Pitchers are putting up eye-popping numbers, the likes of which have rarely been seen during the last 20 years. Felix Hernandez has a 2.23 ERA. Only three AL pitchers have beaten that in the last two decades (Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, and Zack Greinke). This year though, he's behind Chris Sale. Yu Darvish has a K/9 rate of 11.35. The only other pitchers to beat that were Randy Johnson, Pedro, and Kerry Wood. Garrett Richards has a home run rate bested only by Greg Maddux in 1994 and Andy Pettitte in 1997. From 1993 to 2013, only four AL pitchers ever posted a FIP of 2.60 or better. In 2014, led by Corey Kluber's 2.43, five pitchers are below that mark. If (like me), great pitching is the baseball you love best, it's an incredible time. One guy tops them all though: Clayton Kershaw is the best.
Kershaw missed five weeks of the season after hurting his back in Australia (where he pitched the first game of the MLB season). Because of that, his innings total isn't going to reach the same heights it did in earlier seasons, but his rate stats right now are generally the best of his career, and they look like numbers from a video game in which the player had things set to "Easy."
His ERA is 1.73, his ERA+ is 206, his FIP is 1.81, his WHIP is 0.837.
The last pitcher to finish a season with a better ERA was Greg Maddux in 1995.
The last pitcher to finish a season with a better ERA+ was Roger Clemens in 2005.
The last pitcher to finish a season with a better FIP was Pedro Martinez in 1999.
The last pitcher to finish a season with a better WHIP was Pedro Martinez in 2000.
Kershaw's K% - BB% right now is 28.3%. The only pitchers in baseball history to ever top that were Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson.
Look at those other names, they belong to the four best pitchers of the last 40 years. That's the company Kershaw is keeping, and if he keeps things up for even a couple more seasons, it might be fair to add him to that list and consider them the five best pitchers of the last 40 years.
If Kershaw holds onto his ERA lead over other pitchers this season, he will finish with the best ERA in baseball for the fourth season in a row. Here is a complete list of the pitchers who have led MLB in ERA four years in a row:
...That's right, no one has done it before.
All of this, and Kershaw is only 26 years old. His career ERA to date is 2.50. The last pitcher to throw 800+ innings (4 or 5 season's worth of innings; 464 pitchers have reached that figure through their age-26 season) by that age and post a better ERA was Tom Seaver. Kershaw has been aided by pitching in Dodger Stadium, but he's also had to work against pitching in a relatively high-scoring era in baseball. The last pitcher with 800+ innings by this age and an ERA+ better than Kershaw's 151 was Walter Johnson. Kershaw ranks 9th all-time in strikeouts through the age of 26; he ranks 7th in K/9 and 4th in K%.
All things considered, there's a very strong case to be made that Kershaw has been the best young pitcher since Walter Johnson, who turned 26 a full century ago.
Pitching is fragile, so there's no way of knowing how long Kershaw will keep going what he's been doing. I intend to enjoy the ride while it lasts, because it might be a long time before we see another guy doing this.