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Clayton Kershaw is back. Let’s celebrate his career

Kershaw has been an ace well after the end of his prime

MLB: NLCS-Atlanta Braves at Los Angeles Dodgers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Clayton Kershaw is back with the Dodgers for a 15th season. So let’s look back on his Hall of Fame career to date.

Almost a full 16 years ago, the Dodgers selected Kershaw as the first high school player off the board in the 2006 MLB Draft. The left-hander out of Highland Park High School in Dallas, who had committed to Texas A&M, was the seventh overall pick. Ahead of him six college athletes — Luke Hochevar (who the Dodgers drafted the year before but did not sign), Greg Reynolds, Evan Longoria, Brad Lincoln, Brandon Morrow and Andrew Miller.

Drafting Kershaw was the Dodgers’ biggest move of the 21st century.

Clayton Kershaw’s greatness is irrefutable and his place in Cooperstown as a first ballot Hall of Famer has been cemented for quite a while. But as Kershaw reached free agency for the first time, we were reminded that it’s possible the left-hander doesn’t spend his entire career with Los Angeles.

Kershaw chose the Dodgers over his hometown Rangers for, among other things, the chance to win a World Series.

Due to a multitude of factors, including a growing injury history and other reasons that only Kershaw would know, the vibe I get is that we won’t see Kershaw pitching until he is 39 or 40 like Adam Wainwright, even if theoretically he could do it. I see number 22 going out with something in the tank instead of taking it down to the wire.

This is all purely speculative, so I could be completely wrong and we’re in 2028 with Kershaw still pitching, nevertheless that’s the perception right now given we’ve already heard Kershaw at least talking about the retirement, including last winter.

Free agency reminded us Kershaw won’t be a Dodger forever, so let’s take this time now to appreciate what he has done, while he’s still here. I’ve decided to do a miniseries with a couple of articles in tribute to number 22.

For a rather long period between the early and mid 2010s, Kershaw was indisputably the best pitcher in the universe and it wasn’t particularly close, but he wasn’t the only one to carry that mantra in the 21st century even though he probably was the one with the longest run.

There is something more specific about the Dodgers southpaw that makes him in my mind, the indisputable best of his generation.

Clayton Kershaw has three Cy Young Awards. In a vacuum that’s really great, but if you’re looking at the upper echelon of pitchers it doesn’t necessarily stand out. Roger Clemens has seven with all of the caveats that it involves, but Maddux has four, Randy Johnson has four and even Kershaw’s contemporary Max Scherzer has three.

The thing is, those three Cy Youngs do not do him justice. What stands out about Kershaw is how great he was in those seasons where he didn’t win the Cy Young. It’s how great he’s been after the end of his prime.

There’s a reason why Kershaw is number one in career ERA+ (157) and WHIP (1.0042) since the live ball era among starters with at least 2,000 innings. That reason goes beyond his success during those three Cy Young seasons. The level of performance in his post-prime era is outstanding.

We’re going to do a two-part series breaking down his run from 2011-14 that included a MVP and then post 2015 towards the end of his prime, and how it relates to other greats of his time such as Verlander, Scherzer and deGrom. Coming next week.