The Greatest Pitcher of This Era

If you could build a prototypical pitcher, what would he be? The scout in you might emphasize size, physical projection, raw stuff, athleticism, endurance, and what the heck, let’s make him lefthanded. The analyst in you might focus on bat-missing ability, batted-ball mix and ability to manage contact. If you were lucky enough, and this pitching prototype turned out be everything you wanted, he might be as good as Clayton Kershaw. Every era has its greats, its true pitching giants, and this one is no exception. With apologies to Felix Hernandez, his closest competition, the current big man on campus is Mr. Kershaw.

It is said that a single draft selection can fundamentally change a franchise, and this was never more true than the first round of the 2006 draft. The Dodgers picked seventh overall from a class that has turned out to be less than stellar. Of the six clubs picking ahead of the them, only the Rays, who tabbed Evan Longoria in the three hole, can refrain from thinking what could have been when surveying the outcome of that early first round. The Royals selected Luke Hochevar first, the Rockies followed with Greg Reynolds, and then the Pirates, Mariners and Tigers followed up with Brad Lincoln, Brandon Morrow and Andrew Miller, respectively, with the three selections immediately preceding Kershaw.

It didn’t take long for the Dodgers – and every other organization in baseball, for that matter – to see exactly what they had in the lean 6’3″ lefty from Highland Park HS in Texas. He steamrolled the rookie level Gulf Coast League to the tune of a 54/5 K/BB ratio in 37 innings immediately after signing, and then toiled less than two years – and 210 innings, featuring 261 strikeouts – in the minors before making his major league debut in late May 2008. To say the least, he hit the ground running.

Like many very young major league power pitchers, Kershaw struggled fairly significantly with his control in his early seasons, walking 4.2 batters per 9 IP over his first two and a half major league seasons, while striking out over a batter per inning. The scout in you surmised that this was only a temporary phenomenon, however. The athleticism was simply too good, the delivery too repeatable for this guy to be a walk machine over the long haul. Sure enough, Kershaw figured it out, maintaining and even enhancing his K rate while the walks went away in droves. Something to remember when evaluating amateur, minor league or even young major league pitching prospects – don’t sweat the walks, as long there is a foundation for strikethrowing present. That foundation is built upon athleticism, clean arm action and a fluid, repeatable delivery. Kershaw has always had each and every one of those boxes checked.

There are several pitchers in every era, who combine endurance, bat-missing ability and all of the other scouting and analytical measurables to a very high degree. It is exceedingly rare for any pitcher, however, to rank at the very top of the scale in every category. Greg Maddux‘ command was legendary, but he lacked elite bat-missing ability. Pedro Martinez was as great as a pitcher could be for a few seasons, but lacked the durability and endurance of other long-term greats. Perhaps Roger Clemens, fairly recently, and Walter Johnson, a very long time ago, come closest to top of the scale, across the board dominance. Don’t be surprised if Kershaw – with a clean bill of health and some luck – joins that pantheon before he’s done.

Exactly what might I be basing such a strong conclusion upon, you might ask. Well, let’s take a closer look at Kershaw’s 2013 and 2014 plate appearance outcome frequency and production by BIP type data to see how he gets it done. First, the frequency information:


FREQ – 2013
Kershaw % REL PCT
K 25.6% 131 90
BB 5.7% 74 24
POP 8.5% 108 76
FLY 24.0% 85 13
LD 23.2% 109 78
GB 44.3% 104 50


FREQ – 2014
Kershaw % REL PCT
K 34.7% 171 99
BB 3.6% 46 1
POP 5.6% 73 21
FLY 18.8% 67 1
LD 19.4% 93 13
GB 56.3% 129 99

The 2013 version of Clayton Kershaw was pretty darned good. A K and BB rate percentile ranks of 90 and 24, respectively, are quite impressive, and provide significant margin for error with regard to batted-ball mix. 2013 represented the fifth consecutive season that Kershaw posted an above MLB average popup rate (76 percentile rank), and the first time in five seasons he notched a below MLB average fly ball rate (13 percentile rank). This allowed him to easily weather the first above MLB average line drive rate (78 percentile rank) that he had allowed in four seasons.

In 2014, he has made major positive strides in multiple categories. You cannot do better than a 99 percentile rank in K rate (34.7%), and a 1 percentile rank in BB rate (3.6%). Those numbers are borderline unfathomable. His K rate places him approximately four standard deviations above the MLB average K rate. Going back to 1901, I found exactly six individual starting pitcher seasons that met that criteria – three by Dazzy Vance (1923-24-25), two by Rube Waddell (1902-03), and one by Pedro Martinez (1999). As an aside, Vance would make an excellent article topic someday. On top of that incredible K-BB spread, Kershaw has become an extreme ground ball generator this season, with a fly ball rate in the 1st percentile and a grounder rate in the 99th. His liner rate has corrected back down to the 13th percentile, more in line with his 2010-12 percentile ranks which ranged from 8 to 15. Over a relatively brief period of time, Kershaw has evolved from a high K, high BB guy with somewhat of a fly ball tendency, into an overpowering, precise ground ball machine. Scary stuff.

