Clayton Kershaw reached the halfway mark of his 23rd year about 2 weeks ago, and with today’s 6-2 victory over San Diego, he’s merely just finished off what is arguably the best non-Koufax season in the long history of the Brooklyn & Los Angeles Dodgers.
21-5, 2.28 ERA, which is the lowest ERA in all of baseball. 248 strikeouts, the most by any lefty Dodger pitcher other than Koufax in team history, the sixth-highest total overall, and enough for a 2011 National League K crown (assuming Cliff Lee doesn’t whiff 17 in his final start, a number he has never reached.) At 23, it’s the highest strikeout total for someone his age or younger since Dwight Gooden had 268 in 1985. And since June, he’s 14-2, propelling him to an almost certain “pitching Triple Crown”, as much as it makes me cringe to type that phrase.
We can argue about whether those numbers all matter (spoiler alert: they don’t) but those numbers, more than WAR, FIP, or ERA+, are the ones that are going to get engraved in the public memory when you think about Kershaw’s outstanding 2011 season – in the same way people immediately can spout “23-8, 2.26″ when asked about Orel Hershiser’s 1988.
Back in February, I included him among the six reasons for optimism headed into the season:
Last year he made a marked improvement in his major weakness by walking 10 fewer batters despite pitching 30 more innings than in 2009. Don’t forget, he’s not even 23 yet. I’ve been arguing that he turned potential into performance last year, but the greater accolades haven’t quite come yet because of his mediocre (and pointless) win-loss record. This is the year that the greater baseball world recognizes Kershaw in his rightful place as one of the dominant starters in the game.
I’d say he achieved that and more – with the “triple crown” (ugh), in place, the Cy Young seems likely to be in his future in the coming weeks. Kershaw’s season has been so dominant that it hardly feels like spouting the numbers does him justice, and since I have sausages, chicken, and corn on the grill, I won’t attempt to any further.
Thank you, Clayton. Thank you.