The resume for Clayton Kershaw is by far the most impressive of any pitcher in MLB today. He is a three-time Cy Young award winner, 2014's Most Valuable Player, and a five-time All-Star. However, there is one accolade missing from his resume: the honor of starting an All-Star Game. This was originally supposed to be an article focusing on how Clayton Kershaw should be the starter for the National League in 2016, but his recent back injury changed that scenario. This almost certainly would have been Kershaw's first chance to start, and deservedly so—he's blowing away every other pitcher in the NL this season—but instead, he'll be watching from the sidelines. For each of the five previous seasons, he has made the National League All-Star team, but never started the game, despite being the best pitcher in baseball over that period. How could this happen? Let's examine if Kershaw ever deserved the nod over the five other NL starting pitchers.
2011: Clayton Kershaw vs. Roy Halladay
Kershaw: 9-4, 3.03 ERA, 2.52 FIP, 147 SO, 35 BB
Halladay: 11-3, 2.45 ERA, 2.22 FIP, 139 SO, 17 BB
The 2011 All-Star game was played in Arizona and saw the NL win 5-1. I think a lot of the decision made here was based on where each player's team was in the division at the time of the All-Star game, or at least, it didn't hurt Halladay that the Phillies were 57–34, 3.5 in front of the Braves in the NL East. The Dodgers, on the other hand, were 41-51, 11 games behind the Giants for first place and out of the playoff race.
Kershaw had a respectable first half, but the second half is where he took off, going 12-1 and lowering his ERA to 2.22 down the stretch. Halladay was still at the top of his game at this time in 2011, and taking wins and losses out of the equation, Halladay beat Kershaw in FIP and had half the amount of walks Kershaw had at the All-Star break, with only eight fewer strikeouts. Of all the five years Kershaw was an All-Star and did not start, I feel like this was most obvious case where Kershaw did not deserve the start.
2012: Clayton Kershaw vs. Matt Cain
Kershaw: 6-5, 2.91 ERA, 3.15 FIP, 119 SO, 32 BB
Cain: 9-3, 2.62 ERA, 3.15 FIP, 118 SO, 24 BB
The 2012 All-Star game was played in Kansas City and saw the NL win 8-0. Once again, taking wins and losses out of the equation, we have a much tougher decision between Kershaw and Cain. Even the opponent's batting average against is close, .214 for Kershaw and .217 for Cain. There's not much daylight between the two pitchers, and so neither would have been a bad choice. As a result, it's tough to say Kershaw deserved to start this game.
2013: Clayton Kershaw vs. Matt Harvey
Kershaw: 8-6, 1.98 ERA, 2.50 FIP, 139 SO, 35 BB
Harvey: 7-2, 2.35 ERA, 2.35 FIP, 147 SO, 28 BB
The 2013 All-Star game was played in New York at Citi Field and saw the AL win 3-0. There was no way any pitcher other than Matt Harvey was taking the mound for the National League in this All-Star Game. This was the beginning of the rise of the Dark Knight and the momentum Harvey built up to the game was far too much for Bruce Bochy to overlook when deciding on a starter, especially on one having as much success as Harvey with the All-Star game in his team's ballpark.
Until his Tommy John surgery in 2013, was there a bigger story in baseball than Matt Harvey, especially in the first half? Taking emotion away from the decision/analysis, which is what we try to do here at Beyond the Box Score, Harvey still has better numbers than Kershaw, with the exception of Kershaw's gaudy, sub-2.00 ERA. If the Harvey phenomenon had not taken baseball and in particular New York by storm, then this may have been the first All-Star start for Kershaw, but in the end the right decision was made.
2014: Clayton Kershaw vs. Adam Wainwright
Kershaw: 11-2, 1.78 ERA, 1.60 FIP, 126 SO, 13 BB
Wainwright: 12-4, 1.83 ERA, 2.52 FIP, 115 SO, 27 BB
The 2014 All-Star game was played in Minnesota and saw the AL win 5-3. This is the first year where we can say, plain and simple, Clayton Kershaw should have started this game for the NL. The earned run averages are close (though even there Kershaw is a bit better), but there is a great discrepancy when it comes to FIP, and the strikeouts and walks that drive it. The discrepancy between Wainwright's ERA and FIP shows he may have had a bit of luck in the first half of 2014, with the former nearly a full run below the latter, while Kershaw's ERA and FIP were about equal.
Kershaw had half (!) the walks that Wainwright did, while having ten more strikeouts. In a previous year, I suggested team success may have had an impact on the All-Star starters, but that wasn't the explanation in 2014. The Cardinals were 52-44 at the break and the Dodgers were 54-43. Of all the snubs Kershaw has received over the past five seasons, this was the most egregious. Kershaw clearly deserved to start the 2014 All-Star game.
2015: Clayton Kershaw vs. Zack Greinke
Kershaw: 6-6, 2.85 ERA, 2.45 FIP, 160 SO, 27 BB
Greinke: 8-2, 1.39 ERA, 2.71 FIP, 106 SO, 20 BB
The 2015 All-Star game was played in Cincinnati and saw the AL win 6-3. This comparison was between Dodger teammates. The stats differ, but the overall picture is similar: Greinke had the edge in ERA and walks, while Kershaw lead in FIP and dominated in strikeouts. There was another factor at the time of the All-Star Game that gave Greinke the edge over Kershaw, however: his scoreless innings streak, which was at 35 consecutive innings at the time of the break. Kershaw was just beginning a scoreless streak of his own, but was still far shy of the 35 of Greinke. If you think only the best pitcher should start, the case for Kershaw to have started in 2015 is clear, but for entertainment and excitement purposes, a starter with a scoreless innings streak and a dominant start to the season like Greinke is a deserving pick.
Overall, there is only one definitive example where Clayton Kershaw deserved to start for the National League, over Wainwright in 2014. In the other seasons, Kershaw may have had a solid first half, but it was the his sustained dominance through the second half that lead to his Cy Young and MVP awards. There has always been a knock on Kershaw about his supposed lack of "clutchiness," but from 2011-2015 Kershaw is 48-10 in the second half, with a strikeout rate of 28.7 percent and a walk rate of 5.1 percent. Let that sink in for a minute. A player who has been knocked for "not coming through in the clutch" has won 48 of 58 decisions down the stretch, striking out dozens of batters and walking barely any, all while Los Angeles has played in competitive games. However, Kershaw and "clutchiness" is another article topic for another day.
It is amazing that the best pitcher in the game – and maybe of his generation – has not started an All-Star Game, but I have to imagine that will end soon. It appeared that 2016 would be the year, but as I stated earlier, a back injury ruined any chance of even a debate on the matter. We will see how Kershaw builds on his 11-2, 1.79 ERA, 1.69 FIP, 145 strikeout, and nine walk start to 2016, but for now we can only hope 2017 will be the year the best pitcher in baseball has the honor to start for the National League in Miami.