If you have a Twitter account, you probably know the drill.
With apologies to Felix Hernandez, Adam Wainwright and Madison Bumgarner, there’s really no debate to be had about who the best pitcher in baseball is. This isn’t a biased Dodger fans opinion. Kershaw has made Bovada.com do something I have never seen before.
Bovada also has Kershaw as NL MVP favorite and "no odds for the NL Cy Young as the odds would be too high for Clayton Kershaw."
— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) September 2, 2014
You literally cannot bet against Kershaw winning the NL Cy Young award. Even if (knock on wood) Kershaw’s magical left arm were to fall off, he could probably finish the season with decent numbers throwing right handed.
Kershaw starts are becoming a spectacle. Nothing he does on the field is surprising anymore. It’s insane to be a Dodger fan right now. Kershaw’s start against the Arizona Diamondbacks on August 27th was uncomfortable to watch. It seemed like the flawless pitcher was struggling hard. Kershaw even said after the game that he pitched poorly. His statline? 8 IP, 6 hits, 1 ER, 2 BB, 10 Ks. Even at his seemingly worst, Kershaw is unfair.
If you don’t believe me, here are some stats that made me say “wow”.
1. Clayton Kershaw has a higher batting average than ERA
On Tuesday, Kershaw and the Dodgers defeated the Washington Nationals 4-1. Kershaw cruised through his eight innings, only giving up one run, a deep home run to Bryce Harper which I will go into later. His eight innings of one-run ball lowered his ERA to 1.70 on the season. Kershaw also did it with the bat, lining a single off Nationals starter Doug Fister in the fifth inning. After reaching first, Kershaw went first to third on a single by Dee Gordon, testing Harper’s arm and beating the off-line throw. You don’t see pitchers going first to third on singles. You don’t see pitchers like Clayton Kershaw.
Kershaw’s ERA is 1.70, and that single rose his batting average to .173. Kershaw has a better batting average than his ERA. Kershaw’s a solid hitting pitcher, but this is a testament to how dominant he has been on the hill. Kershaw gets compared to Sandy Koufax on a regular basis. Both of them are/were dominant lefties that came up through the Dodgers farm system. Koufax is widely regarded as one of the best pitchers to ever toe the rubber, and his lowest single season ERA was 1.73 in 1966, his final season as a pitcher. In that season, Koufax had a FIP of 2.07, meaning while he was still dominant, he got some help from his defense. Kershaw’s FIP this season is 1.89, so an argument can be made that he has had a better season than Koufax’s 1966 season. Sure, it’s a different era and all, but that shouldn’t take away from how unbelievable Kershaw has been in 2014.
2. Kershaw is basically as good of a hitter as hitters facing Kershaw
Batters are hitting .193 against Kershaw. This is only 20 points higher than Kershaw’s batting average this season.
Then, there’s this
Clayton Kershaw's OBP: .246. OBP of hitters vs. Kershaw: .225. #Dodgers
— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) September 3, 2014
Kershaw is turning major league hitters into pitchers trying to hit.
3. Bryce Harper’s home run off Kershaw was the first RBI Kershaw has given up to a lefty this season
Let that simmer for a little while. Kershaw has faced lefties 120 times this season. Four have walked, two have reached on an error, and 20 have gotten hits. 40 have struck out. Lefties are batting .174 on the season against Kershaw, and righties aren’t fairing much better with a .195 average.
Kershaw’s stat lines are insane to look at. Lefties usually will get a day off when Kershaw is on the hill. Harper crushed the first pitch of his seventh inning at bat into the right field bleachers. I don’t think I’ve seen a ball hit that hard off Kershaw this season, so props to Harper.
4. Kershaw leads the league in many categories despite missing five weeks
After his Opening Day start in Australia, Kershaw went on the DL with a back injury. People were concerned about the injury and the amount of money the Dodgers threw at the then-25-year old in the offseason. Fast forward to September, and it seems like the Dodgers got a bargain when they signed Kershaw to a seven-year, $215 million dollar contract.
Let’s assume Kershaw missed five starts, and about 35 innings. Despite this, Kershaw leads baseball in ERA, WHIP, WAR, and wins. He’s also seventh in baseball in strikeouts and third in the NL, only behind Johnny Cueto and Stephen Strasberg. Strasberg has eight more strikeouts than Kershaw’s 202, despite throwing 14 more innings on the year. Cueto, who has finally gotten attention as a top-end pitcher this season, has 205 strikeouts in 207 innings pitched. Kershaw’s k/9 is third in baseball, trailing Chris Sale and Yu Darvish.
5. Kershaw has thrown more starts of 8+ innings than starts of under 8 innings this season
Kershaw has made 23 starts this season, a number that would be higher if it weren’t for that injury. In one nightmarish game, he lasted 1.2 innings and gave up seven runs against the Diamondbacks. I tried to block that game out of my memory. His second shortest outing this season was five innings, but that game was called after five due to rain in Colorado. He only lasted six innings in Philadelphia and 6.2 innings in his first start of the season in Australia.
Kershaw has gone seven innings seven times, giving him 11 starts under eight innings this season. He has also gone eight innings seven times, and has thrown nine innings five times. In 12 of his 23 starts, Kershaw has gone eight or nine innings.
In his last 17 starts, Clayton Kershaw has pitched in 134 of a possible 149 innings (89.9%), and averaged 7.88 innings per start
— Eric Stephen (@truebluela) September 3, 2014
6. His dominance isn’t a one-year phenomenon
I know, I lied and said there were five crazy stats. So sue me.
I was going to cut it off at five, but then I saw this one and it blew my mind.
Clayton Kershaw in his last 108 starts, over 774⅔ innings, has an ERA of 1.95
— Eric Stephen (@truebluela) September 3, 2014
If you couldn’t guess it already, you should follow Eric Stephen.
Also, Clayton Kershaw is a pretty good pitcher.
In his career, Kershaw has made 205 starts. After his first three years and change, his ERA is under 2.00. At 26 years old, there’s a half-decent chance that we still haven’t seen the best of Clayton Kershaw. I like to imagine him yelling “this isn’t even my final form” in the locker room after hurling eight innings of one-run ball. He probably doesn’t do this.
Clayton Kershaw is having a year for the record books. What he’s done this season is nearly unprecedented, and Kershaw is about to become the first pitcher to lead the MLB in ERA for four consecutive seasons. Only he, Greg Maddux and Lefty Grove have led the MLB in ERA for three consecutive seasons, so this is the company that Kershaw is in. If he stays healthy, we could be watching one of the most dominant pitchers in major league history. That’s not hyperbole. Stats back it up.
note: I use the term “watching” loosely because most Dodger fans in LA still can’t watch the team.