— MLB Public Relations (@MLB_PR) January 26, 2014
The best part of this moment was the man who delivered the award to Kershaw, former Dodgers legend, Sandy Koufax. The 78-year-old former pitcher spent twelve glorious seasons with the Dodgers, including the final three years the team was still the Brooklyn Dodgers.
During the course of his career, Koufax dominated opposing batters and earned all of the accolades he has been given. Chronic arthritis in his throwing arm forced Koufax to retire at only 30 years of age, a time in his career when he was literally on top. Koufax had won the Cy Young Award in three of his previous four seasons before retiring, including in his final season. In that span of four years, his season ERA was above 2.00 once (2.04 in 1965) and he won a total of 97 games.
Finishing his career with an ERA of 2.76, a 1.106 WHIP, 165 wins, 40 shutouts, 137 complete games and almost 2,400 strikeouts, Koufax easily earned his future election into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. I am going out on the thinnest limb on a small tree here, but I believe that Clayton Kershaw will leave a greater legacy than Koufax did. Before you get out the pitchforks, consider my reasoning.
Kershaw and Koufax both came into the league at similar ages (19 and 20, respectively), so it is fair to compare their progress up to a certain age. Through his first six full seasons, Koufax had not won a Cy Young Award (though, in his defense, the award was only given to one pitcher across the whole league back then). Kershaw just finished his sixth season and already has won the award twice.
Thus far, Kershaw’s statistics are on pace to better Koufax’s in just about every area (except complete games, because pitchers just do not pitch as much as they did 50 years ago). Kershaw currently has a lower career ERA (2.60), WHIP (1.092) and is averaging 201 strikeouts per season. If he can maintain his pace for the next six years, Kershaw will pass Koufax’s total.
With today’s modern advancements in athletic health, surgery and recovery, Kershaw stands a chance to pitch much longer than 12 seasons. The probability that Kershaw eclipses Koufax’s four Cy Young Awards is very realistic. The lefty’s killer curveball is arguably his best pitch and, while his fastball may lose some velocity over the years, his off-speed pitches will become even more deadly as he gains aged wisdom.
When all is said and done, I truly believe Kershaw could go down as the greatest Dodgers pitcher in history. He is certainly on pace to be an easy choice for the Hall of Fame and, barring any unfortunate circumstances, Kershaw will leave a bigger legacy than Koufax did, as hard as that is to do.