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.