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:
|Tommy John*||White Sox||1970||.202||1.98|
|Gary Peters||White Sox||1969||.259||1.98|
|Billy Pierce||White Sox||1960||.260||1.97|
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:
|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:
@ScottLindholm lol Pedro 99— Neil Weinberg (@NeilWeinberg44) September 6, 2014
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.
Scott Lindholm lives in Davenport, IA. Follow him on Twitter @ScottLindholm.