Now let’s take a look at the production by BIP type allowed by Kershaw in 2013 and 2014, both before and after adjustment for context:


PROD – 2013
Kershaw AVG OBP SLG REL PRD ADJ PRD ACT ERA CALC ERA TRU ERA
FLY 0.190 0.469 42 57
LD 0.571 0.671 69 87
GB 0.203 0.244 80 97
ALL BIP 0.265 0.376 61 79
ALL PA 0.192 0.239 0.273 53 65 1.83 2.04 2.52


PROD – 2014
Kershaw AVG OBP SLG REL PRD ADJ PRD ACT ERA CALC ERA TRU ERA
FLY 0.433 1.167 243 123
LD 0.677 0.968 110 94
GB 0.244 0.256 100 101
ALL BIP 0.333 0.520 105 84
ALL PA 0.205 0.235 0.320 60 48 2.04 2.28 1.85

The actual production allowed by Kershaw on each BIP type is indicated in the AVG and SLG columns, and is converted to run values and compared to MLB average in the REL PRD column. That figure is then adjusted for context, such as home park, team defense, luck, etc., in the ADJ PRD column. In the three right-most columns, his actual ERA, his calculated component ERA based on actual production allowed, and his “tru” ERA, which is adjusted for context, are all presented. For the purposes of this exercise, SH and SF are included as outs and HBP are excluded from the OBP calculation.

While Kershaw’s K and BB rates weren’t quite as stellar in 2013, he compensated by managing contact better than any NL starting pitcher. He held hitters to an amazing 42 REL PRD on fly balls, adjusted upward only slightly to 57 ADJ PRD for context. He similarly allowed well under MLB average production on liners and grounders (69 and 80 ADJ PRD), which were also both adjusted upward for context toward MLB average, to 87 and 97, respectively. He posted an amazing 61 REL PRD – or unadjusted contact score – on all BIP, and a 79 ADJ PRD. Add back the K’s and BB’s, and Kershaw’s ADJ PRD is even better at 65, for a “tru” ERA of 2.52, which while exceptional, doesn’t match up with his actual 1.83 ERA.

This season has been a different story on balls in play. Kershaw has been very unlucky on fly balls, allowing a 243 REL PRD, adjusted down to 123 ADJ PRD for context. There’s a whole lot of variability in what is essentially a 30 fly ball sample size. He is allowing roughly MLB average production on liners and grounders, before and after adjustment for context. Kershaw’s unadjusted contact score is a slightly worse than league average 105, but it plummets to 84 once adjusted for context, mostly based on his poor fortune on fly balls to date. In 2013, significant limitation of batted ball authority, particularly in the air, drove his contact management excellence. In 2014, it’s been all about the batted ball mix, and the huge increase in grounders.

When you add back his K’s and BB’s – and their historic spread – his overall ADJ PRD of 48 is materially better than his 2013 mark. This gives him a “tru” ERA of 1.85, better than his 2014 actual 2.04 mark and his 2013 “tru” ERA.

A little more about Kershaw’s contact management history…….he has an average unadjusted contact score – equivalent to REL PRD in the above tables – of 73.6. That is an incredible number, the best in MLB history (going back to 1938) for a five-year ERA qualifier. Who’s second? How about Tim Hudson, and he’s not particularly close, at 77.0. Kershaw is obviously an elite bat misser, and this year has become an elite control guy. He is also an elite contact manager, and has become one by mastering both batted-ball mix and limitation of BIP authority. I will be giving a presentation at this year’s Saber Seminar, in Boston on the weekend of August 16-17 on the best contact managers in history, and Kershaw will be discussed. It’s for a great cause, the Jimmy Fund, and it would be great to see some of you there. End of shameless plug.

About that bat-missing……how does a 14.3% swing-and-miss rate in 2014 grab you? That is way higher than his previous career high of 11.4%, set last season. He has an incredible 32.0% whiff rate on his slider, and also misses a representative number of bats with his curve (14.5%). Then there’s his four-seamer, which gets a healthy share of the weak grounder contact he generates. It’s a lethal combination that legislates lefty hitters out of the game completely, and turns every righty hitter into Bud Harrelson.

There are other historically great pitchers in the game today, who are likely headed to the Hall of Fame. Most of them possess top of the scale endurance, bat-missing ability and command. Among that group, Kershaw has a career 73.6 unadjusted contact score. Felix Hernandez has a career 93.0 unadjusted contact score, pitching half of his games in Safeco Field. Justin Verlander has a career 89.3 unadjusted contact score. Kershaw does everything that they do – and then suffocates contact, to boot. Whatever worries any of us had about the big lefty after his DL stint due to an inflamed back muscle earlier this season have been allayed. They simply don’t make them any better than Clayton Kershaw, circa 2014.



