Another season nears its end, another season where Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw is in line to win yet another National League Cy Young Award. The big lefty turned in another great season despite an injury and last night brought his team one victory closer to its first World Series win in almost three decades.
Make no mistake, the 29-year-old is en route to winning his fourth such award and further cementing his spot in baseball history as one of the game’s best.
Another injury, no problem!
Kershaw had a fine 2016 campaign in going 12-4 and posting an astounding 1.69 ERA, but a back injury limited him to 149 innings across 21 starts. He missed two months and thus finished fifth in NL Cy Young voting.
Clayton Kershaw's 11 strikeouts in Game 1 lead the Dodgers to victory
The sore back bit Kershaw again in 2017 and kept him out for six weeks, but he still had an excellent year in going 18-4 with a 2.31 ERA. He led the NL in wins and ERA and to top it all off, his success followed him into the postseason after years of struggles. Kershaw is 3-0 with a 2.96 ERA in four playoff starts this year and turned in another gem last night in Game 1 of the World Series, holding the Houston Astros to a run on three hits with eleven strikeouts in seven innings of work.
The playoff numbers are irrelevant since votes are cast before the playoffs but make no mistake, Kershaw is the guy once again this year.
Helping Kershaw's case is that there are few NL pitchers that pose a serious threat to him taking home the NL Cy Young. One name that comes to mind is Washington Nationals righty and 2016 winner Max Scherzer, who went 16-6 on the year and led the NL with 268 strikeouts. Scherzer also posted a 2.51 ERA, but Kershaw still had more wins and a better ERA despite missing extensive time. Helping Scherzer is that he posted a 7.3 WAR compared to Kershaw's mark of 4.6, but the latter number can be attributed to injury.
It's also worth noting that Kershaw played in the NL Western Division, which saw three teams make the postseason this year. Scherzer's Nationals, meanwhile, ran away with the NL East and finished with a 20 game lead over the second-place Miami Marlins. Thus, perhaps Scherzer had the easier road to a great 2017.
That brings the next NL Cy Young contender into the picture, Arizona Diamondbacks righty and Kershaw's former teammate Zack Greinke. The veteran had a bounce-back year after going 13-7 with a 4.37 ERA his first year in the desert and posted a record of 17-7 with a 3.20 ERA in 2017. Greinke also increased his WAR from 2.3 to 6.0 and saw his WHIP drop from 1.27 to 1.07. His groundball rate went up almost a full point from 45.9% to 46.8%, and his K/9 went from 7.60 to 9.56.
If there's anyone who can beat Kershaw in the NL Cy Young race, it's Greinke, who won the AL Cy Young in 2009 as a member of the Kansas City Royals. Just the same, Greinke pitched 202.1 innings this year compared to Kershaw's 175 and just wasn't as dominant. He had a fantastic year, yes, but Kershaw's was better.
The AL precedent
It's also worth noting that on the AL side, the winner of the Cy Young is in a boat similar to Kershaw's. Cleveland Indians ace Corey Kluber missed a month of action with a back injury, yet still posted excellent numbers. The right-hander went 18-4 with an MLB-best 2.25 ERA and struck out 265 hitters in 203.2 innings.
Kluber threw significantly more innings than Kershaw, but that can largely be attributed to his having five complete games on the season while Kershaw had just one. The fact of the matter is that even though Boston Red Sox southpaw Chris Sale led the majors with 308 strikeouts and went 17-8 with a respectable 2.90 ERA, his going 4-4 with a 4.09 ERA over the season's final two months and then 0-2 with an abysmal 8.38 ERA in the postseason could come back to haunt him, though his playoff performance won't be a factor.
Sale's collapse and Kluber's continuous upward trend towards the end of the regular season are proof positive that despite his missing time, Kluber was still the better man in 2017. Sale did a great job and was probably the better strikeout pitcher, but there's no telling where Kluber's totals in that category would be had he not missed a month.
Kershaw's season has had the exact same narrative. He easily could have reached or even eclipsed 20 wins in 2017 had he not been injured and that he still led the NL in wins and ERA in spite of missed time just shows how great a pitcher he is.
There is only one choice for the NL Cy Young this year, and that is Clayton Kershaw.
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