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Where does Clayton Kershaw rank among MLB's greatest pitchers?

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August 22nd, 2019

Clayton Kershaw has long been considered one of the greatest pitchers of his generation, but on Tuesday night he took an important step toward becoming one of the greatest pitchers of all time by picking up his 166th win.

The achievement puts the 31-year-old southpaw one win ahead of Sandy Koufax for most victories by a Dodgers left-hander. It's an important achievement on a number of levels. Not only are the Dodgers one of the oldest and most prestigious franchises in the major leagues, but Koufax is considered one of the greatest hurlers ever.
The "Left Arm of God" was a seven-time all-star who led the Dodgers to three World Series championships and won three Cy Young awards and two World Series MVPs. Koufax only played for 12 seasons, but he was so dominant over his extended prime that he received 86.9% of the vote during his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame. The fact that Kershaw has surpassed a player of his stature is a very big deal.

Let's dip into Kershaw's metrics to see where he ranks among baseball's elite and where he could rank once he finally hangs up his cleats.

Wins

Kershaw ranks 204th on baseball's all-time wins list, but his career is far from done. The Dallas native still has two years remaining on his present contract and has given zero indication that he intends to retire soon. Assuming Kershaw pitches for another five seasons, he'll generate an additional 69 victories at his rate of 13.8 wins per year. That would bump him up to 235 wins, which would put him in 64th place, ahead of stalwarts like Pedro Martinez and Bob Lemon.


235 wins might seem slightly underwhelming, but it's worth noting that Kershaw has the third best win-loss percentage in MLB history, behind only Al Spalding and Spud Chandler, two players who stopped pitching before Alaska became a state. Let's dig a little deeper.

WHIP

This is where Kershaw's GOAT status really starts to become compelling. His 1.0057 career WHIP is the fourth best mark in MLB history, behind only Addie Joss, Ed Walsh and Mariano Rivera. It's possible that Kershaw could even move up the list, given the fact that he led the National League in WHIP for four consecutive seasons and posted a sub 1.0 WHIP as recently as 2017.

Hits per nine innings

In the 150-year history of Major League Baseball, only one player was surrendered fewer hits per nine innings pitched than Kershaw. That man is Nolan Ryan, and his lead over Kershaw is razor thin. Kershaw has given up four hits or fewer eight times this season and could surpass Ryan in the very near future.

Awards

Kershaw is also in very good company when it comes to the hardware he's earned. He's one of two players to win the MLB ERA title four consecutive times, one of 10 pitchers to win the NL MVP award, one of 10 players to win three or more Cy Young awards and one of 16 players to win the NL pitching Triple Crown (wins, strikeouts and ERA).

His days of being one of the league's top pitchers will eventually come to an end, but it's feasible he could earn two to three more All-Star selections and one more ERA title before he walks off into the sunset.

WAR

WAR has taken on increasing importance over the past decade, so any discussion about the greatest pitcher of all-time has to factor in this crucial metric. Kershaw is only ranked 46th in career WAR for pitchers at 65. You can expect this number to improve slightly, but it will likely never break into the top 20.

Is Kershaw the GOAT?

Not just yet, but he's well on his way to achieving top-five status if he remains healthy and productive for the next five years. The one black mark on Kershaw's otherwise glowing résumé is his lack of titles, but that could be remedied this season if the NL West-leading Dodgers break through in October. Enjoy Kershaw while you can, because greatness like this doesn't come along very often.




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