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Sweet Chen Music
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Sweet Chen Music
2 years 23 days ago

I feel like Bruce Chen should have at least been mentioned.

Ben Suissa
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Ben Suissa
2 years 23 days ago

i thought this was a Jeremy Guthrie article

samuelraphael
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2 years 22 days ago

(Standing Ovation for Bruce Chen)

y54y45y
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y54y45y
2 years 20 days ago

no nick swisher?

kershaw has given up a run this decade
nick swisher hasnt

Luke
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Luke
2 years 23 days ago

Amazing. I knew he was having a great year, but I didn’t realize it was THIS good.

Jim Lahey
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Jim Lahey
2 years 23 days ago

This encouraged me to take another look at Felix. Noticed he has improved his K% and reduced his BB% basically every year. I think he might be catching up rather quickly. (unless of course Kershaw continues to pitch as ridiculously as he has this season…)

Blake
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Blake
2 years 23 days ago

As much as I absolutely adore Felix, Kershaw is the man. I’d say Felix is the best RH in the game…but damnit Kershaw.

Lanidrac
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Lanidrac
2 years 22 days ago

I agree about Kershaw, but I’d argue that Wainwright is right up there with King Felix in pitching ability, plus Waino is also a good hitter (for a pitcher) and fielder.

joser
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joser
2 years 21 days ago

But has Wainwright hit a grand slam off vintage Johan Santana?

nd
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nd
2 years 20 days ago
Bip
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Member
Bip
2 years 23 days ago

Clayton Kershaw currently leads NL pitchers in WAR… while being 8 innings short of qualifying.

Jon
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Jon
2 years 21 days ago

Can anyone explain why, on the pitching leaderboards, Sale qualifies with 87.1 innings pitched, but Kershaw (also with 87.1 innings pitched) does not?

Steven
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Steven
2 years 21 days ago

It’s based on the number of games that their respective team has played.

bookbook
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bookbook
2 years 23 days ago

Four years ago the best pitcher in the game was Halladay?
Two years ago, Verlander?
Six years ago, would it have been Santana?

How broad a period of years does it take to define an era?

jpg
Guest
jpg
2 years 23 days ago

Couldn’t agree more. It’s a peculiar choice in titles. If the title was simply, “The Best Pitcher in Baseball” it would have made a lot more sense. I think when most people talk about an era, they’re talking about a some unit of considerable length – “Best of the Dead Ball Era”, “Best of the Steroid Era”, “Best Pitcher of the 80’s”, “Best Pitcher of the Last 25 years” – something like that. Kershaw is now in his 7th year. He was promising but raw his rookie year, very good the next two years and truly great the three years prior to this one. If Kershaw’s arm fell off tomorrow, would we look back 20 years from now and say he was the best pitcher of his era? I kinda doubt it. We’d probably acknowledge that he was the best pitcher for a few years and leave it at that.

Hmmm
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Hmmm
2 years 23 days ago

Bill Barnwell has been looking at this on Grantland. Very few pitchers are at the top for more than 2 years.

http://grantland.com/features/best-pitchers-mlb-history-part-2/

Steve
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Steve
2 years 23 days ago

unfortunately, Barnwell’s column is more about reputation and using conversational metrics. It was still an enjoyable read, though.

Bip
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Member
Bip
2 years 21 days ago

I think “best pitcher in the game” necessarily requires some discussion of reputation, unless someone is head and shoulders above everyone else, like Mike Trout is among position players. Most of the time, there are enough guys clustered at the top that you can’t really say for sure someone is the best. By fielding independent stats, Kershaw isn’t even clearly the best, Felix has an argument just as good, but what Kershaw definitely has is the reputation.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
2 years 21 days ago

From the introduction to that posted article:

• The goal is to identify the pitcher the majority of baseball fans would have picked as the best pitcher on the planet at the end of the season. You know, Family Feud style. Imagine a poll in the back of Baseball Digest or Sporting News where only people who really cared about baseball responded.

• That means we have to measure it in statistics that most fans use. Yes, I think pitcher wins are basically a useless statistic, just like you do. But we’re in the minority. So wins, ERA, strikeouts, and innings pitched are the four numbers I’m relying upon most heavily.

So that was intentional, not because that’s how the author thinks that is best way to decide who is actually the best pitcher in baseball.

Jon L.
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Jon L.
2 years 23 days ago

I think we’re mostly talking about the era whose peak includes 2014, minus guys who are slightly older but still peaking like Wainwright.

a eskpert
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a eskpert
2 years 22 days ago

Roy Halladay was the best pitcher from 2008-2011.

soupman
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soupman
2 years 22 days ago

he’s also 0.2 fWAR behind schilling from being the best from 2002-2007.

he was good for a LOOOONG time. but didn’t get half as much attention stateside as he deserved until he went to philly.

RobM
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RobM
2 years 20 days ago

I agree. Heading into the 2013 season (in other words, just last season), Verlander would have been picked as the best.

