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Clayton Kershaw Max Scherzer

MLB on Sling: Kershaw Falls Behind Scherzer for Title of Best Starting Pitcher in Baseball

Since making his debut in 2008 through to the end of last season, Clayton Kershaw has been unquestionably the best starting pitcher in baseball. He’s tops in WAR with 52.7 (8.6 ahead of Zack Greinke), as well as complete games, shutouts, winning percentage (min. 100 starts), ERA, ERA+, FIP, OPS+, and even putouts — it’s been a run of dominance not seen since the heyday of Pedro Martinez. In fact, Kershaw’s numbers for his age 20 through 28 seasons look pretty good matched up with Martinez’s:

 Kershaw 52.7 265 263 126 60 1760 2.37 2.55 28% 7% 159 .276 60
 Martinez 52 278 211 125 56 1576.1 2.68 2.81 29% 7% 168 .277 55

In just nine seasons with the Dodgers, Kershaw established himself as a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and the greatest starting pitcher in the history of the franchise, eclipsing even the legendary Sandy Koufax (yes, really, it’s not particularly close).

The same year that saw Kershaw make his debut, the Arizona Diamondbacks rolled out their own rookie starter, Max Scherzer, who somehow went 0-4 despite striking out 66 batters in 56 innings and posting a 151 ERA+, as the D-backs scored just 16 runs in his 7 starts. Over his first five seasons, he pitched well if not spectacularly, going 52-42 with a 3.88 ERA and 829 K’s over 804 ⅔ innings. But in 2013, at the age of 28, he finally put it all together, and over the next four seasons he went 73-27 with a 137 ERA+ and 1,052 strikeouts in 891 ⅓ innings, while winning a pair of Cy Young Awards (he finished fifth in the other two years, making four All Star teams, threw a no-hitter, a perfect game, tied the record with 20 strikeouts in a 9-inning game. But as good as Scherzer was, he was clearly second only to Kershaw, whose ERA from 2013 through 2016 was more than a run better.

Scherzer has been steadily narrowing the gap between them, however, and appears to have finally surpassed Kershaw. Scherzer’s push to be the #1 began in earnest with a May 26 win over the Padres in which he went 8 ⅔ struck out 13 and surrendered just 1 run on 3 hits. That game kicked off a run of 5 starts in which he pitched 40 innings with a 1.13 ERA, striking out 58 and walking just 7. The following day, stats guru Bill james tweeted “IT’S HAPPENED. Max Scherzer has passed Kershaw to become the #1 starting pitcher in baseball.” He subsequently posted a lengthy piece in which he concocted a method. If any doubt remained, Kershaw’s poor performance Monday against the Mets sealed the deal, as he served up 4 homers on his way to allowing 6 runs over 6 ⅓ innings (but somehow got the win, because, well, the Mets). That start raised Kershaw’s record to 10-2, but his ERA ballooned from 2.23 to 2.61, and moved Scherzer to the top of the heap:

Scherzer 14 99.7 61 29 25 23 134 5.83 8 4 0.84 2.26 2.85 12.1 0.229 12
Kershaw 15 103.3 79 32 30 17 115 6.76 10 2 0.93 2.61 3.46 10.02 0.241 17

Overall Kershaw remains the greatest starter of his generation, has won 3 Cy Young Awards and MVP, and will almost certainly make his seventh straight All Star team this summer, and he could go on an epic run at a moment’s notice, but right now, for one night in 2017, Max Scherzer is the man you want on the bump.

New York Mets (Gsellman 5-4, 5.50) vs Los Angeles Dodgers (McCarthy 5-3, 3.14)
@ 10:10pm ET on ESPN

New York Mets (Montero 0-4, 6.49) vs Los Angeles Dodgers (Hill 3-3, 5.14)
@ 10:10pm ET on ESPN

Milwaukee Brewers (Garza 3-3, 4.42) vs Atlanta Braves (Dickey 5-5, 4.91)
@ 4:10pm ET on FS1

Pittsburgh Pirates (Cole 5-6, 4.28) vs St. Louis Cardinals (Lynn 5-4, 3.33) or
New York Mets (deGrom 6-3, 3.94) vs San Francisco Giants (Cueto 5-7, 4.42) or
Los Angeles Angels (Ramirez 6-5, 4.59) vs Boston Red Sox (Price 5.14)
@ 7:15pm ET on FOX

Pittsburgh Pirates (Kuhl 1-6, 5.61) vs St. Louis Cardinals (Leake 5-6, 3.14)
@ 8pm ET on ESPN

Watch Major League Baseball on FS1 and FOX by subscribing to Sling Blue, and on ESPN by subscribing to Sling Orange

All stats courtesy ESPN and Baseball Reference