If I had to win one game, and you asked me today, whose hand am I putting the ball in, I’m not saying Jake Arrieta — I’m saying Clayton Kershaw.
With all the hype surrounding the Cubs, the two no-hitters for Arrieta, and the historical run that he’s on, it’s easy to forget or even dismiss that Kershaw is still the big dog in the National League’s yard. Remember that game score statistic I was talking about yesterday when we were ranking MLB’s 20-strikeout games? If you look at average game score for the 2015 season, Kershaw was actually the best pitcher in the National League last year. Arrieta won the Cy Young award, and I don’t think anyone would complain over whether or not he was worthy. He was. But Kershaw was technically the better pitcher in 2015.
The point of this is not to undermine what Arrieta has done since last year. That’s not the point of this at all. But I almost feel like baseball fans have gotten so excited about Arrieta that we’ve almost forgotten about how good Kershaw has been and still is. After striking out 13 Mets last night, Kershaw has now punched out at least 10 batters in five consecutive starts. Arrieta hasn’t even struck out ten batters in a game once this year. And I’m not saying that having more strikeouts makes you the better pitcher, because that’s not true. Arrieta’s ERA (1.13) is the best in the majors, but Kershaw isn’t too far behind with the second best ERA in the National League (1.74).
Over his last five starts, Kershaw has thrown 40 innings with an ERA of 1.80 and 57 strikeouts. Over Arrieta’s last five starts, he’s thrown 34 innings with an ERA of 0.79 and 32 strikeouts. Based on how both of these guys are going in their last five starts, there’s really no wrong answer as to who you’d want to take the ball for you in a must-win game. But for the 2016 season, Kershaw leads all qualified starting pitchers in the majors in game score (73.4), and the gap between Kershaw and Arrieta, who’s the runner-up in the MLB, is pretty significant with Arrieta at 69.1. And that’s with a no-hitter for Arrieta mixed in.
Again, not to take anything away from how good Arrieta is and has been, but let’s also not forget that this is still Kershaw’s yard.