The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Los Angeles Dodgers”

The Greatness of Clayton Kershaw

Is it possible that a 25-year old starting pitcher, with barely a half-dozen seasons under his belt, is already one of the most taken-for-granted veterans in the Majors?

Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m writing, of course, of Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw.

As a Mets fan, I’ve been in awe of our own great pitcher, Matt Harvey (The Dark Knight of Gotham.)  Every pitching performance of his is an event to be savored.  I can think of perhaps only two or three other pitchers in Mets history who’ve generated this kind of buzz and displayed such overwhelming dominance at this point in their careers.

Then I recall that Clayton Kershaw is just a year older than Matt Harvey, and has already been just as dominant, perhaps more so, for about six years now.

Kershaw made his MLB debut at age 20 on May 25, 2008 against the St. Louis Cardinals.  In six strong innings, he struck out seven, walked just one, and surrendered five hits and two earned runs.  Of his 102 pitches, 69 were strikes.  His ERA after that first start was 3.00.  He has not posted an ERA that high in any of his past five seasons (including this one.)  His lone mistake that day was a double to some guy named Pujols.

Through 1,142 career innings (a fair sample size), Kershaw’s career ERA+ of 146 ranks 5th best all-time among starting pitchers since 1900, behind only Pedro Martinez, Lefty Grove, Walter Johnson and Smoky Joe Wood.  Including this season, he is enjoying his 3rd straight year with an ERA+ of at least 150.  By way of comparison, Sandy Koufax reached that level of dominance in each of his final four seasons.

Speaking of Sandy Koufax, until this year, Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax ranked #1 and #2 in fewest hits surrendered per nine innings in their careers (6.555 and 6.791, respectively.)  This year, Kershaw has squeezed in between Ryan and Koufax, now claiming second place all-time at 6.767 per nine innings.  Granted, Koufax tossed about twice as many innings in his career as Kershaw has to date, but, then again, Kershaw has been a much more dominant pitcher in his first half-dozen seasons than Koufax was.  In fact, Koufax was about Kershaw’s current age before he finally began to turn the corner in what had been to that point a very mediocre career.

Kershaw, with a career record of 74-44, has already won one Cy Young award, was the runner-up last year, and has an excellent chance to win another this season.  He is on his way to winning his third consecutive ERA crown, and will probably lead the league in WHIP this year for a third straight season as well.  He has also given up an average of just 5.8 hits per 9 innings this year, one hit per nine below his already fantastic career average.

Astonishingly, in his 1,142 career innings pitched, Kershaw has surrendered just 859 hits.  Another way of looking at this is that Kershaw has tossed 283 hitless innings in his career, the equivalent of pitching an entire season, and then some, without giving up a hit.

And lest you think that perhaps Kershaw has a walk rate that might not be quite as impressive as his hit rate, Kershaw’s career mark of 3.0 walks per nine compares favorably (though very similarly) to Koufax’s career rate of 3.2 walks per nine (not to mention Nolan Ryan’s much higher rate of 4.7 walks per nine innings.)

Since his rookie year of 2008, Kershaw’s WAR has gone up virtually every season as well:  1.4, 4.7, 5.5, 6.5, 6.2, 7.1 (thus far in 2013.)  His 31.4 career WAR (generally a cumulative stat), works out to an average of around 5.5 per season.  I’ll leave it to you to estimate where he might finish among the all-time WAR leaders if he enjoys perhaps another decade of good health.

There’s a real chance that before he’s done, Clayton Kershaw will rate among the top five left-handed pitchers in baseball history.  It would be unfortunate if, outside of L.A.,  baseball fans failed to notice Kershaw’s greatness due to our sports media’s current obsession with scandal, blame and shame.

Addendum:  I just learned a couple of hours ago of the elbow injury that Matt Harvey has suffered.  The brittleness of pitchers is something that we are constantly reminded of and, despite our hopes going forward, obviously no pitcher is guaranteed a long and healthy career.  Not Matt Harvey, not Clayton Kershaw, not any of them.  All we can do is enjoy their talent while we have them.  

