When the topic of pitcher wins comes up, we’re all enlightened enough to know that they’re generally useless. A pitcher usually has no control over the offensive support he receives or whether his bullpen can hang on to a lead handed to them after he’s out of the game. (Unless that reliever is Mike MacDougal, and then everyone knows exactly what will happen.)
That wasn’t always, the case, of course. There was a time where pitchers were men, or something, and if they got no run support, then they were supposed to hold the opponents to negative runs, dagnabbit. “Blogger” Murray Chass is usually at the forefront of that argument, stating:
There was once a time when pitchers were expected to win unless their team scored no runs, and then they were expected to tie.
This is, of course, a load, as we’ve seen trillions of times, most recently on Sunday when Hiroki Kuroda went seven scoreless and ended up with a shiny no-decision for his troubles. That’s how Kuroda, despite a 3.07 ERA, is just 5-8.
You know all of that, of course, and it’s all a long way of saying that we had no such concerns last night. Clayton Kershaw was a one-man wrecking crew, taking matters into his own hands to toss his second shutout of the season, made all the more impressive due to the fact that it was an all-righty American League Detroit lineup. The Tigers managed just two hits, none by heavy hitters Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, or Magglio Ordonez. Kershaw had no need for the bullpen, completing the game on 112 pitches while retiring the final 13 batters he faced – including three swinging strikeouts in the ninth.
But Kershaw wasn’t finished there. Yes, Juan Uribe gave him the only run he’d need with a solo homer in the second inning (sidenote: Ha, Brad Penny. Ha.) and Dioner Navarro doubled in a second run in the sixth. With two on and the bases loaded in the eighth, Kershaw came to the plate. We’ve seen Don Mattingly hit for Kershaw a few times in these situations, even earlier in the game, and it usually hasn’t worked out either on the offensive end or in the relievers who followed. Mattingly let Kershaw hit; he poked a single to right, scoring two, and that was that. Kershaw’s actually been better at the plate (.294/.333/.294 .627) than the real professional hitters who he’s faced (.211./270/.299 .569). He also now leads the league in strikeouts with 117.
On the scale of where this game ranks in his young career, we often turn to Game Score. It’s imperfect because it doesn’t account for opponent, defense, or park, but it’s a quick and dirty way to evaluate a starter’s performance. A few weeks ago, when Kershaw shut out the Marlins, I noted it was his best game ever by Game Score. At the time, it was: not anymore. Once again, this was Kershaw’s “best game ever”. As you can see, the top four have all come in the last thirteen months or so.
|1||2011-06-20||DET||W 4-0||SHO9 ,W||9.0||2||0||1||11||0||112||93||1||0|
|2||2011-05-29||FLA||W 8-0||SHO9 ,W||9.0||2||0||1||10||0||116||92||1||0|
|3||2010-05-09||COL||W 2-0||GS-8 ,W||8.0||2||0||3||9||0||117||84||0||0|
|4||2010-09-14||SFG||W 1-0||SHO9 ,W||9.0||4||0||0||4||0||111||83||1||0|
Even better, take a look at the list of top five Game Scores in MLB this season:
Two of the best five games in the league belong to our own Clayton Kershaw. The next time someone tells you he’s “on his way to being one of the best pitchers in baseball,” stop them immediately. He’s already there.