CHICAGO, August 23, 2013 — Clayton Kershaw took the mound yesterday for the Dodgers. Despite not having his best stuff, Kershaw threw eight innings and gave up no runs while allowing five hits and three walks. As amazing as this sounds, yesterday’s start can almost be considered a bad start for him this season. Granted it is an arbitrary endpoint, but since the All Star break Kershaw has taken it to another level posting a 1.02 ERA, allowing a .165 batting average against (BAA) and 40 strikeouts in 53 innings. He has even gotten it done with the bat by driving in five runs, while allowing only seven since the break.
For the year, Kershaw has posted a 1.72 ERA, which leads the majors and would lead the majors almost any year as only Dwight Gooden and Greg Maddux have posted lower ERA’s over an entire year since the mound was lowered in 1969. Kershaw also leads the majors with 198.1 innings pitched so far and a 0.86 WHIP while trailing only Yu Darvish for the MLB lead in strikeouts with 188. These numbers have lead to only a 13-7 record so far, which is more a function of receiving 3.48 runs per game (76th in the majors).
Kershaw seems to have taken his control, and thereby his game, to another level. He is posting the aforementioned 0.86 WHIP while issuing walks to 5.7% of the batters faced and allowing extra base hits to 4.9% of batters faced, all career highs. He has done this without sacrificing his strikeouts. He has struck out 25% of the batters he faced and did so using just 3.78 pitches per plate appearance. By seeing less batters and maintaining his efficiency Kershaw is now able to go deeper into games and has gone 7.3 innings per start this year.
Looking at some of the ERA+, paints an even more glowing picture of Kershaw. He has posted an ERA+ of 207. ERA+, which is 100*[league ERA/pitcher’s ERA], measures how well a pitcher performs in relation to the league average. To put this in context, there have been 12 seasons posted by six different pitchers that have posted better ERA+’s. Those pitchers are Pedro Martinez (1997, 1999, 2000, 2003), Roger Clemens (1990, 1997, 2005), Greg Maddux (1994, 1995), Ron Guidry (1978), Dwight Gooden (1985), and Kevin Brown (1996). To many baseball fans, these pitchers and the specific seasons listed will illicit very fond memories if you were lucky enough to watch them pitch frequently in the days before mlb.tv and allow you to appreciate what Kershaw is currently doing.
Kershaw is still only 25 years old and while the sky seems to be the limit for his future, some caution is advised. According to Baseball-Reference, at this point in his career he has comparable numbers to some Hall of Famers, but also to pitchers like Dontrelle Willis.
All of these numbers will likely lead to Kershaw’s second Cy Young award in the last three years and possibly his first MVP award. In the meantime, though, Kershaw should be must watch TV, or computer, because he is not simply pitching against his peers right now, but is pitching against history.
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