Kershaw is the best in the game, but can’t quite be sure if his run at the top is any different than some of the other ones you mentioned. And as for the best in the game, if we transported Chris Sale to the DH-less, NL and pitching at Dodger Stadium, can we be sure that he wouldn’t be the best in the game right now? I don’t think he is, but the gap might me much smaller than most believe.

KCDaveInLA
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KCDaveInLA
2 years 23 days ago

Even aside from losing a perfect game, the head swims over the possibilities from Kershaw having an above-average defensive shortstop playing behind him.

Erik
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2 years 23 days ago

No love in here for Randy Johnson?

John C
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John C
2 years 22 days ago

Randy Johnson first pitched in the major leagues in 1988, when Clayton Kershaw was less than six months old. They’re from two different generations.

That said, I think the assessment in the title is WAY too early. It’s sort of like if someone wrote an article in 1987 that said Dwight Gooden was the greatest pitcher of his era, only to see Clemens, Johnson, Maddux and probably a few others surpass him in the years to come. Kershaw is the best pitcher of his generation right now. It remains to be seen if he still will be 10 years from now. My suspicion, and it’s just a suspicion, is that he’s in his prime right now, with an exceptionally high peak, and his career will resemble Gooden’s more than Johnson’s.

RobM
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RobM
2 years 20 days ago

JohnC, I’m not even sure what “title” we’re talking about. Best of his era certainly doesn’t include Randy Johnson. It also doesn’t include Pedro or Clemens or Maddux. It feels like “era” is the last few seasons, because as I noted elsewhere, Verlander would have been named best pitcher as recently as the start of last season.

In fairness to Kershaw, he has already eclipsed Gooden’s peak by a good margin.

Tom B
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Tom B
2 years 23 days ago

Felix doesn’t have the natural advantage of being left handed, which hitters overall tend to struggle against. He basically has to pitch “better” to produce the same results as a LHP.

http://goo.gl/rnXPAs
If I did the math right, Kershaw has faced roughly 350 more pitchers than Felix has in his career. Kershaw has a .269OPS against from the 9th slot, .300 points better than Felix. If you look at slot 7-9 NON pitchers, they have an identical OPS against.

This might not sway the numbers much, but when they are so very close in every way I think it matters.

There are lots of reasons to pick Felix over Kershaw IMO. Or to pick Kershaw over Felix. They are both incredible pitchers and it’s obviously much simpler to just designate them the best RH and LH pitchers of this generation.

It would be nice to see it all actually broken down.

Tom B
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Tom B
2 years 23 days ago

I don’t want this taken the wrong way. I love me some Kershaw and I’ve had him in my keeper league since his rookie year. I was just shocked at how quickly it was dismissed to create this total focus on Kershaw.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
2 years 23 days ago

Park and league adjusted stats naturally take into account things like the quality of the opposing lineup. A NL pitcher has a higher (or lower, when speaking of RA/9) bar to clear to be considered average. Depending on what stats you look at, Kershaw has been better than anyone in the game at preventing runs relative to what an average pitcher would do in the same situation.

Fangraphs stats, like FIP and SIERA and things, have Kershaw and Felix pretty even. Considering how young Felix is, Kershaw isn’t even better “for his age.” However, what Kershaw has done that Felix hasn’t is somehow magically prevent hits on balls in play, which is what this article sheds some light on. Depending on how much credit you give him for that, that is what can push Kershaw ahead of Felix.

No one really rivals Kershaw in terms of pure run prevention, and he’s been doing it long enough that it’s looking more like a skill.

Cool Lester Smooth
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Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 23 days ago

I’m not sure that fWAR is league adjusted.

Bip
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Member
Bip
2 years 23 days ago

It definitely is.

Roy Halladay 2002: 239 innings, 2.97 FIP, 7.3 fWAR.
Clayton Kershaw 2013: 236 innings, 2.39 FIP, 6.5 fWAR.

Clayton Kershaw had a FIP more than half a run better and less WAR.

a eskpert
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a eskpert
2 years 22 days ago

Fwar is basically Fip-(IP)Constant

a eskpert
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a eskpert
2 years 22 days ago

Fip+ or 1/Fip- actually

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
2 years 20 days ago

That just means it’s year adjusted, I mean AL vs. NL.

a eskpert
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a eskpert
2 years 20 days ago

It’s league adjusted too. “These statistics are all park and league adjusted, so they account for the fact that some pitchers throw in Fenway Park while others throw in PETCO Park. These adjustments also make it possible to compare pitchers between years and time periods.”

rustydude
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rustydude
2 years 23 days ago

I too am a little puzzled by the easy dismissal of Felix to start and end this piece. By the way, to throw a strike against Felix for starting half of his games at Safeco when you’re comparing him unfavorably to a pitcher who starts half of his games at Dodger Stadium, is a little rich.

Career k/bb/hr rates for Felix and Kershaw are very similar. But when we’re talking durability, Felix is 2 years older and started his major league career at 19 instead of 20. Kershaw’s 3.5 years of greatness (that’s when his bb rate dropped) match up more with Koufax, and not even Pedro’s sustained greatness. So 9 years of total experience instead of 6. Those durability lines don’t really start converging for another 3 or 4 years.

