Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw threw a complete game, fourteen strikeouts, three hits, no walks and no run performance Sunday, May 1, 2016, against the San Diego Padres.
He also ended the Dodgers six game losing streak and provided the only run batted in for the game with a single to centerfield with catcher A.J. Ellis on second base. Historically speaking, when looking at the Dodgers complete game history, just how good was Kershaw’s performance Sunday?
For the sake of time, we are looking at Dodgers pitchers who threw the most complete games in one season as a comparison and within those seasons complete game, shutout performances (no run: earned or unearned). Please note that statistics are hard to come by for older games so we did our best to compare and contrast.
1873: Pitcher Jim Britt of the Brooklyn Atlantics threw fifty-one complete games during the 1873 season. Baseball did not have pitch counts or bullpens at the time so the game has changed over the years. Unfortunately, game log/individual game statistics are unavailable. We do not even know if he was right or left-handed. Cheers to Jim Britt, however, for pitching 480.2 innings for the 1873 season, while winning seventeen games and losing thirty-six, with a plus four earned run average. We are going to give Kershaw the nod here just based on the availability of statistical data and that Kershaw currently has an earned run average under 2.42 for his career.
1910: Pitcher Nap Rucker of the Brooklyn Superbas threw twenty-seven complete games during the 1910 season. Good ole’ Nap made our Best Players list. Again, however, we do not have statistical data for game log/individual games for 1910. We do know that Rucker threw left-handed! He also held a career earned run of 2.42 (same as Kershaw) and three over 250-300 innings seven times during his career. Kershaw, again, however, gets the nod here based on the availability of statistical data and that Kershaw is easily bound for the Hall of Fame where Rucker did not quite make it (his career win-loss record was 134-134).
1921, 1923, and 1924: Pitcher Burleigh Grimes of the Brooklyn Robins threw thirty, thirty-three, and thirty complete games during the 1921, 1923, and 1924 seasons. Grimes also made our Best Players list and is in the Hall of Fame. 1921 seems to be the year game logs came to light, thankfully! The right-hander threw one shutout in 1921, but he also gave up seven hits and two walks, with four strikeouts. Interestingly, Grimes threw his complete game shutout on May 1 like Kershaw. Grimes also threw two complete game shutouts, back-to-back, in 1923. In both, he gave up multiple walks and not nearly as many strikeouts (three and five for Grimes compared to fourteen for Kershaw). Grimes had no complete game shutouts in 1924. Advantage: Kershaw based on the in-game statistics. Huge nod to Grimes for his longevity, but again it was a different game, different time, and different strategy.
1924 and 1927: Pitcher Dazzy Vance of the Brooklyn Robins threw thirty and twenty-five complete games during the 1924 and 1927 seasons. He joined teammate Burleigh Grimes to lead the League in 1924, both pitching thirty complete games, which is a record. Vance also made our Best Players list and is in the Hall of Fame. The right-hander Vance threw two complete game shutouts during August of 1924. The first, on August 1, was nine innings, no runs, three hits, one walk, and fourteen strikeouts. Sounds familiar? In 1927, Vance threw two complete game no run efforts, one with ten strikeouts on May 7, but he did give up some walks. However, with much love for Dazzy, Kershaw bested Vance with no walks, and he provided the only run batted-in for the game.
1965 and 1966: Pitcher Sandy Koufax, with the Los Angeles Dodgers (previously the Brooklyn Dodgers), maybe you have heard of him. Koufax, as discussed in detail previously, led the League with twenty-seven complete games in both seasons. He of course made our Best Players list as the number one starting pitcher and is in the Hall of Fame. In 1965, Koufax threw EIGHT complete game shutouts all with double-digit strikeouts and some scattered walks. On August 14, he threw a ten inning complete game with 12 strikeouts. On September 9, he threw a fourteen-strikeout perfect game. In September alone, Koufax threw four complete game shutouts. In 1966, Koufax had five complete game shutouts, but (if there can be a “but” with Koufax), he gave up walk(s) and/or more than three hits in those games.
