Clayton Kershaw, by nearly every measure (ERA, ERA+, WAR, others) is the best pitcher in baseball this year.
Edwin Jackson, by the same measures, is the worst. (By a lot.)
The two will face each other Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field in a game that you'd think is almost 100 percent likely to be a Dodger win.
How many other times in baseball history have we had such a lopsided starting-pitcher matchup? I looked into that and have some answers. Here are the criteria I used. I limited this to the expansion era (since 1961); that's still more than 50 years' worth of matchups.
Since Kershaw has a 1.70 ERA and 210 ERA+ in 185 innings, I used those as benchmarks. Here are the pitchers who have done that since 1961:
That's a solid list of dominant pitchers; you'll note that Sandy Koufax, who I expected to see in this list, isn't there. Reason: he pitched in a dominant pitchers' era where his ERA+ wasn't high enough to make this list. Bob Gibson dominated 1968 so thoroughly that he made it, along with other Cy Young Award winners.
Edwin Jackson has the highest ERA (6.09) and lowest ERA+ (63) among starting pitchers with at least 139 innings this year -- Jackson no longer makes the "qualified" list with his time on the DL. So I also looked for pitchers who matched those numbers, or came close.
I searched only for games after September 1, because for the purposes of doing this I wanted to have the "good" and "bad" pitchers to have well-established those traits for the seasons I was looking up. Also, it would likely take until September to pile up as many innings as Kershaw and Jackson have this year.
There have been a few games matching these top pitchers with bad ones, but many of them were against pitchers in their rookie years, guys making their only start of the year, and things similar to that, that disqualify them from being "lopsided" by my definition.
I have found two games in the expansion era that qualify under these terms: the best starting pitcher in baseball against the worst, in a September game. Don't click on the boxscore links until you read the pitcher descriptions below.
September 9, 1996, Kevin Brown (Marlins) vs. Paul Wilson (Mets). Brown, in his first year with the Marlins, would go on to lead the N.L. in ERA, shutouts, WHIP and ERA+ and finish second in Cy Young voting. Wilson had the worst ERA+ (75) of any N.L. pitcher in 1996 who threw as many innings as he did (149).
September 20, 2000, Pedro Martinez (Red Sox) vs. Steve Woodard (Indians). Pedro's 2000 season, his second straight Cy Young season for Boston, is considered one of the best pitching years in modern baseball history. Woodard, a journeyman, posted a 5.85 ERA and 80 ERA+ splitting 147⅔ innings between the Indians and Brewers.
I think my request for you to not click on the links might have given it away. In both of those mismatches, the lesser pitcher outpitched the better one, though in the Woodard vs. Pedro game, Martinez also threw very well.
Perhaps you might have somewhat different criteria for looking at this sort of thing, but I think this is a reasonable way of comparing the Kershaw vs. Jackson matchup scheduled for tomorrow with some past games.
I'm certainly not saying that Edwin Jackson will outpitch Clayton Kershaw at Wrigley Field Friday afternoon; in fact, I think that almost certainly won't happen. Just that it's possible. Because baseball.