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Clayton Kershaw and the 10 Best Lefty Starters in Dodgers History

Dennis SchlossmanCorrespondent IFebruary 14, 2011

Clayton Kershaw and the 10 Best Lefty Starters in Dodgers History

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    Clayton Kershaw is not only quickly becoming the face of the Los Angeles Dodgers franchise, but he's also arguably on the fast track to being one of the premiere starters in all of baseball.

    Among the larger criticisms of the Dodgers pitching staff is the lack of a true ace, but Kershaw's performance during his first full two years of service indicates that it's only a matter of time before he fills that void.

    Kershaw, who will turn 23 in March, finished the 2010 season at 13-10 with a 2.91 ERA and 212 strikeouts in just over 204 innings of work. His number of wins could have easily been much higher if it weren't for the Dodgers' sluggish bats, which provided the lefty phenom with a mere 3.9 runs per game of offensive support.

    One of his most impressive performances of last season came on May 9 when he outdueled Colorado Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez to lead Los Angeles to a 1-0 victory. Earning the win, Kershaw threw eight innings of shutout ball while striking out nine, having only surrendered two hits and three walks.

    He topped that effort with his first career complete-game shutout against Barry Zito and the San Francisco Giants on September 14. During that affair, Kershaw yielded no walks and only four hits as the Dodgers clinched the 1-0 win.

    Although he doesn't yet have the track record to prove so, some fans across Dodgertown have already began discussions that rank Kershaw among the greatest left-handed starters in Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers history. It may sound absurd, but Kershaw may become known among the Dodger lefty greats sooner than many would expect.

    Surprisingly, amidst the Dodgers' rich pitching heritage that spans 127 years, very few southpaws have experienced any type of dominating, consistent success. It's not difficult in the least for the common Dodger enthusiast to list upwards of 35 right-handed starting pitchers who have proven to be elite, but the task of naming only 10 lefties is extremely challenging.

    The following slides highlight 10 of the most successful southpaws in Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers history, as well as offer a bit of commentary regarding their careers as Dodgers.

    For those reading this piece who know of any diehard Dodger fans who claim to be historical scholars or statistic addicts, feel free to challenge them to name 10 starting left-handed starting pitchers who deserve to be among the Dodgers elite—the task can certainly make even the most well-informed Dodger enthusiast feel feeble-minded.

Rube Marquard

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    Although Richard William "Rube" Marquard (1886-1980) achieved most of his pitching success with the New York Giants from 1908 to 1915, he did spend six quality seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers before moving on to the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Braves in the 1920s.

    Marquard's best year as a Dodger came in 1917 when he posted a 19-12 record with a 2.55 ERA and a 1.117 WHIP. He started 29 games that season and notched two shutouts after appearing in just over 232 innings.

    Over the course of his six years in Brooklyn, he compiled a 56-48 record with a 2.55 ERA after appearing in a total of 149 games—115 in which he started. As a Dodger, he logged 950 innings of work, struck out 444 batters and recorded nine shutouts. His 56 wins rank him tied for 49th among all starting pitchers in Dodgers history.

    1911 was Marquard's benchmark season as a professional. Playing for the Giants, he posted a 24-7 record with a 2.50 ERA after starting 33 games. His 237 strikeouts led the entire National League.

    He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971, but is often criticized by the sabermetrics community for his lack of deserving statistics.

Doug Rau

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    Doug Rau was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in June of 1970, and after appearing in 31 games primarily as a reliever in 1973, became a fixture in the Dodgers starting rotation the following season.

    During his eight years in Los Angeles, Rau tallied a 80-58 record with a 3.35 ERA. He appeared in a total of 219 games for the Dodgers and logged over 1250 innings of work. Rau is tied for 33rd in Dodgers history with 11 career shutouts, and is tied for 28th for career wins. His 694 strikeouts as a Dodger also rank him tied for 28th.

    Rau's signature season with the Dodgers came in 1976, when he posted a 16-12 record with a 2.57 ERA while notching eight complete games and three shutouts.

    For many fans who followed the Dodgers in the 1970s, Rau is remembered for his argument with manager Tommy Lasorda during Game 7 of the 1977 World Series. After Rau surrendered two doubles and a single to begin the top of the second inning, Lasorda, who was wearing a microphone, approached the mound to remove Rau from the game.

    An intense argument filled with profanity ensued, and Rau eventually needed to be restrained by second baseman Davey Lopes. Ron Guidry and the New York Yankees won the game 4-2, and eventually clinched the World Series in six games.

    Rau retired in 1981 after making only three appearances with the then-California Angels.

Preacher Roe

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    In December of 1947, Elwin Charles "Preacher" Roe (1916-2008) was acquired in a deal by Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey that saw the Dodgers trade Hal Gregg, Vic Lombardi and Dixie Walker to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Roe, Gene Mauch and Billy Cox.