Ten Reasons Why Yasiel Puig Deserves To Be An All-Star

There’s been a lot of talk over the past week regarding whether or not the Dodgers phenom outfielder should be allowed to make the N.L. All-Star Team, given that he’s only been in the Majors for little more than one month.  Yesterday, Phillies relief pitcher Jonathon Papelbon, who has never pitched more than 75 innings over the course of an entire season, and who’s been named to five All Star squads, made the following statement:

“The guy’s got a month, I don’t even think he’s got a month in the big leagues,” Papelbon said during the interview. “Just comparing him to this and that, and saying he’s going to make the All-Star team, that’s a joke to me.

Papelbon added that it would, in his opinion, be disrespectful to veteran ballplayers who’ve been around for years to have Puig named to the All Star team.

Dear Jon, Allow me to retort:

1)  According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, no player since Joe DiMaggio back in the 1930’s has started his career with as much early success as has Puig.  We are not talking about a normal player on a short hot streak, we are witnessing baseball history every time Puig comes to the plate.

2)  Through last night’s game, Puig is now batting .440 through his first 109 MLB at bats.  Not enough at bats to impress you?  Well, even if Puig went hitless in his next 50 at bats (about half the number he already has), he’d still be batting over .300.  Does anyone believe he’ll go zero for his next 50?  If he bats just .250 over his next 200 at bats, he’ll still be batting around .317.  Would you say a .317 batting average, with power, is enough to justify an All Star nod?  I would.

3)  Puig already has the highest WAR of any Dodgers position player, at 2.6.  Shouldn’t the best position player on a team garner serious All Star consideration?

4)  Papelbon’s argument that a Puig All Star nomination would be disrespectful to MLB veterans is patently absurd.  There have been other rookies who have made All Star teams in the past.  Just because most of them began the season in April, garnering three full months (!) instead of Puig’s one month, is hardly enough of a difference to single Puig out as somehow being not worthy of this honor.

5)  The rule that has been in place for many years that requires each team, regardless of the caliber of its players, to have at least one representative for the All Star game has resulted in many questionable “All Stars” over the years.  The idea that seems to be floating out there that the All Star Game is and always has been for only the best of the best hasn’t been true for decades, if it ever was the case at all.  Meanwhile, Puig might very well be one of the top ten, if not the top five, players in the game right now.

6)  Attendance is down throughout the Majors.  Translation:  The product is not selling as well has it has in the past.  The players, meanwhile, are the product.  They are not the marketers, nor are they the gate-keepers of what the fans “should” be allowed to spend their hard-earned money on.  Next time Papelbon cashes a paycheck, he should keep that in mind.

7)  The All-Star Game is an exhibition.  It’s primary purpose is to promote The Game.  (The charade of home-field advantage being decided for the World Series is and always has been an afterthought.)  Question:  Are the fans less likely or more likely to watch this exhibition on T.V. if Puig gets to play?  How about fans in the greater L.A. area, the second biggest market in America?

8)  Baseball is also about winning, correct?  When the Puig joined the Dodgers in early June, they were at or near the bottom of the standings in the N.L. West.  Now, they are just 2 1/2 games out of first place, and have won ten of their last eleven games.   Certainly, this dramatic turnaround has not all been attributable to Puig.  Yet, if Puig was still languishing down in the minors, do you really think the Dodgers would now be this close to the top of the standings?  I don’t.

9)  No one remembers entire All-Star games, but they do remember individual, specific moments.  People remember Bo Jackson in ’89, or Dave Parker’s throw to the plate in ’79, or Ted Williams walk-off homer in ’41.  Isn’t it as likely as not that Puig will do something in this year’s All Star Game that fans will remember for years to come?  There’s no way to know, unless he gets to play.

10) Finally, if Papelbon’s point of view that Puig has not yet proven himself worthy of playing in an All-Star Game is widely shared by other veteran ballplayers (and one has to wonder what Puig’s Dodger teammates think of all this), then why not let the veterans show us in the All-Star Game itself how inferior Puig truly is?  Let Justin Verlander or Yu Darvish or Matt Moore or someone else face him down and attempt to strike him out.  After all, isn’t that the whole point of sports in general, and baseball in particular?  Let it be settled it between the chalk lines, not the airwaves, Jonathon.

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