The fascinating element of Kershaw, for sure, is his numbers supporting weak contact. Felix doesn’t have that, and almost no pitchers have that over a sustained period. Time will tell if this is truly a skill with Kershaw. But to annoint him the best of his generation when Felix is matching him pitch for pitch on the variables we know pitcher’s control, seems a little premature.

Cool Lester Smooth
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Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 23 days ago

We also know that, once we have a sample size as large as Kershaw’s, past ERA is a better predictor of future ERA than past FIP.

That’s what Tango says, at least.

Kershaw has 5 more bWAR over the last 5 years. That’s a significant difference.

Cool Lester Smooth
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Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 23 days ago

(and 4.4 more RA9-WAR, if you don’t like the defensive adjustment).

John C
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John C
2 years 22 days ago

Especially when you look at Kershaw’s career splits and see that he’s nearly a full run less effective outside of Dodger Stadium than he is when he pitches there, while King Felix’ home and road splits are basically identical.

Kershaw is just as good on the road and you have to give him some credit for being so fantastic at Dodger Stadium, but the fact remains that the place is basically a power pitcher’s wet dream, and Kershaw isn’t the first and won’t be the last to dominate there.

Don
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Don
2 years 23 days ago

What should be considered is that Kershaw has the distinct advantage of facing NL pitchers about 2-3 times per game, while Hernandez and Verlander do not.

TKDC
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TKDC
2 years 23 days ago

They also don’t have to deal with hitting themselves, which Kershaw does, and does pretty well for a pitcher.

RubKleen
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RubKleen
2 years 23 days ago

What do Kershaw’s hitting abilities say about his pitching abilities?

SoleusRex
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SoleusRex
2 years 22 days ago

I’d guess that TKDC is suggesting that hitting is an additional burden for NL pitchers that might make pitching more difficult for them. That seems pretty dubious, though.

Bip
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Member
Bip
2 years 23 days ago

And park/league adjusted stats that take that into account still favor Kershaw.

Cool Lester Smooth
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Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 23 days ago

Yup, he beats Felix handily in both FIP- and ERA-.

Bat
Guest
Bat
2 years 23 days ago

Tony, I read this next sentence you wrote and said “Wait a minute, what???”:

Pedro Martinez was as great as a pitcher could be for a few seasons, but lacked the durability and endurance of other long-term greats.

This statement is somewhat insulting to Pedro Martinez…the dude’s career fWAR is 87.1 and he had 10 seasons of more than 5.1 fWAR; I think characterizing him as “great…for a few seasons” is at best inaccurate.

That characterization of “great…for a few seasons” seems more fairly utilized to describe perhaps someone like Johan Santana or another pitcher with lesser stellar seasons and therefore greatness was more fleeting than Pedro.

To be quite honest, I assumed Pedro was the subject of this article before I clicked on it and discovered it was about Kershaw (which contrary to the above comments in respect of a “few (great) seasons” is not intended as a criticism because I understand now after reading you are using the term “era” much more narrowly than I would have, but that is just different styles I suppose).

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
2 years 23 days ago

Obviously Pedro doesn’t lack durability by any normal standard. Josh Johnson lacks durability. However, when comparing him only to other all-time great pitchers, I feel the statement holds true.

Just to confirm, I looked up the all-time career pitching WAR leaders from 1900 to now. Pedro is #15 overall, and the only pitcher on the front page with less than 3000 innings. Every pitcher ahead of him – including such contemporaries as Randy Johnson, Maddux and Clemens – has at least 1000 more career innings than Pedro.

Speaking in the context of the greats, which I believe the author was, I feel that statement is accurate.

Jack
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Jack
2 years 23 days ago

True, but it’s a bit premature to say that Kershaw is any better than Pedro in that regard.

Cool Lester Smooth
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Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 23 days ago

That’s the real kicker, here. Kershaw has another 8 years to go at this level to be in Pedro’s stratosphere.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
2 years 23 days ago

True, but I feel this article is more about comparing Kershaw to his contemporaries than to other all-time greats. In that respect, he is certainly among the most durable pitchers pitching today: 4th in IP since 2010, the first year that Kershaw did not have a strict pitch per game limit.

On the other hand, given the depressing history of other great pitchers, it’s certainly understandable to want to wait for a guy to move a ways beyond his age-26 season before declaring him durable.

a eskpert
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a eskpert
2 years 22 days ago

His TBF were way lower than a ton of other pitchers, even in his great seasons. He threw fewer pitches than guys like Joe Blanton and Mark Beurhle. Stands to reason if he could have thrown more innings he would have and should have. http://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/batters_faced_top_ten.shtml

John C
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John C
2 years 22 days ago

If Pedro Martinez had come to the major leagues 15 years earlier than he did, before the Steroid Era and new ballparks increased run scoring dramatically, pitchers might be pitching for the Pedro Martinez Award today. If he’d come along 30 years earlier, Bob Gibson’s 1.12 ERA would just be a footnote. Pedro’s 2000 season, in the context of the 1968 NL and the Cardinals’ ballpark, is 19-5, 1.00 ERA, 284 strikeouts in 217 IP.

