On Saturday afternoon, after having his start pushed back a couple of times, Clayton Kershaw went out and threw eight shutout innings allowing just two hits and one walk while striking out seven in the Dodgers 3-1 victory over the Angels at Dodger Stadium. Kershaw has now stretched his streak to 37 consecutive scoreless innings following teammate Zack Greinke’s streak of 45 2/3 innings that was snapped last week against the Mets.
It seems like ages ago that people were wondering what was wrong with Kershaw. After losing to SF on May 21 Kershaw was 2-3 with a season high 4.32 ERA. Since that game Kershaw has made 12 starts and is 7-3 with a 1.10 ERA to go along with 119 Strikeouts and just 12 Walks in 89 2/3 innings. Just when it seems that Kershaw might be human after all he goes on another ridiculous run. He’s starting to position himself as arguably the best left-handed pitcher of all-time. Now before you start calling me crazy for even suggesting that, let me explain.
First off, his current 37 inning scoreless streak isn’t even the longest of his career. He had a 41 2/3 inning streak last year. If he gets through three innings of his next start he would become only the third pitcher ever (Walter Johnson and Luis Tiant being the other two) to have two streaks of 40 innings or more, the only lefty.
From 1963 to 1966, Sandy Koufax was 97-27 with a 1.86 ERA and 1,228 Strikeouts in 1,192.2 Innings Pitched (9.27 K/9). Now clearly over a similar period Kershaw isn’t going to compare in totals because back then teams had primarily 4-man rotations while most teams today use 5 starters (the Mets even went to six for a period of this season). During that stretch Koufax made 150 starts. So I’m going to give Kershaw an extra season to give them an equivalent amount of starts. Kershaw since 2011 has made 147 starts with a record of 81-32, a 2.15 ERA and 1,140 Strikeouts in 1,043.1 Innings Pitched (9.83 K/9). His numbers compare very favorably to what is considered one of the most dominating stretches of pitching in baseball history.
At just 27 years old Kershaw is already climbing up some of baseball’s all-time leaderboards. He stands 38th all-time in ERA (2.47), although his past five seasons (2.28, 2.53, 1.83, 1.77 and 2.37) indicate that number is likely to go way down. His 2.15 ERA over that period would make him 11th all-time. His 1.0443 WHIP (walks + hits per inning pitched) and 9.6525 K/9 both rank 5th all-time while his 0.941 WHIP over the last five years would be the best ever. Giving up just 6.7338 Hits per 9 innings pitched Kershaw is second only to Nolan Ryan, who oh by the way threw 7 no-hitters. With a 3.6217 Strikeout to Walk Ratio, Kershaw ranks 19th, while his 5.000 over the last five years would be the 2nd best ever.
All of these are really average per game or per inning stats because the raw numbers are only over eight seasons. If you extrapolate his average season of 16 Wins, 225 Innings Pitched, 241 Strikeouts, 3 Complete Games, and 2 Shutouts till he is 40 years old (assuming he stays healthy and only one brief stint on the DL would indicate he should be able to do) those numbers would be 315 Wins (17th), 4,451.1 Innings Pitched (30th), 4,770 Strikeouts (3rd), 58 CG, and 37 Shutouts.
Of course those are simply projects and a lot can happen in 13 years, but they would suggest Kershaw is well on is way to being one of the great pitchers of all-time and arguably the best lefty. Just imagine where his numbers would be if he made the 38-40 starts a year that guys like Koufax (40+ three times) and Carlton (38+ five times) did. Or if there wasn’t such a focus on pitch counts as there is in today’s baseball. I mean, he hasn’t allowed a run in his last four starts and only completed two of those games. He was taken out after 8 innings twice having thrown 101 and 115 pitches in those two games.
Kershaw is also just entering the “prime” of his career at 27 years old and does so having won 3 Cy Young Awards, an MVP, and a Gold Glove. I know, the knock on Kershaw is that as dominant as he’s been in the regular season, it hasn’t carried over to the postseason where he’s just 1-5 with a 5.12 ERA. Obviously, that’s not very good. To really be considered one of the best ever he’s got to do better in the playoffs, he has to get to the World Series, he has to win when it matters. If you look at the other top lefties Koufax won three World Series and was the MVP of two of them. Randy Johnson won a World Series and shared the MVP of that series. Steve Carlton won two World Series, Whitey Ford won six (one MVP), Tom Glavine one (was the MVP), Lefty Gomez five, Lefty Grove two, Carl Hubbell one, Hal Newhouse one, Herb Pennock three, Eddie Plank two, and Warren Spahn one. Rube Marquard pitched in five World Series even though his team lost all five. Eppa Rixey pitched in one World Series and Rube Waddell is the only lefty in the Hall of Fame that never pitched in the World Series.
With all this being said Kershaw has plenty of time to prove whether he really is one of the best ever or just another really good pitcher. It’ll be a lot of fun to watch.