Clayton Kershaw Deserves A Cy Young, And The Dodgers' Support
Clayton Kershaw’s on the mound, and fans are happy.
Throughout the season, Kershaw’s performance has been a bright spot on a gloomy horizon, giving the Dodger faithful the hope that’s been in short supply this year.
But their smiles and Kershaw’s stellar stats belie the cold, hard truth: Clayton Kershaw can’t help the Dodgers unless the Dodgers help Clayton Kershaw.
The 23-year-old lefty has a fastball that can silence a stadium and a WHIP (1.002) good enough to strike fear into the hearts of hitters. Only Justin Verlander has more strikeouts this season, and only Roy Halladay has a better ERA. If Kershaw keeps pitching this way, he’s a lock for the National League Cy Young award.
Unfortunately, all the Cy Youngs in the world don’t add up to playoff appearances unless the man winning them has some assistance.
Relying on MVP-caliber hitter Matt Kemp and All Star outfielder Andre Ethier to put up runs clearly hasn’t done the trick in Los Angeles. For Kershaw’s contribution to matter, the Dodgers need to bolster their ace with a rotation of pitchers that at least deserve to be mentioned in the same breath.
This is a technique that has been proved to work. It takes the pressure off the star hitters. It prevents outstanding pitchers from wasting their talents. It keeps them from getting frustrated and going elsewhere the moment free agency hits.
Consider the team with the best record in baseball this season.
Since 2007, the Philadelphia Phillies have made the playoffs every year, appeared in the World Series twice, and won it all once. Each offseason, they strive to make their pitching the best in the league. In the last two years they’ve added Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee to the starting rotation, and this year have a league-best team ERA of 3.05. They lead the next best team in the league by five-and-a-half games, with 95 wins.
That’s with one Top 30 batter, Hunter Pence, in the outfield.
Conversely, teams with just one dynamic pitcher historically struggle.
Jake Peavy won the NL Cy Young as a starter with the San Diego Padres in 2007, and his team missed the playoffs. They year before the Arizona Diamondbacks met the same fate when their young star, Brandon Webb, won the award. More recently, the San Francisco Giants missed consecutive Octobers while their ace Tim Lincecum was busy winning consecutive Cy Youngs. The next year the Giants unloaded aging Randy Johnson, added the fresh arm of Madison Bumgarner, shook up the bullpen, and walked away with a championship.
It’s only a matter of time before someone like an agent or another scheming franchise makes Kershaw aware of these numbers. Awards are nice, they’ll say, but what will a closet full of trophies mean at the end of a career if there’s no ring to go along with them?
Like Kershaw, Greinke was called up to the majors young. Like Kershaw, his stats and his technical pitches have improved each year since. Like Kershaw, he started his career with a non-contender (and incidentally, won a Cy Young while with that team, the Kansas City Royals).
And as Kershaw might, he realized last year that if he wanted to win, he had to be traded.
Once it was confirmed that Greinke was headed to the Milwaukee Brewers, the 27-year-old told reporters he had asked for the trade so he could play for a team that had a shot of winning in the present—not the distant future. Milwaukee currently leads the NL Central.
Then there’s the case of Heath Bell, an excellent 33-year-old closer who has tasted the playoffs but once. After pitching for the New York Mets when they lost the NLCS, Bell headed west to join the San Diego Padres who were fresh off back-to-back playoff appearances.
Unfortunately for Bell, they haven’t been back since. Once trade rumor after trade rumor failed to manifest this year, Bell said it was probably “better for his family” to stay in San Diego, anyway. He’s having another season for the books; the Padres are in last place in the NL West.
Kershaw is years away from being sealed to a fate like Bell’s, and won’t be a free agent until 2015. It’s hard to envision the Dodgers being willing to trade him. Still, if they don’t give Kershaw the support he needs, the few remaining smiles in Dodgertown could disappear.
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