Pokkit
Member
Pokkit
2 years 23 days ago

You mention that Kershaw has a fluid, repeatable delivery.

I don’t understand how you can think this. He has that awkward pause after finishing his leg lift. I know that people see mechanics differently, and value different parts of mechanics differently, but I don’t think that pause can be described as fluid.

I would contend that Kershaw’s earlier struggles with walks were due to difficulty in repeating his delivery, which you sort of mentioned. I think there is some cognitive dissonance regarding that pause in his delivery.

ballsteidhe
Member
ballsteidhe
2 years 23 days ago

The pause, of course, is a pretty awkward. But after that there’s nothing violent or hectic about it. His arm moves in one fluid motion with his body, not lagging behind or rushing ahead of it.
I think the pause is a way for him to actually simplify his delivery and make it even more consistent. If you look at his motion from the pause onwards it’s pretty much exactly like his stretch slide step. With that he’s able to make no difference between his motion with the bases empty and with guys on. And that of course helps him with getting a consistent release and good control

Who likes eating cake?
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Who likes eating cake?
2 years 19 days ago

You can’t say that the author is comparing Pedro’s durability against the all-time greats, then say that Kershaw’s durability is being compare to current players.

How do we define “this era” for the context of this article? Apparently, we define it as the length of Kershaw’s career so far.

That said, Roy Halladay is removed from the conversation, since his career arc is about five years before Kershaw’s. Essentially, this limits the conversation to:

Lincecum
Hernandez
Kershaw

Arguably, we *should* include Darvish and Tanaka in the conversation, since they’ll be eventually lumped into this era, as well, but that won’t happen due to a bias against any pitcher whose career started in the NPB… (or, if you’re Pete Rose, against any position player, as well). The argument also dismisses the Harvey and Fernandez, on the basis that, much like the aforementioned pitchers, they simply don’t have enough games in MLB.

Since it’s already been established that the title of the article is dubious (since the current era has yet to be defined), we’ll ignore those four. That leaves us with:

Hernandez: 232 IP per 162, five 200+ K, seven 75- BB
Kershaw: 220 IP per 162, four 200+ K, three 75- BB
Lincecum: 216 IP per 162, four 200+ K seasons, one 75- BB

In terms of what you expect from an ace (innings eater with high K and low BB rates), all three fit the mold, but Hernandez clearly dominates the eye test.

Hernandez: two 3.00- FIP, zero 2.50- FIP, two 150+ ERA+
Kershaw: three 3.00- FIP, two 2.50- FIP, three 150+ ERA+
Lincecum: two 3.00- FIP, one 2.50- FIP, two 150+ ERA+

Kershaw wins the pitcher efficiency statistical argument, no matter how you look at it.

This eliminates Lincecum from the argument (for the moment, though he could continue his dramatic resetting of his career arc).

Hernandez: 34 GS, 3 CG, 1 SHO per 162
Kershaw: 34 GS, 2 CG, 1 SHO per 162

Both pitchers have similar tenacity values, with Hernandez’ additional CG per season being arguably a result of the Mariners having a weaker ‘pen than the Dodgers.

The point is, it’s not as clear-cut as the author claims things to be. Kershaw may be the greatest pitcher in the game RIGHT NOW, and he’s definitely the greatest southpaw for the decade of the 2010s, but claiming that he’s the greatest of this era is foolhardy: especially when the era is nowhere near over.

Mr. Big Swinging D
Guest
Mr. Big Swinging D
2 years 23 days ago

Totally agree Bat.

I am a huge Mets fan and can only hope that any of Harvey, Wheeler, Synderbloock, etc. are great for a few seasons like Pedro!!

a eskpert
Guest
a eskpert
2 years 22 days ago

Harvey already was.

John Jay
Guest
John Jay
2 years 23 days ago

Wainwright.

Come on
Guest
Come on
2 years 23 days ago

Homer.

John Jay sucks
Guest
John Jay sucks
2 years 22 days ago

Ha.

Jon Jay
Guest
Jon Jay
2 years 22 days ago

Who’s John Jay?

Few Seasons for Pedro???
Guest
Few Seasons for Pedro???
2 years 23 days ago

” Pedro Martinez was as great as a pitcher could be for a few seasons, but lacked the durability and endurance of other long-term greats.” Pedro had 10 straight >5 fWar seasons. I don’t think that is a ‘few seasons.’ Kershaw, even allowing his 4.5 fWar campaign into the great season category, has managed 4 thus far. He is 26, 27 next year. To approach Pedro he would need to keep this rate up through his age 32 season, without injury or decline. I don’t think that is an easy ask. And even managing this through age 29 season, I don’t think he should be remembered as being as great as a pitcher could be for a few seasons.

