Anyway you measure it, Clayton Kershaw is very special

Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Clayton Kershaw has had the best start to a career of any Dodgers pitcher in history.

When Clayton Kershaw was first drafted in 2006 and then started to excel in his minor league career, many fans wondered how good he could become. Some even began using the moniker "Minotaur" when referring to the mythical read-about-but-not-seen Mr. Kershaw, who was pitching in the faraway lands of the Midwest and Southern Leagues. In fact it wasn't until he pitched on a Sunday in March 2008 and struck out Sean Casey on "public enemy number 1" that people really began to realize that this guy was going to be pitching in the majors soon.

Less than three months later, Clayton Kershaw got the call and debuted against the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium. While he would eventually go back down to the minors for a quick reset, he came back and has now just finished his fourth full season and fifth overall in Dodger Blue.

In part one of this two-part series, I looked at Kershaw's cumulative work over his first five years, below (with the help of Baseball-Reference) I put together three tables comparing Clayton Kershaw to other sets of pitchers. Note that all of these tables reviewed stats from 1902-2012.

The first table deals with Dodger pitchers at a similar point in their careers. I went back to Brooklyn for the comparison and came up with 21 pitchers who met some basic baseline criteria (innings, starts, 90 or better ERA+, etc.)

Player ERA+ GS WHIP SO/9 IP Age G W L W-L% BB SO ERA
Clayton Kershaw 139 149 1.137 9.29 944.0 20-24 151 61 37 .622 341 974 2.79
Don Drysdale 128 142 1.200 6.91 1071.1 19-23 188 66 54 .550 329 822 3.21
Dazzy Vance 127 100 1.236 6.40 834.1 31-33 108 64 33 .660 271 593 3.06
Orel Hershiser 125 124 1.168 6.32 933.1 24-28 161 60 41 .594 284 655 2.91
Ismael Valdez 120 118 1.190 6.71 821.2 20-24 144 52 40 .565 228 613 3.23
Tim Belcher 118 119 1.167 7.07 806.0 25-29 138 50 38 .568 261 633 2.99
Chad Billingsley 117 131 1.353 8.19 825.2 21-25 160 59 41 .590 357 751 3.55
Fernando Valenzuela 117 131 1.196 7.32 1013.0 19-23 141 61 47 .565 354 824 3.01
Nap Rucker 116 172 1.158 5.03 1554.0 22-26 206 84 87 .491 500 868 2.34
Don Newcombe 116 158 1.224 5.18 1161.2 23-29 181 85 41 .675 326 668 3.49
Hiroki Kuroda 114 114 1.187 6.73 699.0 33-36 115 41 46 .471 163 523 3.45
Johnny Podres 112 121 1.328 5.70 832.1 20-25 159 54 45 .545 296 527 3.69
Hideo Nomo 110 106 1.219 10.05 694.2 26-29 106 45 36 .556 293 776 3.51
Doug Rau 109 111 1.226 5.11 783.1 23-27 146 50 36 .581 239 445 3.14
Bob Welch 109 116 1.229 6.15 783.1 21-25 139 51 35 .593 259 535 3.23
Ramon Martinez 107 112 1.211 7.13 739.2 20-24 115 52 37 .584 268 586 3.32
Billy Loes 107 86 1.316 5.27 638.1 20-25 131 50 25 .667 235 374 3.78
Pedro Astacio 106 108 1.266 5.93 733.0 23-27 148 41 38 .519 231 483 3.60
Stan Williams 106 129 1.364 6.78 872.0 21-25 181 57 46 .553 429 657 3.83
Sandy Koufax 100 77 1.461 8.47 516.2 19-23 137 28 27 .509 305 486 4.16
Don Sutton 95 175 1.190 7.07 1219.2 21-25 188 66 73 .475 337 958 3.45

Some pitchers like Dazzy Vance, Hideo Nomo and Hiroki Kuroda did not pitch for the Dodgers for their first five years in the majors. However, it is clear to see that Clayton Kershaw has put up numbers that sets him on a path to being a Dodger pitching great.

