Clayton Kershaw is without a doubt one of the greatest pitchers in MLB history. Stacking up with greats like Sandy Koufax and Roger Clemens. One giant question is where exactly will he end up in Dodger history? Surely Koufax is number 1, but can an argument be made for Kershaw to take that spot from him? One would need to look at the statistics and see how the two players stack up against each other. There is also the argument of whether Kershaw should be above Fernando Valenzuela, another great Dodger pitcher. Only the statistics will show where Kershaw ranks among some of the Dodger greats and whether he has a right to be compared with them.
Looking at ERA, which is the earned run average, Kershaw has had a lower one than Koufax, having a 1.69 ERA in 2016, compared to Koufax’s lowest of 1.73 in his last season in 1966. Looking at the career ERAs of both players shows Kershaw winning again with a career ERA of 2.48 to Koufax’s 2.76. The two players are closer in their win/loss records, with Koufax having a 65% win/loss record and Kershaw having a 69% win/loss record. One could make the argument of Kershaw having better batters on his team to aid in his higher win percentage, but Kershaw himself plays a big part in the wins and losses. If Kershaw can not pitch well, the team suffers, and if the rest of the team plays badly, there is little Kershaw can do to get a win.
While Koufax only played 12 seasons, Kershaw has played 15, thanks to advances in medical care and assistance provided to MLB players. This will likely be Kershaw’s final season and he will retire, having played his entire career with the Dodgers. Kershaw’s longevity has played a huge part in his stats and success as a pitcher. Kershaw has not missed huge stretches of games throughout his career and has always taken great care of himself physically and mentally. Due to age, however, he has missed quite a few games in the past 2-3 seasons, particularly last postseason. While Koufax did not play as long as Kershaw, he does have very similar stats, however he does have 3 championships to Kershaw’s 1, which puts Koufax above Kershaw in a lot of people’s eyes, particularly sports analysts.
Fernando Valenzuela is another great Dodgers pitcher from Mexico who played with the Dodgers from 1980-1990 before moving to a few other teams. Both Kershaw and Valenzuela have 1 championship, yet that is where the similarities end. Valenzuela has a 53% win/loss record to Kershaw’s 69%, Valenzuela’s career ERA is 3.54 to Kershaw’s 2.48. Valenzuela has more innings pitched than Kershaw, having pitched 2930 innings to Kershaw’s 2484.2. Kershaw is a 3x Cy Young Award winner while Valenzuela only won once. Valenzuela also has the highest recorded ERA for a season between him, Kershaw and Koufax with an ERA of 4.59 in 1990. While this was near the end of his career, it still shows the decline of Valenzuela’s pitching, compared to Kershaw, who has a 1.80 ERA this season.
With these stats taken into consideration, I would say Kershaw should be placed above Valenzuela on the list of great Dodgers pitchers. With the argument between him and Koufax, the decision more or less comes down to championships as the deciding factor. Both pitchers have similar ERAs, win%s and innings pitched. The major difference is the number of championships each pitcher has, Koufax has 3 and Kershaw has 1. While I personally would put Kershaw as the greatest pitcher in Dodgers history, I think it is fair to give the spot to Sandy Koufax, because he has more championships while performing near the same level as Kershaw has in his career.
Given this, I would have Sandy Koufax as number 1, and Kershaw would be right behind at number 2. While this article only compares three pitchers, while a lot are left out, the three compared are arguably the best of them. With this in mind, when compared to Koufax and Valenzuela, Kershaw lands right between them, besting Valenzuela due to superior stats, while trailing Koufax due to having less championships. Kershaw will end his career as one of the best pitchers to play the game and he will go down as one of the greatest pitchers in Dodgers history.