Radiokev
Guest
Radiokev
2 years 23 days ago

Pedro and Kershaw’s age 20 through 26 season totals are very similar, for the record. Their ERA+, SO/9, BB/9, are essentially the same, and Kershaw’s FIP is better. Kershaw has about 100IP on him too.

Jack
Guest
Jack
2 years 23 days ago

The league average FIP is over half a point lower now than it was during Pedro’s peak.

Jon Jay
Guest
Jon Jay
2 years 22 days ago

ERA+.

Dave
Guest
Dave
2 years 21 days ago

I don’t think >5 WAR is as great as a pitcher can be. I think his 3 seasons north of 8 WAR are as great as a pitcher can be. We’re talking about durability and endurance. 3 times in his peak years, he failed to break 200 IP, and he was basically done by age 34. He was, without question, among the inner circle handful of greatest pitchers of all time, but that was in spite of durability issues, not because of them.

Bat
Guest
Bat
2 years 23 days ago

Bip, I see what you’re saying when it comes to durability – that makes good sense – but I still don’t think it’s accurate to say that Pedro was “great…for a few seasons.”

A “few” is usually what…three, maybe four?

Maybe I am expressly my thoughts poorly, but I think it is somewhat dismissive to say that Pedro Martinez had a few great seasons.

Anyway, this person commenting under the name “Few Seasons for Pedro????” said what I was trying to say better than I could when he wrote:

Kershaw, even allowing his 4.5fWAR campaign into the great season category, has managed 4 thus far (whereas Pedro had 10 consecutive seasons of 5.1 WAR or more).

Kershaw’s been awesome so far, but let’s not get carried away with the superlatives of best of his era and all of this stuff.

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 23 days ago

Yeah, Kershaw has 5-10 years to go before he even starts to join the conversation with Pedro and Randy, who amassed 78.3 and 77.8 rWAR respectively from 1995-2005 (along with 78.1 and 79.7 fWAR.

bstar
Guest
bstar
2 years 23 days ago

But Pedro and Randy are from the previous era, right? I guess it depends on how we’re defining era.

BTW, Greg Maddux, 1992-2002: 74 rWAR, and that includes 2 strike years instead of one for Pedro and RJ.

pft
Guest
pft
2 years 22 days ago

Eras are usually long periods of time starting from some particular point in time. I still consider this era part of the juiced era where BABIP. power and K’s spiked. All are still elevated except power is down a bit from its peak but still high and k rates are at historical highs due to the expanding strike zone.

Kershaw is the best pitcher today, and if there is a new era stretching to some point in the future, its probably a much longer period than he has pitched this far, so the jury is still out,

If the era starts from 1993, he is not the best IMO, Pedro is

dannyrainge
Member
dannyrainge
2 years 22 days ago

This is for pft: The steroid era is over. BABIP is stabilizing/has stabilized and power has decreased drastically. The K’s “spiking” or sustenance of same can be explained by non-PED reasons such as earlier pitching specialization of young athletes, emphasis and broader knowledge of biomechanics and the willingness and ability to teach the implications to players, etc.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
2 years 23 days ago

Yeah I certainly wouldn’t use the words “a few” when describing the length of Pedro’s peak.

Cliff
Guest
Cliff
2 years 22 days ago

You are eliding a lot when you replace “as great as a pitcher can be” with “great…” It’s the difference between “perfect” and “great”.

msufan23
Guest
msufan23
2 years 22 days ago

Only the Rays and Tigers* Why would the Tigers give that pick a 2nd thought? I doubt it matters to them if they traded away Miller or Kershaw to get Miggy

BranchRickey11937
Guest
BranchRickey11937
2 years 22 days ago

I know I’m being nitpicky here but to mention Clemens as the greatest pitcher of his era while ignoring Tom Seaver is a red flag to me. Baseball Reference’s Elo system has Seaver rated well above Clemens, and that’s counting Clemens’ mysterious second youth. Seaver basically dominated for 12 straight years before the natural aging curve caught up to him, and thereafter went another seven or eight years as just a very good pitcher. I don’t see why he should be omitted from any discussion of great modern pitchers, and certainly not in deference to Clemens. I was a very early arrival to the Kershaw fanclub but he’s still only posted half the run that Seaver did.

Jon Jay
Guest
Jon Jay
2 years 22 days ago

Elo is a vote based system. The people that use it (anyone can vote) all hate those that are even remotely tinged by steroids.

John C
Guest
John C
2 years 22 days ago

They’re from two different eras. Roger Clemens’ first great season was 1986, when he was in his third year. That was Tom Seaver’s final season in baseball, and the two were teammates for a few months.

Anthony Rescan
Member
Anthony Rescan
2 years 22 days ago

All Kershaw needs to do is go to the Greg Maddux school of base stealing.

Boomer
Guest
Boomer
2 years 22 days ago

You thought this article was about Pedro…???

