By Glen Sparks
Clayton Kershaw began the 2015 season in most un-Kershaw-like fashion. His record on May 10, six weeks into the campaign, stood at 1-2. His ERA had risen to 4.26 following another mediocre outing. What was wrong, fans and media asked, with the ace of the Los Angeles Dodgers?
Nothing, as it turns out.
By the end of the season, Kershaw’s record was 16-7. His ERA had nosedived to 2.13 (third in the National League). In 232.2 innings (tops in the league), he struck out 301 batters, the first pitcher to eclipse the 300-strikeout mark since Curt Schilling fanned 316 for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2002.
Kershaw also led the league in starts (33), FIP (1.99) and K/9 (11.6). He tied for the lead in complete games (four) and shutouts (three) and finished second in K/BB (7.167). Kershaw ended up third in H/9 (6.305), WHIP (0.881) and WAR for pitchers (7.5).
The 27-year-old left-hander from Dallas, Texas, can celebrate tonight. He is the Dazzy Vance Award winner for the second straight season. (No trophy or monetary reward goes with this prize. It is simply a matter of pride.)
You’ll recall that I created the award last year. It goes to the National League pitcher who in this blogger’s opinion put up the most Dazzy-like numbers during the season. Vance, who played in Brooklyn for most of his great career, made his Hall of Fame reputation as a strikeout pitcher with excellent control.
He led the league in strikeouts seven times, K/BB ratio eight times, FIP seven times and WHIP three times. The right-hander also topped the N.L. in ERA three times and wins twice.
Now, Kershaw did not win the Cy Young award this season, as he did last year, along with the N.L. MVP. He finished third in that race, behind Jake Arrieta of the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles teammate Zack Greinke. (Vance didn’t win a Cy Young, either. Baseball did not start giving out the award until 1956. Dazzy retired during the 1935 season. He did win the N.L. MVP in 1924.)
Again, the key to being the Dazzy-est pitcher is not necessarily to win the Cy Young. The key is to pitch in a way that best reflects the prime years of Dazzy Vance. Arrieta did put up some Dazzy-like numbers. He led the N.L. in wins (22), H/9 (5.9) and HR/9 (0.4). The 29-year-old right-hander actually tied Kershaw for the lead in complete games and shutouts, along with a handful of other hurlers. He struck out 236 hitters (third in the league) and was ninth in K/9 (9.275).
Greinke, meanwhile, ended up first in ERA (1.66), ERA+ (225) and WHIP (0.884). He completed the season with a 19-3 mark and league-leading .864 winning percentage. However, he did not finish in the top 10 in either strikeouts (200) or K/9 ratio, two important stats in any Dazzy Vance award competition.
This one was close. Really, Max Scherzer probably offered the most competition for Kershaw. Scherzer, the big right-hander for the Washington Nationals, finished second in the league in strikeouts (276) and K/9 ratio (10.863), behind Kershaw. He also took second in BB/9 (1.338), behind the New York Mets’ Bartolo Colon (1.110) and ahead of Kershaw (1.625), who was fifth.
Scherzer, though, ended up behind Kershaw in most other important Dazzy Vance categories, such as ERA (2.79, eighth in the N.L.), ERA+ (144, sixth) and WAR for pitcher (7.1, fourth).
So, congratulations to Clayton Kershaw. Dodger fans hope he can be a three-time winner in 2016. … How many more days until pitchers and catchers report?