MLB’s Best Pitchers Face Off: Kershaw vs Scherzer

Up until a few days ago, Friday’s pitching matchup was supposed to be Rich Hill vs Max Scherzer, with Saturday’s being Clayton Kershaw vs Stephen Strasburg. On their own, these were going to be two excellent matchups. Rich Hill is not a star, but he’s one of the game’s better left-handed pitchers, going up against the two-time reigning NL Cy Young award winner in Max Scherzer. That was likely to be a fun game. Then on Saturday, we would have seen the second matchup ever between Clayton Kershaw and Stephen Strasburg.

In the first time this matchup should have happened, Vin Scully was so excited that he had a sore throat but called the game anyway, just to see Strasburg scratched with a sore back of his own. A year later, the matchup went down without a hitch in a wonderful game that saw Kershaw take the win in a 2-1 game over a similarly great game pitched by Strasburg. Getting to see a rematch between the two was a very exciting prospect.

As fun as Friday and Saturday would have been, this all changed when Rich Hill went to the DL with a broken fingernail on his pitching hand. Then thankfully, baseball fans are now getting an early-season treat with a matchup between two three-time Cy Young award winners in Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer.

Kershaw vs Scherzer

In the last two years, one of the most popular questions has been about which of Kershaw or Scherzer is the best pitcher in baseball. I wrote about this a year ago, believing that Kershaw still holds the mantle of baseball’s best pitcher, though the gap is not sizeable like it used to be. Scherzer beating Kershaw for the Cy Young in 2017 only brings the split closer to 50/50.

In the article from last year I showed that overall, Kershaw has been a better pitcher in his career over Scherzer. However, Kershaw broke out in a big way two years sooner than Scherzer did, with both pitchers coming into the league in the same season. If we go by Scherzer’s breakout 2013 AL Cy Young campaign as the starting point, here is how things shake out:

Kershaw W IP K-BB% ERA FIP fWAR Scherzer W IP K-BB% ERA FIP fWAR
2013 16 236 19.8 1.83 2.39 7.1 2013 21 214.1 22 2.9 2.74 6.1
2014 21 198.1 27.8 1.77 1.81 7.6 2014 18 220.1 20.9 3.15 2.85 5.2
2015 16 232.2 29.1 2.13 1.99 8.5 2015 14 228.2 26.9 2.79 2.77 6.4
2016 12 149 29.6 1.69 1.8 6.5 2016 20 228.1 25.3 2.96 3.24 5.6
2017 18 175 25.3 2.31 3.07 4.6 2017 16 200.2 27.3 2.51 2.9 6
2018 1 26 27.7 1.73 3.09 0.6 2018 3 27 34.3 1.33 1.73 1.1
Total 84 1017 26 1.95 2.23 34.9 Total 92 1119.1 24.7 2.83 3.87 30.4
Rank 2013-18 2nd 8th 1st 1st 1st 1st Rank 2013-18 1st 1st 3rd 3rd 7th 2nd

While Chris Sale and Corey Kluber are still looming just behind, it looks pretty clear that the above two guys are the best pitchers we’ve had in the MLB since 2013. Both Sale and Kluber are just 0.5-1.5 fWAR behind, but Scherzer has shown more consistency than the pair, as well as three Cy Young awards in that time to Kluber’s two and Sale’s zero.

Scherzer’s weakness may ‘just’ being 7th in FIP, but the high volume of innings pitched has provided him a lot of value and made up the ground in that area. Then looking at Kershaw, his problem has been staying healthy the last few seasons, missing time in 2016 and 2017 due to back issues. Despite being just 8th in innings pitched, Kershaw’s incredible value when he does pitch is unrivaled on a value per inning basis. When it comes down to one versus the other, there isn’t really a wrong choice between them.

Kershaw and Scherzer’s Head To Head Past

These two pitchers have been very closely linked together for over a decade now. Both were drafted within a few picks of each other in the early part of the first round in the 2006 amateur draft. They both made their debuts in 2008 for NL West teams, Kershaw for the Dodgers, Scherzer for the Dbacks. Their first head to head matchup was as a pair of rookies on September 7th, 2008, a Dodgers win 5-3. Although the Dodgers took the win, Scherzer fared far better than Kershaw pitching 5 innings allowing 3 runs on 5 hits, but striking out 11 with just 1 walk. Meanwhile Kershaw pitched just 4 innings allowing 3 runs on 6 hits, striking out 4 with 1 walk.

Sadly, thanks to a trade to the Detroit Tigers after the following season, Kershaw and Scherzer have never again faced off in the regular season.

2016 NLDS

It is true that Kershaw and Scherzer have not faced off again in the regular season, but in the 2016 NLDS between the Washington Nationals and the Los Angeles Dodgers we got a game 1 matchup between them. In this game, Kershaw picked up the win over Scherzer, but neither pitcher was all that great. Kershaw pitched 5 innings with 3 runs on 8 hits allowed while striking out 7 and walking 1. Scherzer got roughed up by the Dodgers offense, pitching 6 innings, while only giving up 5 hits, but allowing 4 runs with 2 home runs. He did strike out 5 and allow 0 walks, but the damage was done regardless.

Expectations

After eight seasons removed from a disappointing matchup as rookies in 2008, the expectation in 2016 between the two Cy Young winners was sky high. As what usually happens with something like this, neither pitcher threw a good game overall. Expectations for tonight are just as high, even if the stakes are not. Coming into the game neither pitcher has higher than a 1.75 ERA so far in this young season, and with any luck, this could be one of the best pitching duels of the season.

Matchups like this do not come along every day. In fact, this is the first time that two three-time Cy Young winners will face off against each other since 2006 when Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux went head to head. Tonight will be the 13th matchup like this ever occurring, according to Eric Stephen of Truebluela.com per STATS LLC.

We still have a few hours before the game starts, but this should be a game any baseball fan should watch if given the opportunity. If you can’t watch the game on your tv at home, go out to a sports bar and watch. If you are local in Los Angeles and don’t have plans (unlike myself), get a ticket and go watch. This could be a game of the year candidate, fans of baseball in general I hope this matchup finally lives up to the hype.