I thought this article would be about Maddux.
He didn’t have the strikeouts, but he tied guys up by pitching to their weakness and to contact, which was usually weak groundballs. Also, he had how many Gold Gloves for fielding his position?

Kershaw is definitely good, but needs a few more years in my honest opinion (or 3 or 4 more no hitters).

Bomok
Guest
Bomok
2 years 22 days ago

This reminds me of the article about Matt Harvey being the perfect pitcher. But this one is worse because it talks about Matt Harvey less.

Lord BatCat
Guest
Lord BatCat
2 years 22 days ago

I’d love to see a comparison piece on Felix. I know you’re asserting that Kershaw is a tick above Felix, but they are both amazingly in command pretty much EVERY time they’re on the mound, so some further context would be great. I honestly feel that, aside from you FanGraphs folks, Felix gets a bit overlooked pitching here in Seattle.

Jake
Guest
Jake
2 years 22 days ago

I don’t think the Society would approve of this.

pft
Guest
pft
2 years 22 days ago

Kershaw is the best pitcher of this period, but not era, unless this is an extremely abbreviated one. I usually take eras for baseball at 25 year stretches, the current one perhaps starting from 1993 when power numbers and BABIP spiked and K rates did as well, and all 3 are still elevated compared to previous eras.

And the best pitcher of this era is Pedro Martinez. If Pedro pitched today with offense as weak as it is today and this expanded strike zone his numbers would be ridiculous

a eskpert
Guest
a eskpert
2 years 22 days ago

NO! YOUR SUBJECTIVE JUDGEMENT ON THE BOUNDARIES OF AN ERA CLASHES WITH MINE! I think this is the pitcher’s era, that began around 2007 or 2008. Also the strike zone hasn’t really expanded, it’s just become more accurate.

Matt
Guest
Matt
2 years 22 days ago

FWIW since 2009(when Kershaw debuted) Verlander has been worth 35.3 wins, Felix 33.2 and Kershaw 30.2.

Matt
Guest
Matt
2 years 22 days ago

I should say when Kershaw debuted full time.

ivdown
Guest
ivdown
2 years 21 days ago

Verlander had been in the league full-time since 2006. By 2009 Verlander had been in the league for 3 full seasons and by then had turned into the elite pitcher that he was. After 3 years in the league (starting 2011) look at what Kershaw has done. It’s a little unfair to judge the time frames against each other like that, it makes more sense to judge their season 1s, seasons 2s, 3s, etc against each other.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
2 years 21 days ago

Or you could do it by age. In 2009, Verlander’s year where he really broke out as an ace, Verlander was older than Kershaw is this season.

Underwood4000
Guest
Underwood4000
2 years 22 days ago

I would read a post investigating who has been the best pitcher over the past 10 years (aka since Clemens retired, since the twilight of the steroid era, etc.). More of a generation than an era, but you’d have Halladay, Johan, Kershaw, Felix …

Douglas E. Heeren
Guest
Douglas E. Heeren
2 years 22 days ago

Is there a way to take into consideration of the higher pitching mound through the 1968 season when figuring any of these stats? Does the higher mound make much of a difference? I’m all knew to this type of thing. Thanks.

Sakeith
Guest
2 years 22 days ago

I’ve had enough trying to type shit to get acknowledged. WTF
If my comment gets heard; I am trying to say that Kershaw is the kind of pitcher who makes a difference and all that follows!

Gary Nashville
Guest
Gary Nashville
2 years 21 days ago

King Felix is definitely 1a to Kershaw’s #1.

That seems to have happened a lot in baseball history. You could make a case for Grover Alexander being one of the top-5 pitchers of all-time. Bill James ranks him third. But he pitched at exactly the same time as Walter Johnson. Old Pete could only be 1a.

Others:
Lefty Grove (Dean, Hubbell)
Bob Feller (Hal Newhouser)
Robin Roberts (Warren Spahn)
Koufax (Drysdale)
Gibson (Marichal)
Seaver (Fergie; go check those stats from that era. Fergie was superior to Jim Palmer, Steve Carlton, Catfish, Nolan Ryan))
Pedro (Big Unit)

Latias
Guest
Latias
2 years 19 days ago

Maddux should be list too. Perhaps Schilling.

Zap Rowsdower
Guest
Zap Rowsdower
2 years 20 days ago

So what exactly is this “era”? The last season and a half?

awalnoha
Member
awalnoha
2 years 20 days ago

Title should have been, Kershaw has been incredible for the last season and a half. In 7 years let’s revisit this topic.

Mojotronica
Member
Mojotronica
2 years 19 days ago

He’s the greatest this year, for sure, but “era”? That’s such a broad term, I think you might jinx him throwing it around to describe a few recent years of greatness. Decade (as in – decade so far, and maybe the whole 2010s) would be slightly less hyperbolic, and more likely to work out as you expect.

Kershaw World Series Loser
Guest
Kershaw World Series Loser
1 year 9 months ago

I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me?

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