Clayton Kershaw will go down as one of the best left-handed pitchers in baseball history. In 14 years with the Dodgers, he's won three National League Cy Young Awards, finished in the top five of Cy Young voting seven times, was the NL's Most Valuable Player in 2014, made eight All-Star teams, collected five ERA titles and won the Triple Crown. Though he's cemented his place in Dodgers history, Kershaw is now an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, and with his recent injury issues and the Dodgers' dynamic rotation having fared well without him, there's no guarantee of a reunion.
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Here's what you need to know about Kershaw:
Birthdate: March 19, 1988 (Age 34 in 2022)
Primary position: SP
Height/weight: 6-foot-4, 225 pounds
Place of birth: Dallas
School(s): Highland Park (Texas) HS
Drafted: 1st round (7th), 2006, by Dodgers
MLB debut: May 25, 2008
Qualifying offer: Did not receive one
STAT TO KNOW
Among all left-handed starters in the Expansion Era (since 1961, min. 500 IP), Kershaw holds the second-lowest career ERA (2.49), second-highest ERA+ (155) and second-lowest WHIP (1.004), trailing only Sandy Koufax in each category, in addition to the fourth-highest strikeout rate (27.6%).
Kershaw hasn't broken the 30-start threshold since 2015, and injuries have piled up in recent years. He missed almost a month of the 2018 season with biceps and back issues, a recurrence of the back injury hampered his abbreviated '20 and his '21 campaign was cut short by elbow and forearm issues, limiting him to just 121 1/3 innings.
He's still Clayton Kershaw
From his first full season in 2009 to '17 (the year of his last top-5 Cy Young finish), Kershaw was the almost-undisputed best pitcher in baseball. For nine seasons, he was good for an average of 203 innings per year. His miniscule 2.25 ERA over that period was the lowest among pitchers with at least 1,000 innings, and it wasn't close (Chris Sale was second at 2.98). He allowed fewer than a baserunner per inning. After a run like that, anything would seem disappointing. But when Kershaw is healthy, he's still among the best left-handed starters in the game. Even dealing with a series of arm issues in 2021, he struck out 144 batters and posted an above-average 115 ERA+.
His trophy case is impressive
Kershaw is part of an exclusive group of pitchers to win a league MVP Award, having taken his home in 2014, when he went 21-3 and posted a 1.77 ERA. But the three-Cy Young club he's in is actually even smaller. Only 10 players have won three or more Cy Young Awards in their careers -- 2021 Dodgers teammate and fellow free agent Max Scherzer being the most recent -- and Kershaw owns the distinction of being the youngest to accomplish the feat, at just 26 years old.
His experience may come at a cost
About those innings. Averaging 203 over nine seasons left him with 1,827 1/3 innings over his peak, the sixth-most for any pitcher in that span. Overall, he's closing in on 2,500 career innings, a mark only reached by 39 pitchers since 1990. That's even before you add in almost 200 high-pressure innings in the playoffs. In Kershaw, teams will find a highly experienced soon-to-be 34-year-old, albeit one with a lot of mileage on his arm.
He's made good on the Koufax comps
Comparing Kershaw to Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax wouldn't be groundbreaking in 2021. But those early comparisons were on the money. It's not just the uniform, either -- in terms of left-handed starters, Kershaw has already proven to be one of the finest in baseball, all before his 34th birthday. In fact, one could argue he's already surpassed his fellow Dodgers legend -- he has pitched 100 more innings than Koufax and has a lower career ERA.
He's already an all-time great
If it feels impossible that Kershaw is only 33, there's a reason for that. His 14 seasons spent with the Dodgers is tied with Don Drysdale for the second-most for any pitcher in franchise history, trailing Don Sutton's 16. We don't need to tell you he's made his mark in Los Angeles, but it might go further than you realize -- per Baseball-Reference, he's already the Dodgers' all-time WAR leader.
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