Clayton Kershaw Goes for History, Whether We Like It Or Not

Pitcher wins are stupid. They’re so, so stupid. They’re the only reason Ian Kennedy is getting any play for the Cy Young, and while he’s having a very good year, it’s ludicrous to think of him in the same way as Clayton Kershaw, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee. Despite what many will have you believe, there is often zero correlation between how many wins a pitcher has and how well he’s performed – just look at Hiroki Kuroda‘s season. (Though I could provide millions of examples of this in either direction, my favorite one recently was Cub starter Rodrigo Lopez picking up his fifth win of the season despite allowing five runs and four homers in 5.1 innings – simply because the Cubs battered Dontrelle Willis for eight runs in 3.1). This is why you’ll notice that no serious baseball analyst even references wins when talking about pitchers, and their usage is often how you can identify whether the “expert” you’re listening to is actually someone worth wasting your time on. (Yes, fine, I’m talking about Mitch Williams and John Kruk).

But you know all of this already. I’ve been making this argument for essentially the full four-plus years this blog has been alive, and others have been doing it long before that. There’s been dozens of times I probably could have mentioned it even more, but just haven’t because I don’t want to continue beating on that dead horse. I’ve chosen to bring this up again now because Kershaw is going for his 20th win of the season tonight. In our quantitative world, that means absolutely nothing. Kershaw’s had an absolutely amazing season, and whether he ends up on 19 or 20 or 21 wins won’t change how great he’s been. You could argue he might already have had 20 wins by now if not for the two no-decisions he got in games where he went at least six innings allowing one run or fewer. Clayton Kershaw is one of the five best pitchers in baseball, and I’d stand behind that whether he was 19-5 or 14-10.

And yet… as much as I know it doesn’t mean anything, I can’t help but admit that it does. No matter how much we know that the number in the “win” column is pointless, there’s still something special about seeing it start with a “2″. It’s something that’s been done 21 times by a Dodger since World War II, but only three times in the last quarter-century – and not once since Ramon Martinez won 20 on the nose back in 1990, when Kershaw was just two years old. Due to the inherent silliness of the win stat itself, that’s probably unfair – tell me that Kevin Brown didn’t deserve a few more wins when he was dominating but held back by a poor offense in the early part of the century – but it’s still the case. Kershaw is more likely than not to do something that a Dodger hasn’t done since I was a kid, and it’ll make me a lot happier than it should. If he gets it, he’ll be the third-youngest Dodger to do so since 1945, behind Martinez (22) and Ralph Branca (21 in 1947).

With two starts against the Giants – who Kershaw always dominates – and the weak-hitting Padres, Kershaw’s well-positioned to end up with 21 wins. As I said, if he pitches well both times out, whether or not he gets a “W” will have no bearing on how great his year was, and it shouldn’t have any impact on whether he wins the Cy Young Award. But it will – and for one night only, that’s okay.

******

If you liked my look at whether the change in hitting coaches had an effect on the offense, be sure to check out Chad Moriyama’s piece today on how James Loney‘s approach might have changed throughout the season.

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