Clayton Kershaw. Justin Verlander. Max Scherzer. They are the best pitchers of this generation, but how close together are they?
Some congratulations are in order. Thursday night Clayton Kershaw recorded his 2,500 strikeout, moving up to 39th all time. He also became the third-fastest to reach that mark and only the 11th lefty.
After he reached his accomplishment, many took to Twitter to congratulate the veteran, including Barstool Sport’s Jared Carrabis. Carrabis was then asked in the comments where Kershaw ranks amongst his generation and he responded with only Justin Verlander and Kershaw.
Dodger fans were not happy that Carrabis had Verlander slated higher than Kershaw and flooded his replies to let him know. But another pitcher deserved to be in the conversation. Max Scherzer. Verlander and Kershaw were both excellent answers and they have the statistics and accolades to back up the claim, but Scherzer is right there behind them.
The Generation’s Best Pitchers
In no way am I saying that Scherzer is better than Kershaw or Verlander. Both of them have better overall statistics, but the case is a lot closer than it seems. Below are the three’s statistics and accolades.
Justin Verlander: 454 Games. 226-129. 3.33 ERA. 3,013 Strikeouts. 71.8 bWAR. 3.41 FIP
8x All-Star. 2 Cy Youngs. 1 Triple Crown. 1 MVP. 1 ROY. 1 AL ERA Title. 3x MLB Win Leaders. 5x AL Strikeout Leader. 3 No-Hitters. 1 All-MLB First Team.
Clayton Kershaw: 352 Games. 173-75. 2.43 ERA. 2,505 Strikeouts. 68.9 bWAR. 2.75 FIP
8x All-Star. 3 Cy Youngs. 1 MVP. 5 NL ERA Titles. 3x NL Win Leader. 3x NL Strikeout Leader. 1 Gold Glove. 1 No-Hitter
Max Scherzer: 373 Games. 173-91 Games. 3.21 ERA. 2,753 Strikeouts. 61.5 bWAR. 3.29 FIP
7x All-Star. 3 Cy Youngs. 4x MLB Win Leader. 3x NL Strikeout Leader. 2 No-Hitters. All-MLB First Team.
From first glance, Justin Verlander’s longevity puts him above the other two. However, Kershaw had the far superior peak (2010-2015). That much is obvious. In fact, if it wasn’t for Kershaws back injuries, he had a chance to become the greatest pitcher of all time. However, Scherzer has the two of them beat in two different aspects of the game. Scherzer is a better strikeout artist and has the far superior postseason track record.
A Strikeout Artist
Yes, Verlander has more career strikeouts, 3,013 compared to Scherzer’s 2,753, but, Scherzer has been more efficient as seen by his K/9. Scherzer has a K/9 of 10.62, which is over a full point and a half higher than Verlander’s 9.08 and almost a full point above Kershaw’s 9.76. Scherzer also has the strikeout records to back up this claim. He tied the record for multiple strikeout records including most strikeouts in a game (20) and most consecutive seasons with 250+ strikeouts (5). If it wasn’t for the shortened 2020 season, Scherzer had a chance to tie the record for most consecutive seasons with 200+ strikeouts (9). He currently has eight. Two weeks ago in his start against Boston, Scherzer tied Sandy Koufax for fifth all-time on 10+ strikeout games with 97. Only Nolan Ryan (215), Randy Johnson (212), Roger Clemens (110), and Pedro Martinez (108), are above him on the list. That is some elite company.
All three have had plenty of team success and have been to the playoffs at least seven times each, but this is where their careers differ. Below are their respective playoff stats.
Justin Verlander: 8 playoff appearances (19 series). 31 games. 14-11. 3.40 ERA. 205 strikeouts.
Clayton Kershaw: 9 playoff appearances (16 series). 32 games. 9-11. 4.43 ERA. 170 strikeouts.
Max Scherzer: 7 playoff appearances (14 series). 22 games. 7-5. 3.38 ERA. 137 strikeouts.
When it comes to postseasons success, on the surface Verlander’s numbers are quite similar to Scherzer. However, Scherzer continues to dominate throughout the playoffs, while Verlander falls apart on the biggest stage. In seven World Series games, Verlander is 0-6, with a 5.68 ERA. That is a major jump in ERA from his playoff career of 3.40. Whereas Scherzer has a 3.86 ERA in three World Series games.
The 2019 World Series is the most recent example. Verlander and Scherzer faced off with, Scherzer’s Nats winning in seven games. In two starts, Scherzer went 1-0, with a 3.60 ERA, and 10 strikeouts. Most notably, he was scratched from game five for a neck injury, but overcame it and was the game seven starter. He gutted out five innings and held the Astros to only two runs. Verlander on the other hand fell apart once again. In two starts he went 0-2, with a 5.73 ERA, and nine strikeouts.
Kershaw is known for always faltering in the playoffs and his playoff career ERA proves that. Kershaw’s last playoff appearances, which was game five of the NLDS is just another example of his shortcoming. With the Dodgers leading 3-1, Kershaw allowed back to back homers by Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon in the eighth inning. Washington would go on to win in the 10th.
Scherzer has been consistent throughout his playoff career and he seems to rise to the occasion. In the 2019 NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals, Scherzer threw seven shutout innings and struck out 11. His performance helped the team reach and later win their first-ever World Series.
Verlander’s longevity and Kershaw’s insane ERA sets the two apart from everyone else. However, due to his mastery of the strike zone, Scherzer has proven he belongs amongst the generations best. Another thing to note, all three are sure ballot Hall of Famers and no other active pitchers can make that claim.