Clayton Kershaw is the most feared pitcher on the planet. The 27-year-old southpaw mowed down much of the National League last year, picking up his third Cy Young and his first MVP award along the way. And, in a league in which 95 mph fastballs are the norm—and so are Tommy John surgeries—Kershaw has somehow gone on the disabled list only once since he entered the majors in 2008. So we checked in with Brandon McDaniel, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ strength and conditioning coach, to talk about training an indestructible pitcher and how to really unleash a fastball.
How do you prepare a guy like Clayton Kershaw for the season?
My philosophy is that the body doesn’t recognize you’re throwing a baseball. The body recognizes that you put it under stress. And so we put the body under similar stresses in the offseason that mimic what happens when you throw, hit, run, and field. It’s about doing intervals and core work that is going to work the same muscles they’ll use in the game. Everything we do, we’re mimicking the biomechanics, and we’re mimicking the energy systems.
What’s the secret to his dominance?
Consistency. Clayton’s going to do exactly what he set out to do—all the way down to what time he gets a stretch the day before a game. Today, Kersh had three innings, so he stretched at exactly 12:31—because we stretch 34 minutes before the game.
How does this mindset apply to the normal dude?
In the weight room, everybody has good days and bad days. Clayton Kershaw has a lot more better days than most, but over time, if you can stay reliable and on that regimen, you have a much better chance of succeeding in your program.
How has baseball training evolved in the recent post-steroid era?
We went from a period of time where everybody was using machines—a lot of leg extensions, leg curls, chest-press machines, lat pulldowns—to the movement of “functional training.” But players now understand it’s not about strength solely. It’s not about power solely. It’s not about being functional solely. We need to have components of all of those. So now I think the training has gone individual. We’ve broken it down and are able to look at each guy and say, “All right, he’s lacking in this area, we need to build this up, he has too much in this area, we need to back off,” versus the one-size-fits-all program that everybody had 10 to 15 years ago.
What’s unique about baseball training versus other sports?
In baseball there are games and practice every day. Like, we have batting practice, and we also play the same night. You don’t want to overwork muscles and then go out there that night and throw 120 pitches. We’re not training at high, high intensities in the weight room, because our goal is not to get as strong as possible. We’re just trying to keep what we have from the off-season going so you can utilize it from March until the end of September, hopefully longer.
Does Kershaw do anything unique or out of the box in the off-season, like Pilates, that helps give him an edge?
No, Kersh is really good at doing the meat and potatoes. There’s nothing sexy about it. He just gets after it, and he gets after it with the right intensity and the right volume. And he prepares every day like the next start is going to be the most important start of his life.
How should I be throwing a ball if I want to light up the radar gun?
It’s all your lower half, man. Drive with your core and your legs, and not just your arm.