Sure, Clayton Kershaw Has Been Terrific This October, But Don’t Forget About Another Former Dodgers Pitcher



We live in a time given to hyperbole, where performances are quickly labeled “the greatest ever” without much thought being given to what actually had happened in the past. This week, while Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw puts his team on his back and tries to carry them to the World Series, we ought to take a breath and a glance back at 1988 before labeling his as the greatest of all time.

To be fair, Kershaw’s performance is not yet the greatest of this decade. That title still belongs to San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner, the Most Valuable Player in the 2014 World Series. All he did was throw 52 2/3 innings in that post season to set a new record while winning both NLCS and World Series MVP. He set an all-time record for lowest World Series ERA at 0.29 after throwing five scoreless innings in relief to win Game 7 on two days rest. (That season Kershaw was the MVP and Cy Young Award winner.)

But go back further still. Both men are still looking up at what the Dodgers Orel Hershiser did in 1988.images-7

Nothing Kershaw does this season will be able to match up with it. That season the slight right hander was the unanimous Cy Young Award winner after leading baseball with 23 wins, and he followed that up by winning the National League Championship Series AND World Series MVP awards. That’s a triple play that Bumgarner didn’t complete two years ago and Kershaw won’t be able to achieve this season.  

This is not to diminish what Kershaw is doing this fall, or has done during his remarkable career. But his post season history and his regular season history have never intersected. Kershaw’s three Cy Young seasons were followed up by post season struggles. And this season, when he’s finally standing out in October, happens to be the same year he missed much of the regular season with a back injury. Kershaw threw just 149 innings this season, his lowest total since throwing 107.2 his rookie season in 2008. It’s actually worked out very well for LA. Their ace is rested and fresher this October than he’s ever been in the past due to all that time off and fewer regular season innings. He has plenty in his tank. It’s showing.

download-1Conversely, Hershiser’s unmatched 1988 post season was a continuation of his dominant regular season. Younger fans will have a hard time believing that Hershiser threw 267 innings (that’s 33 more than Kershaw’s career high) with 15 complete games including eight shutouts. No one – including Kershaw – has that kind of work load anymore. Perhaps the most amazing stat of all is Hershiser’s record breaking 59 consecutive scoreless innings streak, which began on August 30th and continued all September until the final game of the season when he threw a 10 inning shutout.

When the underdog Dodgers faced the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series, Hershiser kept right on rolling. Like both Bumgarner and Kershaw, Hershiser pitched in relief in between post season starts, earning a save in the NLCS and throwing another complete game shutout to clinch that series. After winning two games in the five game series against the powerful Oakland A’s in the 1988 World Series – including another shut out – Hershiser was named World Series MVP as well. He remains the only player to win the Cy Young, LCS and World Series MVP awards in the same season.

And oh ya, he also won Gold Glove that season, just for good measure.

Remarkably, Hershiser pitched 11 more Major League seasons, retiring in 2000, so that heavy workload didn’t ruin his arm. Pitchers are scrutinized much more closely today, and it’s hard to envision any pitcher ever again being used as much as Hershiser was in 1988. Today if a guy reaches 200 innings most teams are ready to shut him down for the season. And rarely are guys given the chance to throw complete games anymore.

That being the case, baseball fans should enjoy watching what Kershaw is doing this fall. He’s likely to continue to be put into games as a reliever in between starts (during the regular season, a pitcher will normally have a single half speed mound practice session in between starts) as LA tries to extend the curse of the Billy Goat and keep the sentimental favorites, the Chicago Cubs, from reaching the World Series. Kershaw is a remarkable talent and his competitive fire can help his team even when he’s not pitching.

From his seat up in the Dodgers broadcast booth, Hershiser is undoubtedly enjoying it as well.

But he knows…