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Clayton Kershaw's stunning year

Yes, he's dominant. Here are two more reasons why.

Clayton Kershaw can do this too
Clayton Kershaw can do this too
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I received an email from Dan Bernstein, co-host of the Boers and Bernstein Show on 670 The Score in Chicago in which he forwarded a question from listener Kevin Ratay:

Possibly a question for Scott from Davenport, but Clayton Kershaw's continued dominance last night led me consider the following: when is the last time a starting pitcher finished a full season, with a higher batting average than Earned Run Average? Kershaw's batting average is only .173, but his ERA is currently a disgusting 1.70 I can't imagine it happens that often.

Fun question, so I checked going back to 1960:

Pitcher Team Year BA ERA
Clayton Kershaw Dodgers 2014 .225 1.83
Roger Clemens Astros 2005 .207 1.87
Greg Maddux Braves 2002 .240 1.63
Dwight Gooden Mets 1993 .264 1.53
Steve Carlton Phillies 1984 .291 1.97
Phil Niekro Braves 1983 .225 1.87
Tom Seaver Mets 1983 .196 1.76
Nolan Ryan Astros 1981 .216 1.69
Bob Gibson Cardinals 1974 .303 1.12
Dave McNally Orioles 1972 .195 1.95
Sam McDowell Indians 1971 .200 1.81
Tommy John* White Sox 1970 .202 1.98
Gary Peters White Sox 1969 .259 1.98
Luis Tiant Indians 1969 .254 1.60
Billy Pierce White Sox 1960 .260 1.97

* -- father-in-law of Patrick Mannelly, former Bears long snapper and new co-host of the Spiegel and Mannelly Show on The Score

A pitcher needed to make at least 20 starts and have 50 at-bats and an ERA of 2.00 or less. Going back to 1901 added another 85 players to the list, back to the days when pitchers were men who could handle the bat and not a bunch of quinoa-eating, chablis-sipping bearded dandies. But I digress.

Kershaw is the hands-down favorite to with the NL Cy Young and will get significant MVP votes, but that doesn't even begin to explain the tremendous season he's having. Start with the obvious, a record of 17-3 that could be positively Scherzer-like by the end of the year, the aforementioned low ERA and then the other numbers that are lights out -- 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings as opposed to 1.33 walks, less than half a home run per nine innings (greatly aided by pitching half his games at Chavez Ravine) and racking up these numbers in close to thirty fewer innings pitched than most other leading pitchers. And he hits, too.

Kershaw's Fielding Independent Pitching minus (FIP-) of 52 means his FIP is 48 percent better than the league average, a stunning achievement. It's also 23 percent better than the #2 in the NL, Jake Arrieta of the Cubs. It's one thing to lead the league in a given category, quite another to do it in such a dominating manner. This chart shows pitchers with at least a twenty percent difference in FIP- between the best and second-best pitcher in the league in the past thirty years:

Year Pitcher Team FIP- #2 Pitcher Team FIP- Diff
2014 Clayton Kershaw Dodgers 52 Jake Arrieta Cubs 64 23.1%
2004 Randy Johnson Diamondbacks 48 Ben Sheets Brewers 59 22.9%
2003 Pedro Martinez Red Sox 49 Esteban Loaiza White Sox 67 36.7%
2002 Pedro Martinez Red Sox 51 Roy Halladay Blue Jays 66 29.4%
2001 Randy Johnson Diamondbacks 46 Roy Oswalt Astros 62 34.8%
2000 Pedro Martinez Red Sox 46 David Wells Blue Jays 72 56.5%
2000 Randy Johnson Diamondbacks 52 Greg Maddux Braves 69 32.7%
1999 Pedro Martinez Red Sox 30 Bret Saberhagen Red Sox 69 130.0%
1998 Roger Clemens Blue Jays 58 Pedro Martinez Red Sox 73 25.9%
1997 Roger Clemens Blue Jays 50 Randy Johnson Mariners 62 24.0%
1995 Randy Johnson Mariners 45 Kevin Appier Royals 73 62.2%
1995 Greg Maddux Braves 53 Hideo Nomo Dodgers 73 37.7%
1994 Greg Maddux Braves 55 Bret Saberhagen Mets 66 20.0%
1990 Roger Clemens Red Sox 53 Erik Hanson Mariners 68 28.3%
1988 Roger Clemens Red Sox 55 Greg Swindell Indians 71 29.1%
1987 Nolan Ryan Astros 62 Dwight Gooden Mets 76 22.6%
1986 Mike Scott Astros 60 Bob Welch Dodgers 76 26.7%
1984 Dwight Gooden Mets 49 Scott Sanderson Cubs 71 44.9%

There should be one other pitcher who got your attention -- when I tweeted out an abbreviated list of these pitchers it elicited this response from one of my followers:

Lol indeed -- the fact this "Neil" (if that's his real name) follows me is all you need to know to realize this person must be extremely intelligent. At the height of the Enhanced Offense Era Pedro Martinez had a FIP- of 30, meaning he was seventy percent better than the league average. Se-ven-ty per-cent. 1999 was the second in Martinez' six-year run of dominance that rivals any pitching stretch in recent history, and there will be Hall of Fame voters who won't put a check mark next to his name this fall. Oh, they'll have plenty of reasons, just not good ones.

Kershaw's contract is for $215 million through 2020, and if he maintains his production it will be considered a bargain. He was on the DL earlier this year, but seems to have eluded the Tommy John surgery right of passage that has become a pandemic. There are no guarantees going forward, but one of the pluses of FIP is that it has predictive value -- absent drastic changes, strikeout pitchers stay strikeout pitchers, and that's one less runner on the base paths. Kershaw's strikeout rates have increased and walks decreased as his career has progressed, and at some point he'll reach his level of peak production -- there's a very good chance that peak will be vastly superior to anyone else.

Data from Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs

Scott Lindholm lives in Davenport, IA. Follow him on Twitter @ScottLindholm.