Dodgers manager Dave Roberts announced Sunday that baseball’s preeminent ace, Clayton Kershaw, will make his long-awaited return to Los Angeles’ rotation against the Marlins on Friday. Before landing on the disabled list in late June with a herniated disc in his back, the left-hander was on track for an all-time great season. In addition to posting a 1.79 ERA in 121 pre-injury innings, Kershaw struck out 10.79 batters and walked a microscopic .67 per nine frames, giving him an incredible 16.11 K/BB ratio. The record for a season is a modest-by-comparison 11.63, a figure the Twins’ Phil Hughes put up in 2014.
Kershaw, 28, was clearly the best pitcher in the majors through the end of June and looked poised to ultimately collect his fourth National League Cy Young Award at the conclusion of the season. Now, despite his brilliance this year, the time Kershaw has missed makes racking up any personal hardware look like a long shot. It’s debatable whether that should be the case, however.
If he stays healthy down the stretch, Kershaw will likely close the regular season in the 150-inning range, which would put him far behind fellow NL Cy Young contenders like Max Scherzer, Noah Syndergaard, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Fernandez and Madison Bumgarner, among others. Nevertheless, as FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron (an NL Cy Young voter) detailed Friday, Kershaw has easily outperformed the rest of his league’s elite this season. For instance, Hendricks leads qualifying NL starters in ERA (2.12), yet he has allowed 20 more earned runs than Kershaw in only 38 more innings. Thus, voters will have to weigh whether a truncated season of sheer dominance from Kershaw is superior to a full year of excellence from Hendricks or any of the other aforementioned options.
History suggests that voters tend to place significant value on workhorses, evidenced by the fact that Kershaw (198 1/3 innings in 2014) and former Dodgers closer Eric Gagne (82 1/3 in 2003) are the only two NL pitchers to throw fewer than 200 frames in a Cy Young-winning season since 1990. Still, Kershaw will finish 2016 with videogamelike numbers, and both results- and FIP-based WAR indicate that he has been among the most valuable pitchers in the NL despite a two-plus-month absence. Unfortunately for Kershaw, his extraordinary output over a limited number of innings might not be enough for him to garner serious Cy Young consideration. Do you think it should?