It’s always extremely difficult to answer the question “who is the greatest …” There have been many incredible pitchers to step on a mound this century. But one pitcher is simply better than the rest. That pitcher is Clayton Kershaw. Allow me to explain.
Clayton Kershaw, a 32-year-old left-handed pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, has won multiple awards in his 12-year career. He’s won three Cy Young Awards, was the first pitcher since Bob Gibson in 1968 to win the MVP award, has a pitching Triple Crown, 8 All-Star appearances, a Gold Glove, I could go on. Baseball fans everywhere have grown accustomed to his dominance on the mound.
According to FanGraphs’ leaderboards, in the last 100 years, since 1918, Kershaw has the best career ERA of any starting pitcher to take the mound for any team. Kershaw lead the MLB in ERA from 2011-2014 and didn’t finish with an ERA above 2.91 from 2009-2018. Also, Clayton Kershaw has the lowest career WHIP of any starter in that time frame.
All of Kershaw’s pitches can strikeout any hitter, including some of the best players in the league. For example, Bryce Harper hit just .185 against Clayton Kershaw. From 2013-2015, batters facing Kershaw’s fastball have hit .239, which is very respectable. However, against his slider, batters hit only .173 and .117 against his curveball. In this time frame, Kershaw struck out 772 batters, and 306 of those strikeouts came against his curveball. Kershaw also lead the league in strikeouts twice from 2013-2015.
Kershaw’s ability to strike batters out helps him avoid giving up many hits. According to Baseball-Reference, Kershaw’s hits per nine mark of 6.78 places him second all-time among pitchers with at least 1000 innings pitched. The person ahead of him? Nolan Ryan with a hits per nine mark of 6.55.
According to Baseball-Reference, Kershaw’s 67.9 WAR is the highest all-time among Dodgers starting pitchers. He is 0.8 WAR above Don Drysdale, who is in second place. Kershaw achieved this feat while throwing almost 1160 fewer innings than Drysdale. At age 32, Kershaw has a chance to join the exclusive 100 WAR club.
In 2014, Kershaw had one of the most dominant seasons in starting pitching history. He led the league with a 1.77 ERA, 6 complete games, an ERA+ of 197, and a WHIP of 0.857. He also won the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award. Kershaw was so dominant in 2014, that he only appeared in 16% of the Dodgers’ 162 games and still beat out every other player in the National League for the award.
Kershaw has won the Cy Young Award three times. He has the fifth most Cy Young Awards of all-time and the most among active pitchers. Roger Clemens has the most all-time, with 7 and Kershaw and Randy Johnson are tied for the most Cy Young Awards this century.
Kershaw also has 8 All-Star game appearances to his name. This is the most out of any active pitcher in the Majors, and more appearances than Sandy Koufax, Dennis Eckersley, and Jim Palmer.
How does Kershaw fare against other pitchers that have taken the mound this century? Justin Verlander had an ERA+ of 150 during his peak seasons between 2010-2012. When Tim Lincecum won back-to-back Cy Young Awards from 2008-2009, his ERA+ was 168 and 171. Max Scherzer’s highest ERA+ was 178 in 2017. During Kershaw’s peak, from 2013-2015, he posted an ERA+ of 188.
Clayton Kershaw has been unbelievably good this century, better than every other pitcher who has step foot on a baseball field. He’s put up historic numbers, won many awards, and led the league in many categories multiple times. You may disagree with me on Kershaw being the best pitcher of the century, but if he’s not the best, he’s certainly top 5.