Koufax Vs. Kershaw – Two Left Handers, Two Eras of Great Dodger Pitching

by Jim Morris

Sandy Koufax pitched from 1955 to 1966 for the Brooklyn Dodgers, moving out with the team to Los Angeles in 1958.  In fact, ironically, the Dodgers’ acquisition of Koufax was partly to account for Tommy Lasorda having to spend most of the tail end of his own pitching career at the Montreal Royals, (Brooklyn’s AAA farm team at the time). Lasorda, like Koufax and Kershaw, was a lefty as well.

Koufax won 3 Cy Young awards, went to 7 All-stars, had 3 pitching Triple Crowns, an MVP, 2 World Series MVP’s, pitched in 4 world Series and has 3 World Series rings. Sandy had a late start to greatness though.

It took him a few years to become dominant. It wasn’t until His 7th year in the major leagues at the young age of 25 that he was a force to be feared on the mound. Unfortunately, his arm burned out at age 30 but was so dominate for 6 years that he was a first ballot Hall of Famer in 1972.  He was always a class act off the field as well.

Here’s Sandy’s (career)  numbers:

From 1961-1966 Koufax average 22 wins and 8 losses, 2.19 era, 286k’s, 6 shutouts a year, 69 walks, 272 innings, .970 whip, and 2.16 FIP.

Now let’s take Clayton Kershaw – in my opinion today’s version of Koufax so far.

Kershaw began dominating pretty much right away. After his rookie year at age 21 he had an ERA of 2.79 with 185k’s in 171 innings. Kershaw has 3 CY Young awards, an MVP, went to 6 All Star games and probably a 7th this year.

From 2011 to 2016 Kershaw averaged 17 wins 6 losses, 2.06 ERA, 213 innings pitched, 42 walks, 237k’s, 2 shutouts, .908 whip, 2.26 FIP. At age 29 this year, which stats I did not include he appears to still be going strong.

Is Kershaw better than Koufax or is he on par? Well in some ways it seems so but it is a matter of opinion.

Koufax had a better team in my opinion but also pitched way more innings which may or may not have affected him. Who knows maybe he could have pitched a few more years and continued to dominate had he not worn his arm out.

What I do know is Kershaw is quite impressive compared to other pitchers today in fact even to other pitchers historically. Kershaw has logged 10 years already and if he were to retire after this year he would be a Hall of Famer, probably a first ballot one.

Fun fact about Koufax he ate at Ponderosa Steak House in Martinsburg, WV one night I was working back in 1991. I did not get to meet him though. The waitress told me after the fact. She had no idea I was a baseball nut especially for historical baseball players.

If she had asked, I’d have told her.

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One thought on “Koufax Vs. Kershaw – Two Left Handers, Two Eras of Great Dodger Pitching

  1. Nice idea Jim to compare the two great lefties. But I have to disagree with your saying if Kershaw were to retire after this year he would be a Hall of Famer, particularly not a first ballot selection. I realize it’s a different era but Koufax threw 137 complete games compared to 24 for Kershaw.

    Consider the career numbers of Mark Buehrle who retired following the 2015 season. He won 161 games including a perfect game and a no-hitter. He was a 5-time all star and won four gold gloves. He tossed 33 complete games. Certainly Kershaw’s career ERA and WHIP are much better but Buehrle pitched 16 years in the American League.

    Is Buerhrle headed to the Hall of Fame? Not a chance. Getting into the baseball Hall is an incredible achievement and IMO the toughest of all professional shrines to gain entry. Kershaw with 136 career wins is not in at this point. He is clearly headed in that direction but he must roll out 4-5 more great years.

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