Greinke and Kershaw Have Been Historically Good in 2015

Friday night in Pittsburgh, Clayton Kershaw will face Gerrit Cole in game one of the the Los Angeles Dodgers’ series with the Pittsburgh Pirates. If Kershaw can get through the first three innings unscathed, his current scoreless inning streak will reach 40 innings. Coming on the heels of Zack Greinke‘s 45.2-inning scoreless streak that was snapped last week, it would be the Dodgers’ second streak of 40 innings or longer this season. Kershaw had a 41.2-inning streak last season, too, so this would be the Dodgers’ third such streak in the past 13 months.

How historic is that? Let’s take a look.

There have been 24 streaks of 40+ scoreless innings in baseball history (Kershaw would be 25), and 11 of those came in the dead-ball era. There have only been two seasons that saw multiple such streaks: Cy Young and Doc White in dead-ball 1904, and Luis Tiant, Bob Gibson, and Don Drysdale in 1968. We’ll talk more about 1968 in a bit, but suffice it to say for now that 1968 was called “The Year of the Pitcher,” and Major League Baseball changed rules to prevent the game from ever being dominated so heavily by pitching again.

So if Kershaw gets to 40 innings, 2015 will become the third season with multiple 40-inning scoreless streaks. Of course, Cy Young and Doc White were not teammates; neither were Drysdale, Gibson, and Tiant. No season has ever seen two teammates with such lengthy streaks, or even in back-to-back seasons. The closest any team has ever come is a five-year gap, which has happened twice:

  • Rube Waddell had a 43.2-inning streak for the 1905 Philadelphia Athletics; in 1910, A’s pitcher Jack Coombs had 53 consecutive shutout innings.
  • In 1913, Walter Johnson pitched 55.2 consecutive scoreless innings, a record that stood for 55 years until Drysdale broke it in 1968; in 1918, Johnson reeled off 40 straight innings without a run.

So the Dodgers are already the first team ever to have shutout streaks of 40+ innings in consecutive seasons. If Kershaw gets to 40 this week:

  • He would become the first pitcher ever to have two such streaks in consecutive seasons.
  • He would become only the third pitcher to have two such streaks in his career, after Johnson and Tiant (1968 with the Boston Red Sox and 1972 with the Cleveland Indians).
  • Greinke and Kershaw would become the first teammates to have such streaks in the same season.

The Dodgers’ recent dominance in scoreless-inning streaks is fairly well known. Dodgers’ Hall of Famer Drysdale set the record in 1968 and held it for 20 years, until Dodger Orel Hershiser passed him on his way to the Cy Young Award and World Series championship in 1988. Interestingly, there were only two streaks of 40 innings or longer between Drysdale and Hershiser: Gibson’s 47-inning streak for the St. Louis Cardinals, which began about a week before Drysdale’s ended; and Tiant’s 40-inning streak for the 1972 Indians.

There have been only four such streaks since Hershiser, with 2015 Greinke and 2014 Kershaw making up half that total. Brandon Webb‘s 42-inning streak for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007 and R.A. Dickey‘s 44.2-inning streak for the 2012 New York Mets are the other two.

So all told, if Kershaw throws three more shutout innings during this current streak, that will make five out of the past nine 40-inning scoreless streaks coming from the Dodgers, after notching exactly zero of the first 16.

Prior to 1968, the San Francisco Giants (and their New York predecessors) actually had the three most recent such streaks, but there was more than 34 years between the first and the third. New York Giants’ hurler Carl Hubbell, one year before setting All-Star Game history by striking out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin consecutively, reeled off 45.1 consecutive scoreless innings between July 13 and August 1, 1933. Seventeen years later, Sal Maglie came within one out of tying Hubbell’s mark in 1950. And seventeen years after that, across the country, San Francisco Giants pitcher Gaylord Perry spun and spit his way to 40 consecutive scoreless innings in 1967.

In total, as it stands right now, here is the tally for 40-inning shutout streaks by team:

  • 4, Los Angeles Dodgers
  • 3, New York/San Francisco Giants
  • 3, Boston Red Sox
  • 2, Washington Senators (now the Minnesota Twins)
  • 2, Philadelphia Athletics
  • 2, Chicago White Sox
  • 1, Arizona Diamondbacks
  • 1, Boston Braves (now the Atlanta Braves)
  • 1, Chicago Cubs
  • 1, Cleveland Indians
  • 1, New York Mets
  • 1, Philadelphia Phillies
  • 1, Pittsburgh Pirates
  • 1, St. Louis Cardinals

Finally, let’s talk about Kershaw and Greinke and their overall performances for the 2015 season.

Greinke is having a historically good season. He currently leads the big leagues with a 1.41 ERA, and he has allowed more than two runs in only three of his 21 starts. (He has allowed exactly two runs in three others, leaving 15 games of one or zero runs.) Sure, his FIP and xFIP are not as stellar as his ERA (2.58 and 3.18, respectively), but that only matters for predicting his future performance. What’s done is done, and what’s been done is that he has dominated the league and put up a historically good season thus far.

Obviously, it is not likely that Greinke will mount a serious challenge to Gibson’s live-ball record 1.12 ERA from 1968, but it is almost a lock that he will finish with an ERA below 2.00. Assuming 11 more starts and his average of seven innings per start, he would have to average nearly 2.5 runs allowed per game to bump his ERA above 2.00. Put another way, he would have to allow four more earned runs in his last 11 starts than he has in his first 21 to end up over 2.00. With this much of the season gone, he is likely to end up somewhere between 1.35 and 1.80. Not too bad.

Then there is Kershaw. He started the season with some terrible luck, with a home run rate three times his career rate and a batting average on balls in play about a hundred points higher than his career average. His FIP and xFIP always reflected his poor luck, and the more level-headed among us knew that things would get better because luck, good or bad, never lasts.

His luck has definitely turned around. In his last 12 starts, he is 7-3 with a 1.10 ERA, 109 strikeouts, and 12 walks in 89.2 innings. That has brought his season ERA down to 2.37, nearly as good as his 2.11 FIP and 2.00 xFIP.

If Kershaw’s final 11 starts look about like his past 12, it is not out of the question for him to end up with an ERA below 2.00, as well. He has averaged 7.5 innings with a 1.10 ERA his past 12 starts; over 11 starts, that is 82.1 IP and 10 ER. Add those numbers to his current totals, and you have a 1.91 season ERA.

So it is not at all out of the realm of possibility for the Dodgers to have two pitchers with ERAs below 2.00 this season. That would be, to put it mildly, historic. In the live-ball era, there have been 40 pitcher seasons with an ERA below 2.00. Seven of those — 17.5 percent! — came in “The Year of the Pitcher,” 1968. That was the only year in the live-ball era that two teammates finished below 2.00, when the Indians had Tiant at 1.60 and “Sudden” Sam McDowell at 1.81. The 1945 Detroit Tigers, taking advantage of the weakened offense of the World War II era, came close, with Hal Newhouser (in his second consecutive MVP season) at 1.81 and Al Benton at 2.02.

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When it comes to ERA, Kershaw and Greinke have a chance to do something that has only been done once, in a famously pitcher-friendly season. When it comes to scoreless innings streaks, they have already made history and could very well make more. Simply put, there is no better 1-2 punch in a Major League pitching rotation than what the Dodgers have going on right now.

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