Clayton Kershaw's ERA through his first eight starts would go down as the single-season best of his career, but it's not a vast departure from the numbers he's put up over the previous three seasons.
Consider that and it's probably easy to forecast 2016 as similar to his dominant numbers since raising the bar on an already promising career in 2013. But heading into Tuesday night's home start against the Los Angeles Angels, his other numbers so far this year indicate that might not be the case.
Rather, it seems the Los Angeles Dodgers ace could be headed to yet a higher echelon in his assault on modern pitching.
Kershaw (5-1, 1.74 ERA) posted a 1.92 ERA from 2013-15, which was 0.38 better than any other qualifying pitcher, and only former teammate Zack Greinke joined him with a mark under 2.50. In strikeouts per nine innings, Chris Sale (10.67) led co-seconds Kershaw and Max Scherzer (10.42) in that time, but just about any other meaningful pitching category to assess individual performance belongs to Kershaw.
From WHIP (0.89) to opponent batting average (.195) to OPS (.521) to fielding-independent pitching (2.07) to strikeout-to-walk ratio (6.18), he led the way for that three-season span, and often substantially.
This year, those numbers are so much better that it's almost becoming pointless to compare him over the past three or four years to any pitcher other than himself.
His season FIP (1.52) is more than a full run under his career mark (2.58) and more than half a run better than second place Jose Quintana (2.10). His opponent OPS ranks third behind Jake Arrieta (.451) and Sale (.470), but it stands at a similarly unfair .473. No one's been at that level for an entire season since Pedro Martinez posted a .473 mark in 2000, which is widely considered one of the all-time great individual pitching seasons.
If eight starts into the season seems far too early to compare such numbers, consider Kershaw's best months await. April (including two March starts), May and June are his three worst months. July, August and September (including three regular-season October starts) are his finest.
The left-hander has been even filthier at home with a 1.04 FIP and .404 OPS in four starts and has thrown three-hit shutouts in his last two home outings with 27 strikeouts. The latest was Thursday's 5-0 win over the New York Mets, in which Kershaw fanned 13 and issued a rare walk – his fourth of the season. He's struck out at least 10 in a franchise-record five straight starts. Sale did it in eight straight just last season, so that's not the impressive part.
The fact that he's done it while never walking more than a batter is and makes him the first pitcher to ever go five straight with at least 10 Ks and at most one walk. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is – the decimal and digits are in the right places here – 19.25. Bartolo Colon is second at 9.00, and no one has ever put together a single-season mark in the teens in data available to 1913. The closest was Phil Hughes' 11.63 anomaly in 2014.
“He's the best by far,” closer Kenley Jansen told MLB's official website. “Watching him doing that, man, I don't know what to think. I wasn't there when Sandy Koufax was there, but to see him break all these records … he's the best, man, the best on the planet.”
Believers in WHIP have to agree. His 0.73 mark is on pace to be the best ever in those more than 100 years of data and just the third under 0.80 ahead of Martinez in 2000 (0.74) and Walter Johnson in 1913 (0.76). Sale is at 0.76 this season.
There's also this for those interested in win-loss record, such as manager Dave Roberts: In the 97 career regular-season starts in which the Dodgers have given him four runs of support, he's 81-0. His 5.66 RSA this season is well over his 4.47 career mark, so that could happen with greater frequency.
“If we don't have enough incentive to get four runs when he pitches, there you have it,” Roberts said. “It's just a credit to him. When you need a shutout and to save your bullpen, he does that. If you give him a lead, he has that way that you know he smells the finish line and smells blood.”
The Angels have comparatively decent numbers against Kershaw – 4-2 with a 2.91 ERA in eight starts – but that's not going to matter if the Dodgers get to four runs, and that's likely against Jered Weaver. He's given up at least four in four of his seven starts and doubled that in Thursday's 12-10 loss to St. Louis.
Weaver (3-2, 6.10) gave up nine hits – three home runs – in four innings for one of the worst starts of his career.
“He started to miss with some pitches around the fourth, fifth inning, and those guys didn't miss the pitches,” manager Mike Scioscia said.
The Angels (17-21) opened the series with Monday's 7-6 win, sending the Dodgers (20-19) to their second straight loss. But those came with Alex Wood and Kenta Maeda on the mound.
It was the Angels' fourth straight win after a sweep in Seattle, which even included a win over Felix Hernandez. There was a time one could compare such a name to their next opponent.