No matter how you slice it, Clayton Kershaw is having a great season. At just 23, the left-hander has become a bonafide major league ace, and along with Matt Kemp a beacon of light in an otherwise dark season for the Dodgers.
Kershaw has allowed zero or one earned runs in eight of his last 13 starts, riding a 10-2, 1.65 ERA run into the forefront of the National League Cy Young discussion. Kershaw is tied for first in the NL in wins (16) and innings pitched (189 2/3), second in FIP (2.51), and third in ERA (2.51) and xFIP (2.78).
Kershaw is second to Roy Halladay in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in both the FanGraphs (5.6) and Baseball-Reference (5.3) versions. The only Dodger with a better season than Kershaw in the last 20 years by both versions of WAR is Kevin Brown, who did so in his three healthy seasons as a Dodger (1999, 2000, 2003). Brad Penny had a 5.9 bWAR in 2007, but his fWAR was just 4.3*.
*I'm never sure which version, if any, of WAR to use for pitchers, but I tend to lean toward Baseball-Reference. For example, FanGraphs has three 1988 Dodgers pitchers ranked by WAR like so: Tim Leary 4.7, Orel Hershiser 4.0, Tim Belcher 3.8. Baseball-Reference ranks them like so: Hershiser 7.3, Leary 2.9, Belcher 2.6. The latter seems more right to me.
This season, Kershaw is one of 11 pitchers in baseball to average at least seven innings per start. Kershaw is the first Dodgers pitcher to average at least seven innings (minimum 10 starts) since Kevin Brown in 1999. That's not the only mark Kershaw is making on the Dodgers record book.
Kershaw in his last start, Tuesday in St. Louis, surpassed the 200-strikeout mark, making him the first Dodger in 10 years to have back-to-back seasons of 200 or more strikeouts. Kershaw has 604 strikeouts since the beginning of 2009, the most by a Dodger in a three-year period since Hideo Nomo struck out 703 batters from 1995-1997.
At 207 strikeouts, Kershaw leads the National League, with a 16-punchout advantage over Cliff Lee, his nearest adversary. The last Dodger to lead the league in strikeouts was Hideo Nomo, who fanned 236 batters in 1995. Kershaw is also just five strikeouts shy of Justin Verlander for the major league lead; the last Dodger to lead all of baseball in strikeouts was Fernando Valenzuela, with 180 in 1981.
Kershaw's ERA this season is 2.51, following full seasons with a 2.79 and 2.91 ERA in 2008 and 2009 respectively. Kershaw is on his way to becoming the first Dodger to have three straight seasons with a sub-3.00 ERA (with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, of course) since Burt Hooton from 1977-1979.
If you want to adjust for park and league, Kershaw stands to become just the fourth Dodger in the 128-year history of the franchise to post three straight seasons with an ERA+ of 130 or higher:
|Dodger Pitchers w/130 ERA+ Three Straight Years|
Kershaw likely has six, maybe seven starts remaining this year to add to his exploits. He might win the Cy Young Award, he might not, but Kershaw's 2011 season is one of the finest pitched by a Dodger in the last two decades.