I tend to think Clayton Kershaw doesn’t get enough attention in discussions about baseball’s best young pitchers and so his brilliant complete-game, 1-0 shutout of the Giants last night provides a perfect opportunity to heap praise on the Dodgers southpaw.
Kershaw has followed up his 2.79 ERA in 30 starts as a 21-year-old last season with a 2.85 ERA in 30 starts this season, and during that time he’s the only starting pitcher in baseball to allow fewer than 7.0 hits per nine innings.
As you might expect from someone who’s that tough to hit Kershaw has shown an exceptional ability to miss bats with 486 strikeouts in 471 career innings, including 201 in 192.1 frames this season.
Here’s a list of all the pitchers in baseball history who’ve started at least 75 games through age 22 while striking out more than a batter per inning:
Sam McDowell 9.52
Clayton Kershaw 9.29
That’s it. That’s the entire list. Kershaw and “Sudden” Sam McDowell, who’s one of the great flamethrowers of all time and led the league in strikeouts five times in six seasons during the 1960s. If you want to lower the threshold to 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings you can also add Dwight Gooden and Felix Hernandez to the list.
In addition to racking up strikeouts Kershaw has also made great strides with his control this season, cutting his walks by 25 percent from 4.8 to 3.6 per nine innings. If he can maintain the missed bats and make more progress in walk rate next season–say, to somewhere in the 2.5-3.0 range–Kershaw has a shot to emerge as one of the truly elite pitchers in all of baseball before many of the guys in that class were even in the majors.
Despite already having three seasons and nearly 500 innings of 3.15 ERA work under his belt Kershaw is still the youngest pitcher in baseball to make at least 25 starts this season. He has a chance to be scary good.
World Series Game 1 was billed as a battle of aces, the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw against Chris Sale of the Red Sox. Between them, they have 14 All-Star Game nominations. Kershaw has won three Cy Young Awards. Sale could his first Cy Young Award this year. Among his 10 seasons with at least 110 innings pitched, Kershaw has never posted a sub-2.92 ERA. Sale has been at 2.90 or below in each of the last two seasons. The two have combined for over 4,000 career strikeouts and both have averaged better than a strikeout per inning over their careers.
And yet Tuesday’s Game 1 was anything but a pitcher’s duel between Kershaw and Sale. Though a couple of fielding mistakes weren’t of any help to Kershaw in the first inning, Red Sox batters were squaring him up good. Of the five balls put in play in the first inning, three had exit velocities of 100 MPH or higher. Of the 12 total balls put in play against him overall, five reached triple digits in exit velo.
Kershaw gave up a pair of runs in the first, another run in the third on a J.D. Martinez double to straightaway center field, and another two in the fifth. Kershaw led off the fifth by walking Mookie Betts, then giving up a single to Andrew Benintendi, ending his night. Ryan Madson relieved Kershaw and proceeded to allow both inherited runners to score. All told, Kershaw yielded five runs on seven hits and three walks with five strikeouts on 79 pitches in four-plus innings.
Sale, meanwhile, was on the hook for individual runs in the second, third, and fifth. Dodger hitters weren’t squaring him up quite as well as the Red Sox batters squared up Kershaw, but Sale was still more hittable than usual. Of the eight balls put in play against him, four were at least 90 MPH in exit velo. One of the runs was a no-doubt solo home run to Matt Kemp in the second. The Dodgers chased Sale in the fifth when he issued a leadoff walk to Brian Dozier. Matt Barnes relieved him allowed the inherited runner to score. Overall, Sale threw 91 pitches in four-plus innings, serving up three runs on five hits and two walks with seven strikeouts.
The game is now, as has been generally the case throughout this postseason, a battle of the bullpens.