There is a growing question amongst Dodgers fans of all generations of the iconic franchise. Who is the greatest pitcher in Dodgers history between Sandy Koufax and Clayton Kershaw?
Well, let’s start with Sandy Koufax. At his peak, Sandy Koufax was nearly unhittable. Hall of Famer Willie Stargell once said that trying to hit Sandy Koufax was like trying to drink coffee with a fork. But before he ascended to be the game’s top hurler, the first five years of Koufax’s career were rather mediocre. Koufax went 54-53 with a 3.94 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, with an unimpressive 9.2 K-BB%
Through his first five seasons. Koufax struggled with command early in his career, where he issued 405 free passes in 691.2 innings pitched through the 1960 season. However, the light bulb turned on for Koufax after taking Dodgers’ catcher Norm Sherry’s advice to dial down his intensity on the mound. Koufax would go on to walk just 412 batters in the final 1.632.2 innings of his career. With his command issues corrected, Koufax would establish himself as the premier starting pitcher in baseball en route to a first-ballot Hall of Fame career. Koufax finished his career with a 165-87 record, 2.76 ERA, 2.69 FIP, 1.106 WHIP, 25.2 K%, 6 BB%, .202 Opp Avg., with 54.5 fWAR across 2324.1 innings pitched. Koufax’s dominance during the second half of his career was otherworldly. From 1961-1965, Koufax owned a 2.19 ERA, 2.16 FIP, 0.97 WHIP, .194 Opp Avg. and led all pitchers with 46.3 fWAR in that stretch.
Additionally, Koufax tossed three no-hitters and one perfect game, with the Southpaw’s perfecto against the Chicago Cubs on September 9, 1965, considered one of the finest games ever pitched. The Southpaw set a new perfect game record after fanning 14 hitters. Named by MLB as one of the four “Greatest Living Players,” Koufax was Baseball’s first three-time Cy Young Award winner (’63, ’65’, ’66) and took home league MVP honors in 1963. You can make a strong argument for Kershaw when it comes to the regular season alone, but Sandy Koufax is superior in the postseason.
In Koufax’s era, the postseason meant the World Series, as there was no Wild Card Game, Division Series, or League Championship Series. Koufax made eight career appearances in the Fall Classic, including seven starts, where he went 4-3 with a 0.95 ERA, 0.825 WHIP with 61 strikeouts to 11 walks. “The Left Arm of God” shined brighter than anyone on the game’s biggest stage. On October 2, 1963, Koufax set a new World Series record after mowing down 15 Yankees in Game 1. Koufax’s World Series dominance continued in the 1965 World Series, where he pitched a shutout in Game 5 on three days rest, and then remarkably threw a shutout in Game 7 on two days rest, leading the Dodgers to their second World Series title in three years. Unfortunately, Koufax’s career was cut short due to an arthritic left arm that forced him to retire at age 30.
Sandy Koufax vs. Clayton Kershaw: Who is the Greatest Dodgers Pitcher of All Time?
We discuss who is the greatest pitcher in Dodgers history between Sandy Koufax and Clayton Kershaw. Plus, what if Koufax didn’t have to retire early?
While Clayton Kershaw can’t quite match the no-hitters, the perfect game (thanks Hanley), or the postseason brilliance of Sandy Koufax, you can make the argument that Kershaw was better for longer stretches in the regular season. For his career, Kershaw has posted a sparkling 2.49 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 3.57 FIP, .206 Opp Avg., 27.6 K%, 6.3 BB%, and a 69.5 fWAR across 2454.2 innings. Kershaw didn’t experience the early struggles like Koufax, but like Sandy, distanced himself from his peers at his peak. From 2011-2016, Kershaw held a 2.06 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 2.26 FIP, .196 Opp Avg., 29 K%, 5.2 BB%, and led all pitchers with a 43.4 fWAR.
Kershaw also matched Koufax’s three Cy Young Awards (’11, ’13, ’14) and league MVP (’14). As far as signature performances, Kershaw has tossed more than his fair share of gems. Despite losing a chance at a perfect game after Hanley Ramirez’s error in the seventh inning, Kershaw’s no-hitter against the Rockies on June 14, 2014, stands as one of the greatest pitching performances of all time. Kershaw’s 102 game score ranks as the third-highest in MLB history behind Kerry Wood (105, May 6, 1998, vs. Astros) and Max Scherzer (104, October 3, 2015, vs. Mets), and above Koufax’s perfect game (101, September 9, 1965, vs. Cubs). Further, there have been 314 no-hitters in MLB history, and Kershaw’s is the only one with 15 strikeouts and zero walks. So when it comes to the regular season, Kershaw doesn’t take a backseat to anyone, but you can’t ignore Kershaw’s struggles in the postseason.
Kershaw has gone 13-12 with a 4.19 ERA and a 1.047 WHIP through 189 innings. While there is no doubt that Kershaw has had his share of postseason clunkers, he’s had plenty of solid to great starts as well. Kershaw tossed a gem in Game 1 of the 2017 World Series vs. the Astros, where he became the first pitcher to record 11 strikeouts without issuing a walk in the Fall Classic since Don Newcombe fanned 11 Yankees with no walks in Game 1 of the 1949 World Series.