Still the best (and better than ever)
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Felix Hernandez, Masahiro Tanaka, Johnny Cueto and Adam Wainwright have had dominant seasons, but Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw needed 107 pitches Wednesday night to reaffirm that he's baseball's best pitcher.

He also may be better than ever, which is astounding because he had a 1.83 ERA last season and owns the seventh-best ERA+ ever (minimum 1,000 innings).

Kershaw threw one of the most dominant nine-inning games in baseball history Wednesday against the Colorado Rockies, striking out 15 in his first career no-hitter. His game score* of 102 was second highest ever for a nine-inning pitching performance.

*Game score is a pitching statistic developed by Bill James (who else?). It starts with 50 points and adds one point for every out, two points for each innings completed after the fourth and one point for each strikeout while subtracting two points for each hit allowed, four points for each earned run allowed, two points for each unearned run allowed and one point for each walk.

There have been 11 nine-inning pitching performances with a game score of at least 100.

Here are the five best:

1) Kerry Wood, Chicago Cubs, May 6, 1998 versus Houston Astros - one hit, zero runs, zero walks, 20 strikeouts, 105 game score

2) Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers, June 18, 2014 versus Colorado Rockies - zero hits, zero runs, zero walks, 15 strikeouts, 102 game score

3) Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants, June 13, 2012 versus Houston Astros - zero hits, zero runs, zero walks, 14 strikeouts, 101 game score

4) Nolan Ryan, Texas Rangers, May 1, 1991 versus Toronto Blue Jays - zero hits, zero runs, two walks, 16 strikeouts, 101 game score

5) Sandy Koufax, Los Angeles Dodgers, Sept. 9, 1965 versus Chicago Cubs - zero hits, zero runs, zero walks, 14 strikeouts, 101 game score

Kershaw would have thrown a perfect game if not for Hanley Ramirez' seventh- inning error, but that doesn't factor into his game score and shouldn't distract from his dominance.

The two-time NL Cy Young Award winner's start on May 17 on the road against the Arizona Diamondbacks (1 2/3 IP, 6 H, 7 ER) is sullying his ERA -- it's 2.52 with May 17 included, 1.58 in his other nine starts -- but from a fielding-independent standpoint, Kershaw is having his best season.

In 64 1/3 innings, Kershaw has posted an 86/8 K/BB (12.03 K/9 and 1.12 BB/9, both career bests) and allowed four home runs (0.56 HR/9). His 1.60 FIP is tops among all pitchers with at least 60 innings this season and would also be the second best since 1910 after Pedro Martinez' 1.39 in 1999.

According to FanGraphs, the left-hander is getting batters to chase at a career-high 37.5 percent rate and getting contact on pitches out of the zone at a career-low 51 percent rate.

Increasing his slider velocity by two mph over last season and three mph over his career average likely is one of the factors behind the improvement.

He's also thrown a first-pitch strike 72.8 percent of the time and recorded a swing-and-miss on 14.8 percent of his strikes, both career bests as well.

And his ground-ball rate is 58.1 percent, well above his career rate of 44.6 percent.

Kershaw has some work to do if he wants to win his fourth straight NL ERA title. The back injury he suffered in March has limited him to 10 starts this season. He'll need to throw 97 2/3 innings the rest of the season to qualify.

The 26-year-old likely has 17-18 starts remaining, so he should pass the minimum innings requirement if he stays healthy.

Speaking of health, bronchitis robbed iconic Dodgers announcer Vin Scully of the chance to call Josh Beckett's no-hitter, which would have been Scully's 19th, in May, but Kershaw gave him No. 19 Wednesday.

Kershaw has been so brilliant this year that Scully could call No. 20 and, if Hanley Ramirez doesn't get in the way, his fourth perfect game before this season is in the books.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Thomas J. Harrigan at tharrigan@sportsnetwork.com.

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