So after looking at that chart, I wondered how he matches up with other pitchers if I use Kershaw's stats as a comparison point? The below chart uses the pitcher's first 5 years as the base criteria.

Player ERA+ GS WHIP SO/9 IP Age W L W-L% BB SO ERA
Tom Seaver 149 175 1.045 7.54 1379.1 22-26 95 54 .638 352 1155 2.34
Brandon Webb 144 163 1.245 7.27 1089.0 24-28 65 55 .542 368 880 3.22
Roy Oswalt 142 145 1.181 7.80 980.2 23-27 83 39 .680 225 850 3.07
Clayton Kershaw 139 149 1.137 9.29 944.0 20-24 61 37 .622 341 974 2.79
Tim Lincecum 137 155 1.188 9.87 1028.0 23-27 69 41 .627 379 1127 2.98
Dwight Gooden 134 158 1.102 8.19 1172.2 19-23 91 35 .722 332 1067 2.62
Bert Blyleven 134 178 1.135 7.37 1335.2 19-23 80 75 .516 319 1094 2.74
Barry Zito 130 153 1.227 7.10 981.0 22-26 72 40 .643 372 774 3.41
Teddy Higuera 129 152 1.172 7.11 1085.0 27-31 78 44 .639 331 857 3.28
Cole Hamels 123 149 1.176 8.54 945.1 22-26 60 45 .571 248 897 3.53
Jered Weaver 122 144 1.205 7.82 896.0 23-27 64 39 .621 252 779 3.55
Ben Sheets 111 149 1.218 7.57 982.1 22-26 55 62 .470 218 826 3.83

Here's the thing, no other pitcher has pitched has many innings as Kershaw with a WHIP that low and still had a SO/9 rate above 9 and an ERA plus above 130. But then strikeouts have ballooned up greatly over the years so I tweaked that rate down a bit and raised WHIP a bit to get this selection of pitchers. Certainly those are all very good pitchers, with some Hall of Famers mixed in.

Finally, I looked at age, since Kershaw won't turn 25 until just before next season.How does he compare with pitchers through age 24?

Player ERA+ GS WHIP SO/9 IP Age W L W-L% BB SO ERA
Clayton Kershaw 139 149 1.137 9.29 944.0 20-24 61 37 .622 341 974 2.79
Bob Feller 136 175 1.356 7.66 1448.1 17-22 107 54 .665 815 1233 3.18
Bert Blyleven 133 213 1.129 7.41 1611.1 19-24 95 85 .528 403 1327 2.78
Felix Hernandez 132 172 1.225 8.12 1154.2 19-24 71 53 .573 357 1042 3.20
Dwight Gooden 132 175 1.109 8.14 1291.0 19-24 100 39 .719 379 1168 2.64
Matt Cain 125 137 1.253 7.52 872.1 20-24 44 51 .463 349 729 3.53
Frank Tanana 124 170 1.133 7.32 1321.0 19-24 84 61 .579 352 1074 2.86
Scott Kazmir 124 124 1.367 9.75 723.0 20-24 47 37 .560 332 783 3.61
Fernando Valenzuela 121 166 1.186 7.23 1285.1 19-24 78 57 .578 455 1032 2.89

I can't tell you why Felix Hernandez only shows up here and not the chart above, I can tell you that besides Kershaw, Cain and Kazmir, all of the other pitchers had an additional year or two of stats since they started pitching younger than age 20. Feller's career was of course interrupted by his service during WWII.

If you are wondering what about pitchers like Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, or Justin Verlander, for various reasons (not enough starts, average first couple of years, etc.) they just didn't meet the criteria. But for instance, if you took Kershaw's career rate stats and use his totals and just make it years one through six, he would only be matched with Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens.Expanding to the first seven years, a lot of other familiar names show up. This just shows you what a great opening act Kershaw has had.

In part two of this two-part series, I will examine Kershaw's individual seasons and see what pitchers have had similar years to him.
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