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?
By Glen Sparks
Sadly, the 2015 baseball season is nearing the halfway point. Three more months and the playoffs begin. Following the World Series, we must be content to do, as the great Rogers Hornsby said he did every offseason, stare out the window and wait for spring.
We can, however, take some time now to analyze the 2015 Dazzy Vance Award competition. You’ll recall last year that I instituted this award amid much pomp and circumstance. It is named in honor of Vance, of course, the late, great right-hander for the Brooklyn Robins (forerunner of the Dodgers).
Vance, a late-bloomer, dominated several pitching categories in the 1920s, including K/BB ratio (N.L. leader eight times), K/9 ratio (eight times) strikeouts (seven times), FIP (seven times) and H/9 ratio (four times). He also led the N.L. in ERA three times, ERA+ three times and wins twice. In 1926, the Nebraska native went 28-6 with a 2.16 ERA and won the league MVP.
I set up just a few guidelines for this award. The winner must be a starting pitcher, and he must be a National Leaguer. (Vance pitched 2,936.1 innings in the N.L. during his 16-year career. He tossed just 30.1 innings in the A.L. He was a Senior Circuit guy.)
Also, the winner should be someone with Dazzy Vance-type stats. He should be a guy who strikes out a lot of hitters, but who doesn’t walk many. Soft-tossers and wild throwers need not apply.
Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers won the award the last year. He was the Dazzy-est. The left-hander (The winner can be a lefty or a right-hander) led the N.L. win wins (21), ERA (1.73), ERA+ (201), FIP (1.81), WHIP (0.857), K/9 (10.8) and K/BB (7.71). This choice was easy.
How ‘bout this year? The top candidates include (in no particular order) Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals, Gerrit Cole of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Matt Harvey of the New York Mets, Michael Wacha of the St. Louis Cardinals, Shelby Miller of the Atlanta Braves, Cole Hamels of the Philadelphia Phillies, A.J. Burnett of the Pirates (Suddenly, he isn’t walking batters.), Zack Greinke of the Dodgers, and Kershaw, the incumbent.
I won’t go over everyone’s qualifications. You can go to baseball-reference.com to look up all the numbers. I will say that Scherzer looks to be the frontrunner. He leads the N.L. in innings pitched (110.1), FIP (2.01), WHIP (0.789), H/9 (6.0) and K/9 (9.29). He is second to Clayton Kershaw in strikeouts (130), second to Zack Greinke in ERA (1.79), second to Bartolo Colon (?!) in BB/9 (1.142).
Recently, Scherzer put up Dazzy-like back-to-back performances. He tossed a one-hitter followed by a no-hitter, just the fourth pitcher to throw back-to-back shutouts while allowing one hit or less. Vance did it in 1925.
By Glen Sparks
Rattling off a list of Clayton Kershaw’s 2014 highights takes some time. The Dodger left-hander is, not surprisingly, the winner of the first-ever Dazzy Vance Award, sponsored by the Dazzy Vance Chronicles.
The Award 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, strikeout/walk ratio eight times, FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) seven times and WHIP three times. The right-hander also topped the N.L. in ERA three times and wins twice.
Kershaw, pitching about 90 years after Vance, is every bit as dominating. The Dallas native led the league in wins (21) this season and posted the lowest ERA (1.77) since Greg Maddux’ 1.63 in 1995. He also finished first in WAR for pitchers (7.5), WHIP (0.857), FIP (1.81), ERA+ (197), strikeout/nine innings (10.8) and strikeout/walk ratio (7.71).
Amazingly, Kershaw ended up third in the National League in strikeouts (239). “Amazingly” because he missed six starts due to an upper-back issue and still fanned almost as many as league co-leaders Johnny Cueto and Steven Strasburg (242).
Kershaw may never pitch a better game than the one June 18 against the Colorado Rockies. He had every fastball, curveball and slider go his way that night at Dodger Stadium. He struck out 15 and didn’t walk a batter. Only a Hanley Ramirez error on a tough grounder kept Kershaw from recording the 22nd perfect game in modern baseball history (since 1900). He followed up that game by tossing eight shutout innings against the Kansas City Royals (six hits, one walk, eight strikeouts).
Only with a pitcher like Kershaw could Manager Don Mattingly say afterward: “All night (against the Royals), he felt like he was fighting it.”
This should be a busy awards season for Kershaw. He already has been named the 2014 Fangraphs Player of the Year as well as the Baseball America Player of the Year. Unless we see an incredible upset, he will soon add a third Cy Young to his collection and, quite possibly, a Most Valuable Player award
By Glen Sparks
Congratulations to Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, the first pitcher to lead the majors in ERA four straight seasons. Kershaw finished the 2014 campaign with a 1.77 ERA, the lowest in the National League since Greg Maddux’s 1.63 mark for the 1995 Atlanta Braves. Cincinnati Reds ace Johnny Cueto posted the next lowest ERA in the N.L. at 2.25. Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners finished with the American League’s lowest ERA, 2.14 ERA.
Congratulations also to Jonathan Lucroy. The Milwaukee Brewers catcher set a single-season record for doubles by a catcher with 46, one more than Ivan Rodriguez hit for the 1996 Texas Rangers. Lucroy actually hit 53 doubles total, but he hit seven while in the line-up as a first baseman. His final two-base hit tied the Brewers’ franchise mark established by Lyle Overbay in 2004.
Check out some great end-of-season stats compiled by baseball historian John Thorn and his colleagues. Among other things, you’ll find out how many times a pitcher threw the ball at least 100 mph. (One guy did it a whole lot more than any of the other guys.)
By Glen Sparks
Clayton Kershaw, ace of the Los Angeles Dodgers, leads the National League in the following categories:
Winning Percentage (.864)
WAR (8.0, Baseball-Reference.com)
WAR for Pitchers (7.6, Baseball-Reference.com)
Hits/9 innings (6.1)
K/9 innings (10.6)
K percentage (31.6)