You've probably heard by now, but Clayton Kershaw cemented his position as the greatest active pitcher in baseball last night by twirling an unbelievable no-hitter against the Colorado Rockies. Not only did Kershaw throw a no-hitter (which we now see a few of every season), but he also struck out 15 batters, and didn't walk anyone, only allowing a runner to reach on an error.
It wasn't quite a perfect game, at least statistically, but it was one of the finest pitching performances we're ever seen. Dave Cameron at FanGraphs gives perhaps the clearest picture of just how dominant it was:
Here is the full list of nine inning outings with a Game Score of 102 or better, since 1914.
Kerry Wood: 105 (9 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 20 K)
Clayton Kershaw: 102 (9 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 15 K)
That’s it. That’s the entire list.
It was the third-most strikeouts of any pitcher in a no-hitter, behind Nolan Ryan's 17 and Nolan Ryan's 16.* Of course, Ryan walked batters in his no-hitters. Kershaw did not. That's incredibly impressive -- and difficult.
* - Yes, we know. Nolan Ryan was a boss.
But the strikeouts and walks weren't the only notable thing about this performance. See, with great strikeouts often come great pitch counts. Kershaw, however, dallied with a Maddux (a complete-game victory with under 100 pitches thrown). CK threw only 107 pitches, which is hardly any. We don't have official pitch counts for all no-hitters, but we have pitch count data for all of the recent ones.
In my opinion, this was the Ozymandias of no-hitters.
Ozymandias was the third-to-last episode of Breaking Bad*, which (thanks to it's dominance, excellence, and depth) was basically the Clayton Kershaw of television shows. Truthfully, it's the Clayton Kershaw of television shows only if you're not a Dodgers fan, because it can be pretty harrowing at times. Anyways, it features a compelling performance by a dynamic lead, lots of action, drama, and sometimes things move in directions you don't expect. It was -- at times -- horrifying. (But in a good way, right?)
* - It's been off the air for almost a year now, so I think the "seriously, stop talking about Breaking Bad" statute of limitations is over.
Most critically, it was the best (in my opinion) single event in a series of tremendous events. And while it made you think "what next?", it also makes you reflect on just how great things are, and how we got to this point.
And did we mention yet that Kershaw did this against the best offense* in baseball?
* - The Rockies are really only the best offense in baseball by one measure: wOBA. And yes, I'm aware that wOBA isn't exactly a perfect measure when it comes to measuring team offense. It's better to use wOBA^2 or BaseRuns. In truth, the Rockies have a team wRC+ of 102, which is *only* eighth in the big leagues. The point is that the Rockies are a very good offensive team, and probably an average offensive team even with Gonzalez, Blackmon, Morneau, and Arenado out of the lineup, as they were last night.
Kershaw was, in a word, electric. He's doing incredible things to start a baseball career, and -- this is terrifying -- he's currently having the best season of his career.
So, given last night's astonishing dominance, how about we try to create a measure to come up with the best no-hitters and perfect games? After all, if no-hitters have become something more commonplace, happening a few times each season, why not find a way to identify the best no-hitters -- which aren't always the perfect games.
The best no-hitters are the ones that are chock-full of strikeouts, limited in walks and -- ostensibly -- carry low pitch counts. I'm going to skip the pitch count issue right now, since we don't have that data for all no-hitters, but I can use Baseball-Reference's Play Index to identify the no-hitters with 10 or more strikeouts and two or fewer walks.
There's actually 28 of those no-hitters. More than a few perfect games show up: David Cone, David Wells, Mike Witt and Roy Halladay. After more consideration, I decided to up the strikeout total for this to 12, based on the Jake Arrieta Rule. (Jake Arrieta struck out 11 batters last night, so we have to do just a little better than that when we talk about all-time performances, right?)
If you boost the strikeout totals, you get only 13 no-hitters with 12 or more punchouts and two or fewer walks:
And this is a crazy list. You have some of the best pitchers of all time. Hall of Famers like Ryan (twice), Koufax (twice), Eckersley, Spahn, and Bunning. You have a no-doubt HoFer in Johnson, a pretty-sure HoFer in King Felix, and one of the best and most consistent pitchers of his era in Cain. You have Mike Scott, who had a couple of truly dominant seasons, including his ridiculous 1986.
And then you have Eric Milton. #cantpredictball
It's kind of cool to get a reminder about just how insane Matt Cain's recent no-hitter was -- it was just a hair below Kershaw's in terms of dominance (and King Felix's isn't a slouch).
Clayton Kershaw: Most money, best pitcher
Jeffrey Bellone makes the case that not only is Clayton Kershaw the highest-paid pitcher of all time, but also -- possibly -- the best.
When I was thinking this through, I thought maybe it'd be appropriate to call a no-hitter with this level of dominance a "Kershaw", given how historically great the Dodgers' ace's performance was -- but seeing that Ryan and Koufax have done something similar -- but not equal -- twice gives me pause.
Perhaps it'd be best to co-credit Koufax (and the strikeout, I suppose) on this one and call it a K-no-hitter. Or, given how much better it is than your run-of-the-mill Josh Beckett no-hitter, you could just call it a no-hitter+.
Either way, Kershaw's performance last night was the best of a rare breed. It's possible we'll talk about him to our grandkids the same way our grandfathers talk about Sandy Koufax.
(Dodgers fans are pretty lucky, right?)
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Bryan Grosnick is the Managing Editor of Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @bgrosnick.