We continue our Greatest Dodgers of all time countdown to opening day with just three days left before the Dodgers kick off the 2018 campaign. The greatest pitcher of our generation checks in at number three.
Clayton Kershaw just turned 30 years old, he is still in his prime, and he has already made it to # 3 at the top third of our staff’s all-time top ten list. There are five Hall of Famers BEHIND him on this list! Of course that doesn’t surprise anyone reading this. Sometimes, Kershaw is taken for granted, and if he struggles just a bit, critics point to his recent injuries, or his earlier preseason struggles. The fact is Kershaw has proven, yes, he is human. However, another fact is Kershaw has carried this organization on his back for most of the decade +, after debuting as a young 20 year old in 2008.
Kershaw was drafted in the 1st round, 7th overall, by the Dodgers out of Highland Park HS, near Dallas, TX in 2006. Hard to believe there were six players drafted before him! Take a look:
- Kansas City – Luke Hochevar, RHP (Out of Baseball)
- Colorado – Greg Reynolds, RHP (Out of Baseball)
- Tampa Bay – Evan Longoria, 3B (SF)
- Pittsburgh – Brad Lincoln, LHP (Out of Baseball)
- Seattle – Brandon Morrow, RHP (CHC)
- Detroit – Andrew Miller, LHP (CLE)
- Kershaw…Think 6 teams in particular would like a re-do of this draft?!
Kershaw began his professional career in 2006 with the Gulf Coast Dodgers and as an 18 year old fresh out of high school, struck out 54 batters in 37 innings while walking 5. A sign of things to come! He made a quick pit stop at Single A Great Lakes in 2007, and finished the year at AA Jacksonville. At this point Kershaw was recognized as one of the top prospects in baseball. During spring training 2008 (the last year in Vero Beach), Kershaw was brought over from minor league camp, with no name on his jersey sporting #96, and introduced fans to his curveball. Sean Casey, at the time with the Red Sox, was a victim of a Kershaw curveball on a strikeout, which Vin Scully so eloquently dubbed “Public Enemy Number One.” In May of that season Kershaw earned his first call-up to the Dodgers, and struck out 7 over 6 innings against the Cardinals. Kershaw even made the postseason roster as a 20 year old and pitched out of the bullpen.
In 2009, Kershaw’s first full season in the majors at the ripe age of 21, Kershaw held his own and struck out almost ten batters/inning across 30 starts.
2010 saw maturity in Kershaw and signs of the talent he possessed, as he went 13-10, with a 2.91 ERA, and a WHIP of 1.179. This season would be the last time someone not named Kershaw would make the opening day start and lead the staff. For you trivia buffs, the opening day starter was Vicente Padilla.
In 2011, amidst the turmoil of the McCourt ownership, Kershaw gave Dodger fans something to look forward to. Kershaw won his first of three CY Young Awards, made the all-star squad (and has every year since), went 21-5 with a 2.28 ERA, struck out 248 batters in 233 1/3 innings and posted a miniscule 0.977 WHIP. Oh yeah, he also brought home a Gold Glove that year. All of that in his third full MLB season at the age of 23.
2012, the first year under new ownership Kershaw continued his run of success, and led the league in ERA at 2.53. What is remarkable about this stat though, is this ERA is the second highest of his career, yet he led the league!
In 2013, he won the Cy Young award for a second time with a 16-9 record, 1.83 ERA, and a stellar 0.915 WHIP. Kershaw had one of his many memorable opening day assignments in which he homered against the Giants. Kershaw has been handy with the bat over the years and would be manager Dave Roberts’ first choice off the bench if he ran out of bench players and needed a pinch hitter. This year the Dodgers returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2009, and Kershaw was criticized for a subpar NLCS against the Cardinals.
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Kershaw signed his massive $215 mil contract extension in Jan 2014, avoiding free agency. A key provision in that contract is an opt-out after the 2018 season which of course is upon us. More on that in a bit. The 2014 season saw one of the more successful seasons a pitcher has had in recent memory, as Kershaw pitched to a 21-3 record, sported a 1.77 ERA, and posted a miniscule .857 WHIP. This performance earned Kershaw the 2014 NL Cy Young award AND the 2014 NL MVP award! Did I mention Kershaw pitched his first no-hitter in 2014?! Kershaw’s 2014 season was definitely one for the ages!
Kershaw’s 2015 was the last season he has been injury free. He topped himself again in the strikeout department with 301 Ks batters while only walking 42 in 232 2/3 innings! Kershaw also led the league with a 1.99 FIP to go along with his 2.13 ERA.
Despite injuries, Kershaw flourished when he pitched in 2016 and 2017. In 2016, he was 12-4 with 1.69 ERA, but did not have enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. HIs WHIP was an unbelievable 0.725, while he struck out 172 batters in 149 innings, and only walked 11! Last season, in 27 starts, he went 18-4, with a 2.31 ERA and again, a very impressive 0.949 WHIP.
Kershaw is starting 2018 off right, as he held the opposition to zero runs all spring. 2018 is a pivotal season for Kershaw, the Dodgers, and their fans, as the team makes another World Series run, and tries to hopefully win that last game. Kershaw as we all know, barring some unforeseen circumstance, will opt out of his contract after this season. Unless, of course the Dodgers sign him to a new deal This could very well be in the works.
Kershaw has already made his mark in Dodger history. He is 4th all time in Dodgers history in strikeouts. Second in FIP. Second in Ks per 9 innings. 3rd in ERA. 3rd in WAR. The lists go on and on. NOT only is he a great baseball player, but Clayton Kershaw is an all star human being. He is a leader on the team, an exceptional teammate, and along with his wife, a caring philanthropist.
We can only hope Kershaw stays with the Dodgers beyond this season. Either way I expect him to eventually enter Cooperstown wearing a Dodger hat. He is our third best Dodger of all time, for now. Expect him to move up this list at least a notch by the time his career is over.