    Incidentally, when Rickey was GM for the Cardinals, he had originally signed Roe as an amateur in 1938. Roe was away from baseball from 1939 to 1943 due to military obligations in World War ll.

    In six seasons with Brooklyn, Roe tallied a 93-37 record with a 3.43 ERA. He was selected to four consecutive National League All-Star teams from 1949-1952 while with the Dodgers. His 93 career wins as a Dodger rank him 22nd all-time, while his 1277 innings pitched place him 27th in the Dodgers history books.

    Roe's best year in Brooklyn came in 1951 when he posted a 22-3 record with a 3.04 ERA. Roe also collected 19 complete games and two shutouts while logging over 257 innings of work that same season.

    Although most saw him as a fastball pitcher, Roe was the first to admit that the spitball was his money pitch.

    He retired after the 1954 season and operated a small grocery store for many years in West Plains, Missouri.

Jerry Reuss

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    Originally drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1967, Jerry Reuss was acquired by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1979 through a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Over the course of his nine-year career with the Dodgers, Reuss compiled a 86-69 record with a 3.11 ERA.

    As a Dodger, Reuss has 44 complete games to his credit, including 16 shutouts.

    His best year in a Dodgers uniform came in 1980, when he posted a 18-6 record with a 2.51 ERA and a 1.016 WHIP. That same year, Reuss led the National League with six shutouts, was selected as a member of the All-Star squad, finished second in the NL Cy Young Award voting, and won the MLB Comeback Player of the Year Award.

    His 86 wins rank him 25th all-time in Dodgers history, while his 16 shutouts tie him for 19th.

    Reuss was released by the Dodgers at the beginning of the 1987 season, but went on to play four more seasons with five different clubs. He earned his 200th career victory as a member of the Chicago White Sox in 1988.

    After his retirement in 1990, Reuss spent time as a minor league pitching coach for the Iowa Cubs, and as a radio announcer for both the Dodgers and the California Angels. 

Tommy John

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    Many fans who have followed Tommy John closely over his career consider him most successful as a member of the New York Yankees or the Chicago White Sox, but his six seasons as a Dodger were easily as productive as his years with the aforementioned clubs.

    While with the Dodgers, John posted a 87-42 record with a 2.97 ERA. In the process, he recorded 649 strikeouts and 37 complete games—11 of which were shutouts. He ranks 25th in Dodgers history for wins, 20th for overall ERA and 33rd for total number of strikeouts.

    His best year wearing a Dodgers uniform came in 1977, when he finished 20-7 with a 2.78 ERA. During that season he registered 11 complete games—three of which were shutouts—while logging over 220 innings of work.

    Halfway into the 1974 season, John damaged the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm, which led to a revolutionary surgical procedure that would later become commonly known as Tommy John surgery. Although he did recover fully, many critics believed that he would never rediscover his effectiveness of old.

    However, he rebounded to start 31 games for the Dodgers in 1976 and went on to win 20 games for Los Angeles in 1977. 

    At 46 years of age in 1989, Tommy John finally retired from baseball. Although he wasn't elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the BBWAA, there may be a chance he's selected by the Veteran's Committee in the future. John's career numbers are very similar to recent inductee Bert Blyleven, even though John had an additional four seasons of MLB service.

Nap Rucker

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    George "Nap" Rucker (1884-1970) was originally drafted in 1906 by the Brooklyn Superbas and spent his entire 10-year career in Brooklyn—a period which saw the franchise change its name three different times.

    In 1910 at only 25 years of age, Rucker threw a no-hitter and went on to compile a 17-18 record with a 2.57 ERA. The same year he notched 27 complete games and six shutouts while logging over 320 innings pitched—all of which were the best in the National League.

    His benchmark year in Brooklyn came the following season, when he posted a 22-18 record with a 2.71 ERA and five shutouts. Over the course of his career in the franchise, he put together a 134-134 record with a career ERA of 2.42 and a career WHIP of 1.175.

    Rucker ranks 11th all-time in the franchise in victories, 10th in strikeouts, fifth in complete games and fourth in shutouts.

    Upon retiring in 1916, Rucker became successful as a businessman and eventually went on to serve as mayor of Roswell, Georgia.

Johnny Podres

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    Johnny Podres (1953-2008) was originally signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1951 as an amateur free agent out of Mineville HS in New York.

    Although Podres' 18-5 record in 1961 seemed to be his best on paper, his performance during the 1955 campaign proved to be his most valuable. Despite a 9-10 regular season record and only being 22 years old heading into the World Series, Podres was nothing short of a brute force in the Dodgers' run to a world championship.

    After the Dodgers lost the first two games to the New York Yankees, Podres pitched a complete-game, seven-hit victory on his birthday in Game 3, propelling the Dodgers to an 8-3 victory. In the climactic Game 7, Podres pitched a 2-0 shutout to bring Brooklyn its only World Series championship in team history.

