On Tuesday night, I had the good fortune of witnessing, in person, one of the best pitcher’s duels in baseball this season. The matchup was Lance Lynn against Clayton Kershaw. The pair combined to pitch 17 innings, allowing two runs, two walks, and strike out 20 hitters. Neither pitcher ended up getting the win, thanks to a wild pitch with a runner on second in the 9th inning that ended up tying the game, but Lynn and Kershaw were both spectacular.
Now while a line of 9 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 BB, and 10 K is not a rare occurrence for Kershaw, the feat that he accomplished while putting up that line is what is truly special. By the time Kershaw exited the game — after pitching nine excellent innings — he was at a combined 1,831 walks and hits allowed and has pitched 1,831.7 innings in his career. This means his career WHIP is now sitting at a minuscule 0.99964.
Below is a chart of his career progression for his stats, with the WHIP column in bold.
One of the plethoras of interesting things about Kershaw’s stats is to see what kind of pitcher he started out as at the age of 20 in 2008, and how he has progressed since. He obviously started out a hard-throwing strikeout pitcher without a lot of control. His walks didn’t really get under control until his 4th year in the majors, as he posted a BB/9 of 2.1 in 2011, his first BB/9 under 3.5. This earned him his first of three Cy Youngs. His 2012 season was very good, but a little bit of a step back. From 2013 on, however, Kershaw started to gain more and more control of his pitches while impressively upping his already great strikeout numbers. From 2008-2012, Kershaw had lived up to his top prospect hype. From 2013-present day, Kershaw has been making himself into a living baseball legend. The way that Kershaw has actively denied hitters reaching base is a huge part of this.
To quickly explain the significance of this, Clayton Kershaw is now third all-time in WHIP (minimum 1,000 IP) behind Addie Joss (0.9678 WHIP) and Ed Walsh (0.99955 WHIP), and just in front of Mariano Rivera (1.0003 WHIP). The things that really jump out at you with how impressive this is are that Joss and Walsh played in the early 1900s in the Dead Ball Era, and Mariano Rivera is a closing pitcher.
The closest starting pitchers in the modern era of baseball are Pedro Martinez and Chris Sale, sitting little ways back at a 1.05 WHIP. Pedro has a combined 2,981 walks and hits allowed with 2827.1 IP, while Sale has a combined 1,234 walks and hits allowed in 1175.2 IP. Comparing both pitcher’s to Kershaw, Pedro allowed 154 more walks and hits than innings pitched in his Hall of Fame career, while Sale has so far managed only 59 more hits than innings pitched. For Sale, however, it should be noted that he has had under a 1.00 WHIP only twice in his career, once with the White Sox in 2014 at 0.97, and so far this year with the Red Sox at an insane 0.79. While I have no doubt Sale could start to narrow the gap (or at least try to get closer to 1.00. Kershaw may just keep trending downward), he’s still got a lot of work to do to get there.
As close (and so far) as Sale may appear to Kershaw in this regard, the next closest active pitcher with over 1,000 minimum innings is Max Scherzer all the way up to a 1.14 WHIP. Then Johnny Cueto and Jake Arrieta at 1.17, followed by Zach Greinke at 1.18, teammates Justin Verlander and Jordan Zimmerman at 1.19, and then Adam Wainwright at a 1.20 WHIP. As you can tell, a starting pitcher getting their career WHIP under 1.10 is excellent, and going further beyond to less than 1.00 is staggeringly phenomenal.
Going back to Kershaw, I previously mentioned that Chris Sale is the closest to him at a 1.05 career WHIP, and he has been under a 1.00 WHIP one full season and in the middle of another at the moment. Looking at Kershaw’s seasons, he has completed five seasons under a 1.00 WHIP, and is in the middle of another one this season. Kershaw hasn’t been above a 1.00 WHIP since his 2012 season. He hasn’t been above a 0.90 WHIP since 2013. His WHIP has even been down to an insane 0.72 in his 149 IP in 2016.
To put all of this into even greater perspective, when checking from 1918 – 2016 with minimum 140 innings pitched, Kershaw not only leads the pack with his 0.72 WHIP in 2016, just ahead of Pedro Martinez’s all-time great season with 0.74 WHIP in 2000, but he also appears four times in the top 30. Only one other pitcher appears at least three times on the list, that being Pedro. The only other pitchers to appear twice in the top 30 are Greg Maddux, Sandy Koufax, and Juan Marichal.
Just another small note for the above section, if 2017 were included and the 140 innings minimum were changed to qualified, this would remove Kershaw’s 0.72 WHIP season in only 149 innings last season, it would add Sale’s 0.79 (which would make it second since 1918) and Kershaw’s 0.82 WHIPs (putting it fourth since 1918).
To put it simply: This is a big deal. What Clayton Kershaw has done and continues to do is some of the very best Major League Baseball has ever had to offer fans. If you live in the Los Angeles area and are able to, you need to go see him in person as much as possible. If the Dodgers come to a town near where you live, and Kershaw will pitch in the series, you make sure you go to his start at least. If you have the chance to watch him on television (something admittedly tougher these days, as many people in Los Angeles, especially writer Dylan Hernandez will tell you), you do it. Every time he takes the mound, you may just see him accomplish something monumental — like I got to see him (seemingly effortlessly) do last night.
Bobby Down, Baseline Times MLB Contributor