, he looked into how to change.
Hitters out there are good. They study you and know what’s going on. If you get into the same pattern, they know that. Adjustments have to be continual. As soon as Clayton added a third pitch to his repertoire – that slider – he got better.
A perfect example, in 2011, he threw 64 percent strikes the first half. But the second half, he threw 70 percent strikes and was 11 and one. You still have to show that hitter that you have the capability of putting the ball in the zone. The pitcher has to feel like the aggressor and the attacker. Now, no one wants to be in front of Clayton Kershaw because he has too many weapons.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to aspiring pitchers who want to take their game to the next level?
Have confidence in yourself no matter what people say. Continue searching how to make yourself better. You reach that point that you have to always push yourself.
Not to be negative, but you can have Jamie Moyer stuff or Clayton Kershaw stuff. The game can fit any type of pitcher that you are. Even the knuckle ball guys can be successful. Find what you can do, do it well, and keep expanding what you do well.
What’s the biggest obstacle you see pitchers face that keeps them from reaching their full potential?
It’s you. We all have a comfort zone, whether it’s in our workouts or our thought process during the game. It’s really you. You have to learn yourself. Know thyself.
It really comes down to you – can you assess yourself and know what your pluses and minuses are? Are you willing to make yourself better in where you’re deficient?
You can’t just have a good fastball and nothing else. If you don’t get your breaking ball over the plate 50 percent of the time, you lose. We’re talking about Nolan Ryan who threw 100 miles an hour! A hitter can hit a fastball, especially when they know it’s coming. So if you can put just a little bit of doubt in their mind about which pitch, it goes a long way.
Know yourself well enough to know what you need to do to play better. Some pitchers are willing to pay that price, and some aren’t. The game will eventually weed those guys out.