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Clayton Kershaw about to join elite company

Kershaw has averaged 6.98 innings per start since the beginning of the 2011 season.


Clayton Kershaw returns to the mound on Friday night as the Dodgers battle the Giants in San Francisco, as a reminder to take nothing for granted. As someone who has lost both parents, I don't mean to make light of the death of Kershaw's father, nor to I want to equate life and death to sports. But rather, we should appreciate Kershaw while we can.

I doubt anyone watching Sandy Koufax in 1965 or 1966 expected The Left Arm of God to be done at age 30, but he was. Kershaw and Koufax get compared to one another quite a bit, and with good reason as two dominant Dodgers left-handed pitchers. But Kershaw is nearing something that gives a little more credence to those comparisons.

The leaderboards use 1,000 innings pitched as the minimum for most pitching rate metrics, a way to sift out the sweet but short careers. Kershaw heading into Friday night has pitched 985⅔ innings in his career, leaving him just over 14 innings shy of qualifying for the all-time leaderboards.

That means in two or maybe three starts by Kershaw, he will join some elite company. If we ignore the absurdly low-scoring environment of the dead ball era (94 of the top 100 ERAs come from careers mostly from 1919 and before), here is where Kershaw stands among the all-time greats.

Best ERA, 1920-present
Pitcher ERA IP ERA+
Mariano Rivera* 2.208 1,231 206
Hoyt Wilhelm* 2.523 2,254⅓ 147
Whitey Ford 2.745 3,170⅓ 133
Clayton Kershaw 2.748 985⅔ 140
Dan Quisenberry* 2.760 1,043⅓ 146
Sandy Koufax 2.761 2,324⅓ 131
Ron Perranoski* 2.789 1,174⅔ 124
*Relief pitcher

Including the relief pitcher and later longtime pitching coach Perranoski, three of the top seven best ERAs in MLB history belong to Dodgers. But perhaps even more amazing is that since 1920, the only starting pitcher with a better ERA than Kershaw is Whitey Ford.

Certainly a lot can and will happen between now and the end of Kershaw's career. First of all, this is plain old earned run average and not ERA+, which is adjusted for ballpark and league factors (among starters, Pedro Martinez sits atop that list at 154). Kershaw hasn't hit his decline phase yet, but then again he may not have hit his peak, either. The point is, take some time to watch Friday night's game to watch Kershaw pitch. You'll see something special.

Friday in San Francisco

Did I mention that Kershaw's ERA is likely to go down while facing the Giants? He is 9-4 with a 1.28 ERA against San Francisco in 18 career games, including 17 starts. That ERA is the best against the Giants in the history of their franchise. Kershaw, you may recall, shutout the Giants on opening day at Dodger Stadium.

At AT&T Park, it is even better. Absurdly so.

Kershaw pitched a scoreless inning of relief in San Francisco in his rookie year of 2008, then didn't face the Giants on the road in 2009. Since the beginning of 2010, Kershaw has made seven starts at AT&T Park, and he has allowed five total runs, including four earned runs. In four of the seven starts Kershaw has allowed no runs, including a shutout in his last San Francisco start, on July 29, 2012.

Kershaw is 5-2 with a 0.66 ERA in his career at AT&T Park, with 53 strikeouts and just seven unintentional walks in 54⅔ innings.

Barry Zito starts for the Giants, giving us an opportunity for another Matt Kemp litmus test. Kemp in his career owns Zito to the tune of .436/.508/.655 (24-for-55) with three home runs, a triple, a double, and eight walks. So far this season, in 27 games, Kemp is hitting .260/.315/.340 with one home run.

Game info

Time: 7:15 p.m.

TV: Prime Ticket

MLB Gameday