    For his efforts, Podres was given the first-ever World Series MVP award.

    Over the course of his 13-year career with the Dodgers, Podres compiled a 136-104 record with a 3.66 ERA. His 1,331 strikeouts rank seventh, while his 136 career wins place him ninth among all Dodgers starting pitchers. He was also selected as an All-Star three times while wearing Dodger Blue.

    Upon retiring in 1969, Podres served as pitching coach for the San Diego Padres, Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins and Philadelphia Phillies for 13 seasons between 1973 and 1996.


Claude Osteen

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    Claude Osteen was acquired by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1964 in a deal with the Washington Senators which involved a total of six players and $100,000 cash.

    Although primarily a reliever in his early years, Osteen's career as a starter began to blossom during his last season as a Senator, and by the end of his first year as a Dodger he became one of the premiere left-handed starters in the majors.

    Osteen was twice a 20-game winner and three times an All-Star while with Los Angeles. His best year in a Dodgers uniform came in 1969 when he posted a 20-15 record with a 2.66 ERA while notching seven shutouts in 16 complete games. His 321 innings pitched that season were among the league leaders in that category.

    Over the course of nine years with the Dodgers, Osteen compiled a 147-126 record with a 3.09 ERA. His 34 career shutouts rank fifth, his 1,162 strikeouts rank 14th, his 2,397 innings pitched rank sixth, and his 147 career wins rank seventh in the Dodgers history books.

    Upon retiring in 1975, Osteen later became a pitching coach for a number of teams, including the St. Louis Cardinals, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Fernando Valenzuela

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    After 19-year-old Fernando Valenzuela's contract was purchased by the Dodgers from the Yucatan Lions of the Mexican Baseball League in 1979, he spent a half-season in high Single-A before being promoted to the Double-A San Antonio Missions in 1980.

    He dominated most pitching categories while in San Antonio and was eventually called up to the Dodgers to make several relief appearances towards the end of the season.

    After his Opening Day performance in 1981, "Fernandomania" officially broke loose. Against the Astros in the first game of the year, the rookie sensation threw a five-hit, complete game shutout, guiding the Dodgers to a 2-0 victory.

    Over the course of the strike-shortened season, El Toro posted a 13-7 record with a 2.48 ERA. In the process, the 20-year-old Valenzuela was honored with the Rookie of the Year Award, the Cy Young Award, and a trip to the All-Star Game. His 25 games started, 11 complete games, eight shutouts, 192 innings pitched and 180 strikeouts were all tops among National League pitchers.

    In the 1981 postseason, Valenzuela pitched a complete Game 3 of the 1981 World Series against the New York Yankees, as he was instrumental in the Dodgers first World Championship since 1965.

    In 1986, Valenzuela became a 20-game winner for the first time after compiling a 21-11 record with a 3.14 ERA and 20 complete games. To top off his career in a Dodger uniform, Valenzuela tossed a no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals in June of 1990. Coincidentally, Dave Stewart of the Oakland Athletics threw a no-hitter the exact same day.

    Over the course of his 11-year career with the Dodgers, Valenzuela compiled a 141-116 record with a 3.31 ERA. His 2,348 innings pitched rank ninth, his 1,759 strikeouts rank fifth, his 29 shutouts rank sixth, and his 141 wins rank eighth among all Dodgers starters. While wearing a Dodger uniform, Fernando was selected to a total of six All-Star teams.

    He retired in 1997, and eventually re-joined the Dodgers in 2003 to become the Spanish-speaking color commentator on the radio.

Sandy Koufax

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    An essay of 2,000 words wouldn't provide enough space to describe the impact that Sandy Koufax had on the Dodgers franchise.

    Commonly known as "The Left Arm of God," Koufax spent his entire 12-year career with the Dodgers. He earned six consecutive trips to the All-Star Game from 1961-1966 and was unanimously voted winner of the Cy Young Award three times—once in 1963 while also winning the league MVP, then again in both 1965 and 1966.

    He was a four-time World Series champion, twice named MVP of the World Series, and earned the pitching Triple Crown three times. Koufax has four no-hitters to his credit, one which includes a perfect game on September 9, 1965, against the Chicago Cubs.

    Despite having his career cut short due to the arthritic condition in his throwing arm, Koufax is still among the team leaders in a number of statistical categories. His 165 total wins rank fifth, his 2,396 strikeouts rank third, his career ERA of 2.76 ranks ninth, and his 40 shutouts rank third among all starters in Dodgers history.

    Although playing in pain the entire season, 1966 could easily be considered the best year of Koufax's career. In addition to being named the Cy Young Award winner, Koufax posted a 27-9 record with a 1.73 ERA and a .985 WHIP. He led the National League with 41 games started, 27 complete games, five shutouts, 323 innings pitched and 317 strikeouts.

    Just days after his 36th birthday in 1972, Koufax was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He was the youngest player ever to be enshrined in Cooperstown.

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