Is Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw the second best pitcher in baseball?

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Sep 29, 2015; San Francisco, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) celebrates with teammates after the win against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 29, 2015; San Francisco, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) celebrates with teammates after the win against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /
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In light of Jake Arrieta‘s recent no-hitter, I am going to attempt to settle the debate that he is better than Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw.

Last Thursday night we saw Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta throw his second no-hitter in as many as 11 regular-season starts. Arrieta’s dominance last season seems to have carried over to this season, as Arrieta is 4-0 with a 0.87 ERA. Aside from winning the 2015 NL Cy Young Award, Arrieta is currently on a quality start streak of 24 games. In those games, he owns a 20-1 record to go along with a 0.86 ERA. Yes, Arrieta is on an incredible streak, but is he ready to be crowned the best in baseball?

Over the past five years, it is fair to say that Clayton Kershaw has been the best pitcher in baseball. Since 2011, Kershaw has racked up five All-Star appearances, three Cy Young awards, and one MVP award. In those five seasons, Kershaw racked up an 88-33 record with a 2.11 ERA along with a 0.93 WHIP.

In comparison to Sandy Koufax, Kershaw stacks up pretty well. In his best five year period, Koufax was 111-34 with 1.95 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP. Koufax is widely considered one of the best pitchers in major league history, so seeing Kershaw stack up toe-to-toe with the fellow Dodger great is nothing to look past.

Now the reason I compare Koufax to Kershaw in this article is simple; I am trying to stress just how great Kershaw has been. If we take the track-record approach, Kershaw wipes the floor with Arrieta. For his career, Arrieta sits at a career record of 60-38, with a 3.59 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP. Kershaw counters that with a career record of 116-56, with a 2.41 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP. Based on these stats; it is pretty obvious whom the better pitcher just based on consistency and history.

Along with their career stats is the comparison of age. Kershaw is just 28 years old, compared to Arrieta’s age of 30. Arrieta is beginning his stretch of dominance at 30, but who is to stay that Kershaw cannot kick it into a higher gear in his next two seasons? Kershaw has maintained dominance over his entire career, so him continuing this when Arrieta slows down is possible.

Now if that argument is not good enough for you, let us take a closer look at the current state of these guys. Starting at the beginning of 2015 to now, Arrieta has some better stats to the naked eye. This is mainly due to Arrieta’s breakout season, but we will give credit where credit is due. Arrieta has a record of 26-6 with a 1.66 ERA while Kershaw is 18-7 with a 2.07 ERA.

Those numbers above only show the half of it, with Kershaw having 69 more strikeouts in about 2 2/3 more innings. Along with the incredible strikeout rate, Kershaw has a 1.54 BB/9 compared to Arrieta’s 1.86. Even through Arrieta’s dominance right now, Kershaw produces better strikeout numbers while allowing fewer walks.

Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is an excellent tool for measuring the true value of a pitcher. I know that many people do not agree with the advanced statistics used in sports today, but I believe that this is one of the best ones. FIP measures what the pitcher personally controls. FIP calculates strikeouts, walks, hit batters, and home runs allowed. This eliminates infield hits, bad plays by a defender, and anything else that a pitcher cannot control. Based on this statistic, let us take a look at Kershaw and Arrieta’s.

The league average for FIP in 2015 was about a 3.96. Arrieta has an excellent FIP of a 2.41 since 2015, but Kershaw’s is even better. In the same span, Kershaw owns an FIP of 2.02. This is yet another positive statistic in showing Kershaw’s dominance over Arrieta. In what he can personally control, Kershaw is better than Arrieta.

So since the beginning for 2015, Arrieta has a better record, ERA, and a slightly better WHIP. Kershaw gets to claim his victory in strikeouts, walks, and FIP. Now, it is not outlandish to say that Arrieta has been better than Kershaw since the start of 2015. However, the most important part of that statement is “since the start of 2015.” We have to keep in mind that Arrieta had the season of his career, making it not out of the realm of possibility to see him take a step back this year.

Clayton Kershaw has dominated Jake Arrieta in every single statistic up until 2015. After Arrieta’s record-breaking season in 2015 and hot start to this season, the consensus is growing to say that he is currently a better pitcher than Kershaw. I will take the three-time Cy Young winner who has more success personally getting batters out himself. Clayton Kershaw is still the best pitcher in baseball, and until he starts to struggle I will not be convinced otherwise.

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