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Left Arm of Hades

He stands at 6’3″. He weighs about 225 pounds. If you were to look at him from a distance, you’d just expect him to be a surfer. His long, dirty blonde hair flows in the breeze. There’s something majestic in the way he looks compared to how he performs. You’d think he’s something of an everyman. And then you see him in his element, 60-feet 6-inches away from home plate. You see the way his body uncoils as he hurls a rawhide covered ball towards his prey. The awaiting opponent thinks they can touch it, but they often can’t. They frequently head back to the dugout with a look of bewilderment or amazement on their face, and in some cases it’s both. For when he takes the mound, Clayton Kershaw is not just some ordinary pitcher. He’s the devil come down to earth. He’s here to wage war on all you hold dear, and he’s not going to stop until he has vanquished you.

Consider where he sits now. As of this minute, Clayton Kershaw has won three Cy Young Awards in his first eight years in Major League Baseball. He’s also won a Most Valuable Player Award, which came in 2014. Not only that, he’s finished in the top three in the Cy Young voting another two times. For the last five seasons, he’s finished first, second, or third for baseball’s most prestigious pitching award. To say that he’s the best pitcher in baseball would likely undermine just how dominant and transcendent he’s been thus far. Kershaw owns a 2.43 career Earned Run Average (ERA) in 1611 innings. During the last five seasons, he has a 2.11 ERA. Over the last three seasons, it’s 1.92. These aren’t just good numbers or great numbers, these are downright historic numbers for anyone in pretty much any era. But he makes it look so damn easy.

He has 1746 strikeouts compared to just 466 walks. In fact, he’s led the National League in strikeouts three times in his career, and he recorded an MLB-high 301 strikeouts last season, which meant he was the first pitcher in baseball to log 300+ strikeouts in a single season since Randy Johnson (334) and Curt Schilling (316) in 2002. Essentially, he did something that hadn’t been done in nearly 15 years. There’s something special about a pitcher like this. It’s not his longevity, or his brief dominance, or anything like that. It’s the way he pitches. The sheer nature of the way he flummoxes those who oppose him. You’re in his batter’s box and he’s going to take it back from you as swiftly as possible.

Most of his detractors will point to his lack of postseason success. Kershaw’s never pitched in the World Series, and he’s only started three National League Championship Series games during his career. Two of them ended as abject disasters: 5 earned runs in 4.2 innings in Game 1 of the 2009 NLCS against the Philadelphia Phillies, and 7 earned runs in 4.0 innings in Game 6 of the 2013 NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals. He’s not incapable of performing in the playoffs, though. In fact, he’s had four starts of 6-plus innings and 2 runs or less allowed. He’s had three of 6-plus innings and 1 run or less allowed. Basically, only the bad is remembered because so much pressure is put on the pitchers who take the mound to actually win the game.


Kershaw might be the best player in the sport to never have played in the World Series yet. Sure, the game itself has players like Mike Trout, who is widely considered the best overall player, and Bryce Harper, but Kershaw could be ranked as the best to have never made it. Especially when you factor in his track record. It’s not as if he’s some above-average starting pitcher. Oh no. He’s the guy. When you think pitching, you think Kershaw. You don’t think Madison Bumgarner or Max Scherzer or Zack Greinke or Jake Arrieta. No. Your mind immediately gravitates towards that left-hander in Southern California who batters, coaching staffs, and teams have tried to get the better of for going on nine seasons now. And they’ve all failed time and time again.

As Kershaw enters his Age 28 season, it’s best to keep in mind that his absolute peak might be on its way, and that’s a thought that should scare the living daylights out of everyone. The native of Dallas, Texas, and friend of Detroit Lions starting quarterback Matthew Stafford, isn’t just an ordinary pitcher. He features three “plus-pitches” when any pitcher in the game would love to have even just one. His fastball gets on you faster than you would think, his slider does things no slider should ever do, and his curveball is one of the most jaw-dropping pitches in baseball. There’s something to be said about a guy who not only has three really good pitches, but three pitches that he can throw for strikes at any time in any count. It’s ungodly.

