The Best Pitcher in the Game?

Not quite one-third of the way through the 2017 major league baseball season, the LA Dodgers clearly have had the most dominant pitching in the National League. The Dodgers lead the NL in lowest ERA, 3.23, a full third of a run better than the surprising second-place Diamondbacks’, and NL batters have hit a league-lowest .232 against each of the two staffs. But, Dodgers’ pitchers have both struck out the most batters of any staff, 472, and allowed the fewest base on balls. They’ve allowed the fewest hits of any NL staff, the fewest home runs, and are tied for the most shutouts. They have the lowest WHIP in the league, 1.16, the highest strikeout-per-nine-innings rate, 9.48, and by far the best strikeout-to-base-on-balls ratio, at 3.42.

Leading the way is perhaps the best pitcher in baseball, and no, I do not mean the obvious choice, Clayton Kershaw, but rather the guy whose 2017 numbers are mind-boggling.

Through June of last season, Kershaw was re-writing the record books when it came to control. Through June 20, he was 11-1 with a 1.57 ERA and in 105 innings pitched, he had

struck out 141 while walking an astounding total of seven batters. He was receiving constant adulation as he seemed to be setting standards for control perhaps never before seen, at least from a starting pitcher. But then came a back injury and the disabled list that derailed any chance of a career season. This season, his stats, while remarkable, are not the stuff that science fiction is derived from, as was the case last year. After today’s poor performance, Kershaw has now pitched 76 innings this season, striking out 78 while walking ten. His ERA is now all the way up to 2.37, slightly above his lifetime mark of 2.35. His lifetime WHIP stands at an even 1.00.

But then there is the most overlooked and taken for granted pitcher, maybe ever, Kenley Jansen. After throwing one inning today, Jansen’s 2017 record shows that as a closer he has pitched 19 pressure-packed innings, striking out 34 and walking, yes, this is correct, NO ONE! One-third of the way into the 2017 season and Jansen has yet to allow a single base-on-balls. He has struck out 16.5 per nine innings and hitters are batting .194 against him this season, his ERA is 1.42 and his WHIP is 0.68. But how do these numbers compare to the lifetime stats he’s compiled over his seven year career and 427 appearances? Well his LIFETIME ERA is 2.17 and his LIFETIME WHIP is 0.89 and LIFETIME hitters have batted .171 against him, that is how they compare.

But, the Dodgers in the early season going have seen some additional remarkable performances besides Kershaw and Jansen., with two other pitchers, one starter and one reliever, almost coming out of nowhere, to repeatedly demonstrate their own dominance.

On a team with a clear number one starter, the Dodgers’ have been seeking a clear number two starter for two seasons now, since the departure of Zack Greinke. It looks like they’ve found that guy, at least it appears so, so far into the 2017 season, in young veteran Alex Wood, who, healthy again after missing key parts of the 2016 season, has taken advantage of an opportunity and run with it. Fresh off five shutout innings against the World Champion Chicago Cubs on Friday, Wood is now 6-0 despite starting only eight games,

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and has his own set of dazzling numbers to go along with that: A 1.69 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 11.25 strikeouts per nine innings and an opposing batting average of .189.

Equally dazzling and unanticipated has been the performance of reliever Josh Fields, a 31-year-old journeyman who has been up and down between the majors and minors for five years. Last year, he appeared in 43 games for the Dodgers and Astros, and while his late-season Dodgers’ numbers far outpaced his earlier season stats with the Astros, still for the year he only posted a 4.63 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, and opposing batters hit a tick under .300 against him. But his improvement this season has been more than overwhelming. As of today, over 20 relief appearances his ERA is 0.92, WHIP 0.92 and opposing hitters are at .200, a clear 100 points lower than last season. And, he has emerged as one of the two most reliable set-up guys out of the bullpen.

The 31-20 Dodgers were 27-24 after 51 games a year ago. The four-game difference in the now super-competitive National League West is a big one, and the Dodgers can thank Wood and Fields for their contributions to that improvement.

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