Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Sunday, April 28, 2013

A True Ace - As Kershaw Approaches 1,000 Innings Pitched, His Legacy Will Grow

(photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

I hope everyone is enjoying what we are witnessing in this latest era of Dodger baseball because Clayton Kershaw is simply masterful.  This is a pitcher as good as any that have come up through the Dodger system, and with the pitching rich Dodger legacy, that’s saying a lot.
Still, with that said, he has a way to go for immortality worthy of Hall of Fame induction.  To give some perspective of the where Kershaw is with respect to baseball history, let’s take a look at where his career statistics stand at this point of his career. 

As of today at age 25, Kershaw has a record of 64-39, a 61% wining percentage.  His lifetime ERA is 2.75.  If we were to make a big assumption, and say that he stays injury free, (avoiding catastrophic injury which is so common today).  Assuming he pitches an additional ten years averaging 18 wins per year,  he’ll still be 56 wins short of the 300 win plateau.  That’s a long way to go to achieve a milestone that many consider to be an automatic for Hall of Fame induction, but most of us know that the W/L record is a statistic that often is misleading and doesn’t accurately assess a starting pitcher’s abilities.

In this modern age of pitch counts and pitchers with specialized roles, it’s a lot harder to mount up those amazing starters stats that pitchers in previous decades could accumulate.  Those traditional lifetime stats, (W/L, Complete Games, ERA, Shutouts, Strikeouts) are numbers that will never be approached again by starting pitchers in the modern game.  Owners have invested too much money in their top caliber arms.  The risks that were taken in previous decades are not even considerations any more.  When it comes to a players health, 9 times out of 10, a team today takes the safe approach.

So while Kershaw’s traditional pitching numbers aren’t reaching Hall of Fame worthy status yet, he’s certainly on the way.  Now as Kershaw is about to surpass 1,000 innings pitched in his career, his name will surface on many all time statistical leaders boards that have a minimum benchmark of 1,000 innings tallied.


Take a look at Kerhaw’s K/9innings ratio.  With 986 2/3 innings under his belt, he has collected 1,020 strikeouts.  That’s a 9.3 per nine innings rating.  Quite remarkable when compared to other Hall of Famers and potential Hall of Famers:

Randy Johnson 10.6
Pedro Martinez 10.0
Tim Lincecum 9.7
Nolan Ryan 9.5
Sandy Koufax 9.3
Clayton Kershaw 9.3
Curt Schilling 8.6
Roger Clemens 8.6 
Cole Hamels 8.5
Justin Verlander 8.4
Bob Gibson 7.2 
Bob Feller 6.1
Greg Maddux 6.1 
Walter Johnson 5.3
Christy Mathewson 4.7
(photo by LM Otero/Associated Press)

Walks and Hits allowed per Innings Pitched, (WHIP) and Hits per Innings Pitched (H/9)

Kershaw led the league in both of these statistics the past two years.  His 0.977 WHIP mark during his Cy Young Award winning 2011 season was historically low for a starting pitcher.    His lifetime H/9 is 6.9 which would rank 5th All time behind Ryan, Koufax, Sid Fernandez and JR Richard.

Look for Clayton to be one of the all-time leaders in these obscure but important statistics when his career comes to an end.  At the moment, when he breaks through with 1,000 innings pitched, he’ll rank amongst the top twenty WHIP pitchers of all time.


1,000 Ks by age twenty-five is quite an accomplishment.  With five years of service time, that’s a speedy arrival to that milestone.  Very few pitchers have done it quicker.  Amongst them are: Kerry Wood (853 IP), Sam McDowell (932 IP), Hideo Nomo (937 IP), Pedro Martinez (933 IP).   Kershaw arrived at the mark with 973 IP.  

The true test for Kershaw in this statistical category will be longevity.  If he stays injury free, he has an outside shot at 3,000 strikeouts, a sure HOF worthy accomplishment.   It should be noted that he led the league in strikeouts in 2011 and missed out leading the league last year by one K.  He’s on pace in 2013 for well over 200 strikeouts and he already has tallied 46 and we aren’t even in May yet.

Wins Above Replacement for pitchers (WAR)

One of the most complex sabermetric stats that determines the value a player brings to his team in wins by factoring in the defense behind him, park adjustments, run scale conversions and more.   This may be the most valuable stat that justifies Kershaw’s HOF credentials.

Clayton’s has tallied a WAR for pitcher between 5.7 and 6.5 over that last four seasons.  With another ten years of that type of production, he’ll rank in the top 15 all-time in this category.  Top ten if he goes 12 years.  The only pitchers in history that will outrank him would be guys that lasted a long time, such as Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Roger Clemens, Tom Seaver, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson and Lefty Grove.  Quite amazing company in which he could find himself.

Longevity and Remaining injury free

This will be the key to measuring Clayton's greatness.  Very few pitchers these days make it through a lengthy 15-year career without eventually suffering a catastrophic injury requiring major reconstructive surgery which may require a full year lay-off from the game.  You'll notice that even the fireballing pitchers back in history such as Bob Feller and Warren Spahn, had years off from the game for military service, which probably saved their arms from the wear and tear that would have shut them down.  Additionally, their K/9 rates are relatively low when compared to the elite hurlers of today.

My point is, a guy like Walter Johnson, who had well over 3,000 strikeouts, had a K/9 ratio at 5.3.  This meant that he allowed batters to put the ball in play more often.  That resulted in less pitches  thrown (my assumption) or possibly, less strenuous pitches thrown, (something for which a statistic hasn't yet been developed, but is an interesting concept).

For Kershaw to reach many lifetime milestones that other pitching greats have achieved, he'll probably have to learn to pitch more to contact and concentrate on spotting and location, much like Greg Maddux did in his later years before his career ended.  I think we've all noted that he has already done this to some extent.  

Let's face it though.  Kershaw won't be able to motor up his fastball to 94 MPH as he was doing today, when he's in his low to mid-30s.  There will come a time when he's going to have to depend on pitching smarts over physically ability as his strength and skills diminish when he gets older.

To that I say, let's enjoy it while it's there.  Kershaw is at the top of his game right now and I'm hoping that this continues for many years to come.  A Hall of Fame career is in the making, but by no means is it a sure thing.

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