We are getting nitpicky here, but the lefty Koufax, despite his dominance, never provided the only run batted in for a game where he went the distance and gave up no runs. He came close though, on August 26, 1966, against the San Francisco Giants in a 4-0 win, he provided one run batted in for the team. (See Koufax’s batting statistics for 1965 and 1966).
Koufax to date, has had the better career. However, Kershaw is close and bested Koufax in the sense that he provided the game-winning run batted in as well as going the distance in a complete game shutout.
1975: Pitcher Andy Messersmith of the Los Angeles Dodgers threw nineteen complete games during the 1975 season to lead the League. The righty Messersmith threw seven complete game no run performances in 1975. However, none of the games thrown, except one, were without walks issued. Moreover, none were games in which Messersmith provided the only run batted in for the match. Valiant effort, but not Kershaw-like.
1981, 1986, and 1987: Pitcher Fernando Valenzuela of the Los Angeles Dodgers threw eleven, twenty, and twelve complete games during the 1981, 1986, and 1987 seasons. We wrote about the lefty Valenzuela previously as part of the Best Players list and in terms of his contributions to the game. Valenzuela threw seven complete game shutouts during the 1981 season, his first full season as a rookie. None better than the April 22, 1981 game, where Valenzuela provided the only run batted in for the Dodgers in a 1-0 victory over the Houston Astros.
Again, however, Kershaw had three more strikeouts, gave up no walks (Valenzuela issued three walks), and gave up four less hits, three for Kershaw compared to seven for Valenzuela. Kudos to Valenzuela for pitching amazingly in his rookie season. Valenzuela also had great seasons in 1986 and 1987, but not nearly as good as his start to the 1981 season and his April 22 performance.
1988: Pitcher Orel Hershiser threw nine complete game shutouts in 1988 and fifteen complete games for the same year. However, he never had the game winning run batted in for those. He did, however, throw SIX STRAIGHT no run complete games in September 1988, including a ten-inning performance, in which the team lost. He also made our Best Players list.
1989: Pitcher Tim Belcher threw nine complete game shutouts during the 1989 season (10 total complete games). However, he was also used as a relief pitcher, which shows his versatility. He did provide two runs batted in for a 4-0 victory on August 26, 1989, against the Philadelphia Phillies. However, not quite Kershaw-like.
1990: Pitcher Ramon Martinez, who made our Honorable Mentions section of the Best Players list, threw three complete game shutouts during the 1990 season (with 12 complete games). His June 4 performance included EIGHTEEN strikeouts against the Atlanta Braves, and to boot Martinez added one run batted in for a 6-0 win. Still not Kershaw though, May 1, 2016-style.
2014, 2015, and 2016: Lefty Clayton Kershaw, one of only three current players to make the Dodgers Best Players list, led the Majors or tied for the lead in complete games in 2014 (six) and 2015 (4). He already has one this year (2016), which is tied for the Major League lead. Kershaw had two complete game shutouts in 2014, which included a no hit fifteen strikeout performance on June 18 that would have been a perfect game, but for short stop Hanley Ramirez’s costly error. In 2015, Kershaw had three complete game shutouts that included a 37-1 strikeout to walk ratio in those matches. Moreover, from July 8 through August 1, Kershaw had thirty-four innings pitched, a 45-1 strikeout to walk ratio, and went 4-0 on his way to throwing two complete game shutouts, and two eight-inning shutouts.
On May 1, 2016, however, Kershaw outdid everyone, including himself, by going nine innings, giving up three hits, no walks, striking out fourteen, and provided the only run batted in for a 1-0 win. The psychological aspect of the win was just as big considering that he single-left-handedly ended the Dodgers six game skid. Other pitchers threw more strikeouts, others gave up no hits, but no pitcher, except Kershaw, provided a dominate pitching performance with a game winning run batted in and the only run batted in for the game. He did this while throwing only 101 pitches, which was very efficient. Well done sir, very well done.
When all is said and done, Koufax, Valenzuela, and Hershiser all have World Series rings and great careers to prove their worth. Kershaw is on his way though and for one day, he was probably better than anyone. If Kershaw were reading this article, he would probably say it means nothing unless he wins the World Series and that is why he is who he is, Mr. Clayton Edward Kershaw.