MLB

Even Without Scoreless Streak, Clayton Kershaw Is Still Having a Historic Season

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Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterJuly 11, 2014

For Clayton Kershaw, a home run off the bat of Chase Headley ruined everything.

And nothing. It broke up an incredible streak, but it did not break up an incredible season.

If you missed it, yes, Kershaw's run of consecutive scoreless innings finally ended Thursday night at Dodger Stadium. The Los Angeles Dodgers' ace lefty allowed nothing to the San Diego Padres through five and two-thirds to run his scoreless streak to 41.2 innings, but then Headley sent one over the left-center field wall for a solo homer.

Thus did Kershaw's scoreless streak end before he was even 17 innings within reach of Orel Hershiser's record of 59 consecutive scoreless innings in 1988.

Oh well. Kershaw soldiered on as...well, basically as he's been soldiering on.

He didn't allow anything the rest of the game, ultimately completing a 2-1 Dodgers win on his own. He threw 115 pitches, allowing just three hits and one walk. He struck out 11.

As for the scoreless streak ending, it sounds like Kershaw wasn't and won't be shedding any tears. Here's Pedro Moura of the Orange County Register:

And even if he did finally give up a run, Matt Snyder of CBSSports.com noted that Kershaw still authored the third-longest scoreless streak since Hershiser's in 1988. Only Brandon Webb (42 innings in 2007) and R.A. Dickey (44 innings in 2012) have done better.

Also, the Dodgers reminded everyone that Kershaw is still on one hell of a run even without the scoreless streak:

When Kershaw suffered an upper-back injury in March that sidelined him for all of April, you couldn't help but think that maybe 2014 wasn't going to be his year. But 14 starts in, he's now sitting on a 1.78 ERA.

That's even better than the 1.83 ERA he had in 2013. And now that FanGraphs says Kershaw has enough innings to qualify, his 1.78 ERA makes him the new MLB leader in that category.

Which is nice, but focusing on Kershaw's ERA is focusing on only half the story. And against all odds, the other half makes him look even better.

Jul 10, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) and catcher A.J. Ellis (17) celebrate after defeating the San Diego Padres 2-1 at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Let me take a moment to introduce the statistics we're about to discuss:

  • K%: This is strikeouts per batters faced, which is a better measure than K/9.
  • BB%: This is walks per batters faced, which is more accurate than BB/9.
  • K%-BB%: This is a new one at FanGraphs, and it's supposedly more accurate than K/BB ratio.
  • FIP: This is fielding independent pitching, which estimates what a pitcher's ERA should be by focusing on strikeouts, walks, hit by pitches and home runs.
  • xFIP: This is expected fielding independent pitching, which does FIP's job except with an estimate for how many home runs should be on a pitcher's record based on his fly-ball rate.
  • SIERA: This is skill-interactive ERA, which estimates what a pitcher's ERA should be by focusing on strikeouts, walks and ground balls.

Why focus on these stats? Mainly because they're better indicators of a pitcher's dominance than his ERA, which can be influenced by all sorts of things outside of a pitcher's control. Looking past ERA at the stats above allows us to see through the noise, so to speak.

Anyway, behold a comparison of what Kershaw is doing this year to what he did between 2011 and 2013 (via FanGraphs):

Clayton Kershaw: 2011-2013 vs. 2014
SpanK%BB%K-BB%FIPxFIPSIERAERA
2011-201326.16.219.92.582.993.042.21
201434.43.630.91.581.701.751.78
FanGraphs

Relative to what he was doing before, Kershaw isn't just striking out more batters. He's striking out way more batters. Likewise, he's almost cut his already impressive walk rate in half, and his K%-BB% towers over the mark he racked up between 2011 and 2013.

Then there are those last three columns. Not only do they agree that Kershaw really deserves to have an ERA under 2.00, they also agree that his 1.78 ERA might actually be too high.

So how good has Kershaw been this season? Good enough to put the 2011-2013 version of Kershaw to shame. And that, as they say, is saying something.

Amazingly, it gets better. The kind of pitching we're seeing from Kershaw this season is the kind of pitching that we just don't see that often.

You know that strikeout percentage of 34.4? Here's a list of qualified starters who have posted a mark like that in a season: Pedro Martinez in 1999 and 2000, and Randy Johnson in 2000 and 2001.

Yeah, them. And only them. 

Oh, and Kershaw's walk percentage of 3.6? Yeah, neither Martinez nor Johnson was able to go that low.

In fact, it's only because of Pedro's insane 37.5 strikeout percentage in 1999 that he was able to post a 33.1 K%-BB% rate. That's the only K%-BB% in recorded history bigger than the 30.9 mark Kershaw is working on.

Then there are those ERA metrics.

Because batted-ball data only goes back to 2002, xFIP and SIERA data only goes back that far. But since then, Curt Schilling's 2002 season holds the records for the lowest xFIP (2.21) and the lowest SIERA (2.18).

Yeah, Kershaw's on track to shatter those marks. No contest, so let's move on to FIP.

Kershaw is...not on track to shatter the all-time record for FIP, sadly. It's good enough, however, that his 1.58 FIP would put him in some elite company:

Clayton Kershaw's Potential FIP Company
RankYearPlayerFIP
11908Christy Mathewson1.26
21910Walter Johnson1.28
31908Ed Walsh1.36
41999Pedro Martinez1.39
51907Rube Waddell1.41
61908Rube Waddell1.42
71908Walter Johnson1.47
81904Rube Waddell1.48
91908Cy Young1.51
101909Chief Bender1.52
112014Clayton Kershaw1.58
FanGraphs

Yup. According to FIP, we are witnessing the 11th-most dominant pitching season ever.

However, we must adjust for eras. Because those old-timers were pitching in an even more pitching-friendly environment than the one in which Kershaw is pitching, it's not fair to compare him to them.

So let's turn to FIP-, which is FIP adjusted for park factors and league averages. A score of 100 is average, and anything below 100 is better than average. The lower a FIP- goes, the better it is.

As of now, Kershaw's FIP- is 44. Here's where that would rank among the all-time great FIP- seasons:

Clayton Kershaw's Potential FIP- Company
RankPlayerYearFIP-
1Pedro Martinez199930
2Clayton Kershaw201444
FanGraphs

Yup. There. Second. Behind only Pedro's epic 1999 season, which is arguably (or not at all) the single greatest pitching season in the history of mankind and (likely) alienkind.

Now, sure, here's where we have to be real for a second and admit this: Kershaw's 2014 season is a long way from being over. He has many more starts still to go. Who knows what'll happen?

But now that we've been real for a second, know that you can at least go and tell people that the dominance we've seen from Kershaw to this point is the likes of which we've only seen a handful of times before in major league history. Heck, maybe only one other time in major league history.

And besides, would anybody even be surprised if Kershaw kept it going?

I wouldn't. He was the best pitcher on the planet coming into the season, he's clearly gotten even better, and the dude is only a couple months past his 26th birthday. And assuming he doesn't make another trip to and from Australia, I feel good betting on his health holding up just fine.

I also feel comfortable offering this bit of advice: Enjoy it, folks. This could be the last time we see pitching like this for a long time.

In fact, forget advice. That's an order. Enjoy it. 

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked. 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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