Clayton Kershaw had a season unlike any other in his career in 2016.
What went right
Kershaw had the finest start to any of his nine major league seasons this year, crazily efficient and lasting deeper into games than ever before. He pitched at least seven innings in each of his first 11 starts, and through June 20 was 11-1 with a 1.57 ERA in 15 starts, leading the majors in ERA, innings and strikeouts, at the time with 141 strikeouts against only seven walks.
Through those 15 starts, Kershaw was averaging 7⅔ innings all while striking out 34% of his batters faced.
He pitched three shutouts in a five-start stretch in May, including a 14-strikeout three-hitter to silence the Padres on May 1. Kershaw on that night also drove in the game’s only run, driving home A.J. Ellis in the third inning.
Kershaw was named National League Pitcher of the Month in May, the sixth monthly honor of his career. He allowed five runs in six starts during the month, walking only two batters while striking out 65.
Kershaw ended his season with a career-best 1.69 ERA though in just 149 innings, 13 shy of qualifying for a possible fifth ERA title. His 0.725 WHIP was the lowest in the history of baseball by any pitcher with at least 100 innings.
Kershaw has a 1.99 ERA in his last 167 regular season starts, dating back to June 9, 2011.
He tied for the National League lead in FanGraphs pitching WAR (6.5), and finished tied for second in the Baseball-Reference version of WAR (5.6).
Kershaw made his sixth straight opening day start for the Dodgers, and was selected to his sixth straight All-Star team.
Kershaw was able to exorcise some demons in the playoffs, striking out 11 on three days rest in Game 4 of the NLDS, only to see his bullpen allow all three inherited runners to score, tying the game in the seventh inning.
Two days later, Kershaw had his Hershiser moment, recording the final two outs in a legendary Game 5, earning the save as the Dodgers advanced to the NLCS for the first time since 2013.
Kershaw pitched seven scoreless innings, allowing only two hits and a walk to beat the mighty Cubs at Wrigley Field in Game 2 of the NLCS.
What went wrong
After a loss to the Pirates on June 26, Kershaw experienced some discomfort in his back and would end up missing over 10 weeks on the disabled list with a herniated disc.
Despite the excellent season, the low innings total cost Kershaw in the BBWAA vote, finishing outside of the top three in NL Cy Young Award voting for the first time since 2010, snapping a record five-year streak in the top three.
Kershaw allowed five runs in five innings in Game 6 of the NLCS at Wrigley Field, and was the losing pitcher in the Dodgers final game of the season for the third time in four years.
A cursory glance at his 4.44 ERA this postseason makes Kershaw’s October look much worse than it actually was, with relievers allowing a quarter of his earned runs. But a closer look shows how good Kershaw was, with 29 strikeouts and four walks, a 2.33 FIP while holding opponents to just .253/.275/.368.
Couple those numbers and that postseason performance knowing that Kershaw was still dealing with back issues make his October all the more impressive.
Stats: 12-4, 1.69 ERA, 172 K, 11 BB in 149 IP; 5.6 rWAR, 6.5 fWAR
Salary: $32 million
Game of the year
The save in Game 5 of the NLDS was special, but this goes to Game 2 of the NLCS, when Kershaw struck out six while allowing only three to reach base in blanking the Cubs 1-0 to even the series.
It was the 21st game in Dodgers postseason history with a pitcher throwing at least seven innings without allowing a run.
Kershaw will make $33 million in 2017, the fourth season of a seven-year contract. He has $131 million left in the final four years of the deal, though Kershaw can opt into free agency after the 2018 season if he so chooses.