But that’s what makes Kershaw special. According to Brooks Baseball, Kershaw has thrown 671 curveballs to left-handed batters in his career. Only one has been deposited for a home run. Unfortunately for him, it was against Matt Adams of the St. Louis Cardinals during Game 4 of the 2014 National League Division Series. The Dodgers were up 2-0 at the time, and there were runners on first and second with no one out. Adams, a player who had struggled against lefties his entire career, connected on a 3-run home run on an 0-1 count to give the Cardinals the lead, and it eventually propelled them to the NLCS. It was the perfect pitch thrown at the perfect time to the perfect batter, but it ended in an imperfect way. Welcome to sports, where even gods can be made to look mortal at the weirdest times.


When FanGraphs recently published an article about The Worst Clayton Kershaw Pitches of 2015, you almost had to laugh. And that was the point of the article. When you can fit all of Kershaw’s worst pitches in one article, and there were only six of them, it shows you the kind of transcendent superstar he has become. Despite that one blip on his curveball radar, the man still racked up a 13.98 percent whiff rate in his career on that pitch. He just gets batters out, and he gets them out at a far more efficient rate than most humans are capable of doing. Kershaw is the one percent of the one percent. If Sandy Koufax was “The Left Arm of God”, then Kershaw is a torture device clearly of the devil’s doing.

As great as his curveball happens to be, his fastball and slider might be the best two-pitch combination in the game among starting pitchers. According to Eno Sarris over at, Kershaw’s slider was the third best pitch in 2015. His fastball was the 23rd best pitch. If you go off of FanGraphs’ Pitch F/X leaderboard for pitch value, then you’d see that Kershaw’s fastball was the tops among starters, his curveball was third amongst them, and his slider ranked seventh. We’re talking about a guy with three top ten pitches among starters here. The only other starting pitcher to do that? His now former teammate, Zack Greinke.

No one knows how Kershaw’s career is going to end up, but he could end up as the greatest pitcher of this era. Steamer, which is one of the prognostication mechanisms used to do projections for the upcoming season, pegs Kershaw at going 17-7 with a 2.08 ERA this season, as well as 268 strikeouts in 217 innings. Baseball-Reference uses Marcels Projections, and that has him going 15-6 with a 2.34 ERA and 228 strikeouts in 196 innings. Before continuing, take some time to digest those numbers and realize how absurd they are. A Kershaw “down year” is considered a 2.34 ERA. That’s a fantastic year for everyone else, but not for him. That’s the absurdity of the situation that we’re presented with. He’s not human. He’s eternal. Kershaw is the flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It just keeps burning, and you can never extinguish it.


When the book on his career is closed, and all the chapters have been written, we might look back and say that we were honored – nay, privileged – to have watched him paint his masterpiece. It must be similar to watching Picasso paint Mother and Child, or Vincent van Gogh paint The Starry Night. It’s one of those things that comes along so rarely that if you even turn your gaze away from it for a brief moment, you realize that it was lost to the wandering whispers of the wind. Kershaw paints masterpieces with a left hand that was surely supplied by the devil, a type of bargain deal made for special talents. Sort of like when Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil for some guitar lessons. There’s, of course, zero evidence that supports the theory that Kershaw sold his soul for his pitching prowess, but you can’t prove that he didn’t.

If you were to build the perfect pitching model, you’d build Clayton Kershaw. Slender, but not lanky. Sturdy, but not portly. Even his windup is something that was a gift from the other side. He goes into this windup that sees him pause for a split second prior to his right-foot hitting the mound, and then when you think he’s done he just explodes forward with a fireball. It’s a scene out of a movie. Everything slows down, and then the explosion happens. Kershaw is the action film we yearn for every summer. He’s the turning of the leaves, the melting of the snow. He’s the sunshine we expect to feel on our faces as we leave the house.

As Kershaw gets ready for his ninth season to begin in a couple of weeks, which is when pitchers and catchers will report to Camelback Ranch in Arizona, we’re going to get another season of brilliance, because that’s exactly what he will deliver. He’s the mailman. Whether there’s rain, sleet, or shine, Kershaw’s going to come through with what we all expect. So, try to soak it in and embrace it for what it is – an unholy abomination on the mound, 60-feet 6-inches away from a batter who is shaking in his cleats as he awaits the type of pitch that would make ad executives blush. We deserve it because we all strive for that type of perfection, and Kershaw has mastered it to a large extent. We’ll wait with unabashed glee as he toes that rubber. He’s our Koufax. He’s our Johnson. He’s our legend. And dammit, we love him for it.

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