Last week during the All-Star break, there were a lot of comparisons between two great players: Derek Jeter and Mike Trout. The main storyline was the retirement of Jeter, the face of baseball for the last twenty years. But the secondary story was understandably intertwined: the emergence of Trout as his replacement.
Personally, I am one of Trout’s biggest fans. Over the last three years, he has probably been one of the best, if not the best, in baseball. However, when considering who the face of baseball is going to be in 2014 and beyond, there’s another player who should get consideration: Clayton Kershaw.
The case for Kershaw by the numbers
The point here is not to take anything away from Mike Trout, but rather to recall how amazing Kershaw has been. The Dodgers ace was called up in 2008 and struggled at times, putting up an ERA of 4.26, but from 2009 to the present, his numbers have been out of this world. In 2009 and 2010, his performance saw drastic improvements as he posted ERAs of 2.79 and 2.91, respectively. During those years, he was a great young pitcher taking the majors by storm, but he had yet to take his place as the best pitcher in baseball.
Then, in 2011, Kershaw started to be just that. He was dominant from the start of the year to its finish, and ended up winning 21 games, striking out 248 men and pitching to a 2.28 ERA. For his efforts, Kershaw was awarded the National League Cy Young Award. Over the following few years, he has been just as good.
In 2012, he had a 2.53 ERA with 229 strikeouts, and finished second in Cy Young voting to R.A. Dickey. Kershaw responded by winning his second Cy Young award in 2013. That season was arguably his best to date, as he posted a career low 1.83 ERA in 236 innings pitched.
The pitchers of the day
So far in 2014, Kershaw has been dominant again. Though he missed about a month at the start of the year due to injury, he has still gone 11-2 with 134 strikeouts and a 1.92 ERA. Kershaw has shown himself to be not just the ace of a very strong Dodger pitching staff, but also the best pitcher in baseball.
Over the past several years, Kershaw has had competitors for this title, namely Justin Verlander and Tim Lincecum. However, though each of these pitchers had periods of dominance, both have fallen off in recent years.
Lincecum won the NL Cy Young in 2008 and 2009, but has not posted a full season with an ERA under 4 since 2011. Meanwhile Verlander was amazing in 2011 and 2012, but was mediocre in 2013, and he’s seen some of the worst numbers of his career in 2014.
Kershaw, on the other hand, has consistently been brilliant since 2009. Other pitchers, like Felix Hernandez and Adam Wainwright have been consistently great for a long time, and they probably should be in the top five list of best pitchers in the game. However, their overall numbers aren’t as good as those of Kershaw, who has full command of an array of pitches to get hitters out. (Additionally, Wainwright is six years his elder.)
Anticipating Kershaw’s place in history
Perhaps most importantly, Kershaw is only 26 years old. He may well be this good for a very long time. He has yet to win a championship, but seeing as how the Dodgers seem to have unlimited money and a boatload of talent, it shouldn’t be long before his team starts winning in the playoffs.
Kershaw has proved himself over and over — so much so, in fact, it’s easy to take him for granted. However, it’s important to not lose sight of the fact that he is a once-in-a-generation type of pitcher. He has already been compared to Dodgers great Sandy Koufax. Before he retires, it’s possible that he could be considered an all-time great himself.
Fans of not only the Dodgers, but of baseball in general should cherish his every start, knowing that every time he goes out he has a chance to make something special happen. Kershaw already threw his first no-hitter earlier this year, and there’s no telling what more he could achieve in the next 10 years.
Kershaw may not be a great hitter who plays every day like Derek Jeter or Mike Trout. However, what he is should not be downplayed: the best in the business. Kershaw is someone special; the type of pitcher you don’t see very often; the anchor of a pitching staff in one of the biggest baseball markets in America. That’s why he might not just be the best pitcher in baseball, but deserving as one of the faces of the game.
Joe Setyon, sports editor of The Collegian at Grove City College, contributes to Three for Ten Sports as a baseball writer.