Last season, I went against the grain and endorsed Clayton Kershaw as my choice for National League MVP. I chose him instead of well-deserving candidates like Andrew McCutchen and Matt Carpenter because he had posted the lowest earned run average the league has seen from a starting pitcher since Pedro Martinez’s absurd 2000 season, and set career-highs in numerous other statistical categories.
After Kershaw went on the disabled list for the first time in his career, it was somewhat hard to see him repeat as the NL Cy Young winner, let alone push himself into MVP talks once again. As we turn the calendar over to August however, it’s become tougher to leave him out of the conversation.
(The conversation for MVP obviously, since a third Cy Young award is basically a formality at this point – apologies to Adam Wainwright1 and Johnny Cueto.)
Kershaw has enjoyed the finest season of his career at this point, putting his name beside Pedro and Randy Johnson as the best pitchers since the turn of the century. The numbers2 that are posted below would be tough to replicate in MLB 14: The Show on the lowest difficulty.
17 GS, 121.1 IP, 1.71 ERA, 1.71 FIP, 1.89 xFIP, 11.1 K/9, 10.0 K/BB, 55.1% GB%, 48 ERA-, 47 FIP-
His performance speaks for itself, but it’s even more impressive when comparing his current statistics to the best of the past 16 seasons. Set to a minimum of 120 innings pitched, here’s where he ranks among his peers during that timeframe:
ERA – 2nd (between 2012 Kris Medlen [1.57 in 138.0 IP] and 2000 Pedro Martinez [1.74 in 217.0 IP])
FIP – 2nd (between 1999 Pedro Martinez [1.39 in 213.1 IP] and 2013 Matt Harvey [2.00 in 178.1 IP])
xFIP3 – 1st (ahead of 2002 Curt Schilling [2.21 in 259.1 IP])
K/9 – 12th (best is 2001 Randy Johnson [13.4 in 249.2 IP])
K/BB – 2nd (between 2010 Cliff Lee [10.28 in 212.1 IP] and 2002 Curt Schilling [9.58 in 259.1 IP])
ERA- – t-5th (one of five pitchers with a 48 ERA-)
FIP- – 4th (1999 Pedro Martinez4 [30 in 213.1 IP], 2000 Martinez [46 in 217.0 IP], and 2001 Randy Johnson [46 in 249.2 IP] are better)
Let’s go ahead now and compare Kershaw’s current numbers to every major league season:
ERA – 105th (the Deadball Era dampens this ranking somewhat)
FIP – 22nd (1999 Pedro Martinez and 1984 Dwight Gooden [1.69 in 218.0 IP] are the only non-Deadball Era seasons better)
K/9 – 21st (1995-98 Randy Johnson, 1987 and 1989 Nolan Ryan, 1984 Dwight Gooden, 1997 Curt Schilling, and 1998 Kerry Wood are the only ones who jump him)
K/BB – 3rd (only 1994 Bret Saberhagen [11.00 in 177.1 IP] leaps 2010 Cliff Lee and Kershaw)
ERA- – 48th
FIP- – 5th (only 1995 Randy Johnson [45 in 214.1 IP] jumps into the equation)
I think it’s pretty safe to say that if these numbers hold up (or somehow improve, which definitely is possible), then we are witnessing one of the best seasons by a pitcher in baseball history.
With Troy Tulowitzki fallen victim to injury (again) and Andrew McCutchen’s repeat bid dampened somewhat because of poor defensive play, it opens the door to go against the grain5 and reward someone who goes to work once (sometimes twice) every week. Kershaw’s rare historic excellence should be recognized with more than just the Cy Young award.