In a piece posted last night, ESPN’s Christina Kahrl notes that lefties Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers and Cliff Lee of the Phillies are on pace for historically-great seasons, using Wins Above Replacement from Baseball Reference:
3. Just one pitcher in 10 years has produced a season worth 9.0 WAR or better
And that would be Zack Greinke for the Royals in his Cy Young season of 2009. But this season two pitchers might challenge that mark: Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers (4.5 WAR) and Cliff Lee of the Phillies (4.6 WAR and counting).
For pitchers, piling up big stacks of value from on-field performance is tough, especially in today’s workload-conscious era as teams mitigate risk. But even allowing for that, while there have been 182 pitching seasons worth 9.0 WAR or more, just 30 of those seasons have come since divisional play started in 1969.
Lee came close to crossing the 9-WAR threshold with an 8.6 effort in 2011 with the Phillies. Kershaw’s career-high was 6.5 in 2011.
Kershaw and Lee head a very stacked group of talented National League arms. They are two of eight in the league with an ERA of 2.51 or better. Comparatively, only two starters in the American League have an ERA of 2.51 or better (Clay Buchholz, Hisashi Iwakuma). It will be interesting to see who gets the honor of starting for the National League in the upcoming All-Star Game.