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Why Clayton Kershaw is the Greatest Pitcher of the 21st Century

Clayton Kershaw during game five of the 2018 National League Championship Series versus the Milwaukee Brewers. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

By comparing individual statistics and achievements in Major League Baseball in the 21st century, it is clear to see just how much talent has taken the mound for all 30 teams. In sports, a common question that comes with comparisons like these has always been, “who is the greatest?”

After doing my own research, crunching the numbers, and stacking up accolades, it’s clear that this century’s very best starting pitcher is the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw. Here’s why…

The Statistics

All statistics accounted in this piece have been collected via FanGraphs.

The 2018 season wrapped up Clayton Kershaw’s 11th year as a pitcher in the big leagues, and it displayed just how much we baseball fans have grown accustomed to his dominance on the mound.

Many wrote Kershaw’s 2018 campaign off as a ‘down-year’ for the ace, saying that he may be losing his touch. However, here’s how Kershaw ranked among other starting pitchers who pitched 150.0 or more innings in the National League in 2018:

ERA
2.734th in NL
WHIP1.044th in NL
BB/91.622nd in NL
QS%77%3rd in NL
FIP3.196th in NL

Over the past ten seasons, Clayton Kershaw has never once posted an ERA above 2.91, which he finished with in 2010. In 11 seasons, the only time Kershaw ever finished with anything different than a sub-three ERA was his rookie year in 2008, meaning that he holds a decade-long streak of great pitching.

According to FanGraphs’ leaderboards, in the past 100 years (since 1918), Clayton Kershaw has the very best career ERA of any starting pitcher to take the mound for any team. Kershaw also holds the lowest career WHIP of any starter in that time frame.

Kershaw’s 61.6 career WAR is second all-time among Dodgers starting pitchers, behind only the legendary Hall of Famer Don Sutton. Kershaw is only 2.8 points of WAR behind Sutton, who has recorded 1,718.1 more innings than him. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Kershaw could reach the coveted 100 WAR mark before hanging it up and calling it a career.

The Accolades

In 2011, Kershaw pitched his way to the Triple Crown, leading the league in wins, ERA, and strikeouts, as well as both WHIP and H/9. Only four other pitchers have won the Triple Crown since the turn of the century, and no pitcher in either league has done it since Kershaw in 2011.

In 2014, Kershaw completed one of the greatest seasons of starting pitching in history, posting a 1.77 ERA and taking home the National League’s Most Valuable Player award. Before Kershaw, the last time a National League pitcher won the award was Bob Gibson in 1968. During his 2014 MVP campaign, Kershaw played in only 16% of the Dodgers’ 162 games, but was dominant enough to earn the award over every other ballplayer in the NL.

Clayton Kershaw has been the National League’s ERA leader five times in his eleven year career. No pitcher in NL history has held that title more times than Kershaw. From 2011 through 2014, Kershaw won the ERA title four times, equating to the second-longest winning streak of the honor in the history of baseball.

In his career, Clayton Kershaw has been named to an All-Star roster seven times; the most of any active pitcher in baseball. This is more All-Star appearances than Hall of Fame pitchers such as Sandy Koufax, Dennis Eckersley, and Jim Palmer.

Kershaw has been honored with the National League Cy Young Award three times; the fifth most all-time and the most among active pitchers. In 2011, Kershaw’s earning of the award made him the youngest left-handed pitcher to win the award.

Clayton Kershaw has collected four Warren Spahn Awards in his career, an award given to the best left-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball each year. Kershaw has been named the winner of this award more times than any other pitcher since the award’s conception in 1999.

Each month of the MLB season, both the National League and American League name a Pitcher of the Month. Clayton Kershaw has been named Pitcher of the Month six times in his career. No pitcher has won the honor more times than Kershaw since 2000.

For his humanitarian works with his charity, Kershaw’s Challenge, Clayton Kershaw has been awarded with the Branch Rickey Award (2013), the Roberto Clemente Award (2012), and the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award (2014) in his career. No other athlete in the history of baseball has won all three of these awards.

Conclusion

Although this piece serves to prove Clayton Kershaw as the pitcher of the highest excellence in the 21st century, it goes hand-in-hand to forward Kershaw into the discussion of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game. With his historic numbers, it should be no question to place Kershaw in with the top ten starting pitchers of all-time. However, an argument could be made to push him into the top five.

Do you agree or disagree? Let me know with a comment below!

Arrick Joel

Senior Writer for Dodgers-LowDown and Contributor for Diamond Digest.

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