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About That Lopsided Clayton Kershaw/Edwin Jackson Matchup...

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... just how lopsided is it? I decided to look into this.

Harry How

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:

Rk Player Year IP ERA+ Tm Lg G GS CG SHO GF W L W-L% ERA
1 Clayton Kershaw 2014 185.1 210 LAD NL 25 25 6 2 0 19 3 .864 1.70
2 Roger Clemens 2005 211.1 226 HOU NL 32 32 1 0 0 13 8 .619 1.87
3 Pedro Martinez 2003 186.2 211 BOS AL 29 29 3 0 0 14 4 .778 2.22
4 Pedro Martinez 2000 217.0 291 BOS AL 29 29 7 4 0 18 6 .750 1.74
5 Pedro Martinez 1999 213.1 243 BOS AL 31 29 5 1 1 23 4 .852 2.07
6 Pedro Martinez 1997 241.1 219 MON NL 31 31 13 4 0 17 8 .680 1.90
7 Roger Clemens 1997 264.0 222 TOR AL 34 34 9 3 0 21 7 .750 2.05
8 Kevin Brown 1996 233.0 215 FLA NL 32 32 5 3 0 17 11 .607 1.89
9 Greg Maddux 1995 209.2 260 ATL NL 28 28 10 3 0 19 2 .905 1.63
10 Greg Maddux 1994 202.0 271 ATL NL 25 25 10 3 0 16 6 .727 1.56
11 Roger Clemens 1990 228.1 211 BOS AL 31 31 7 4 0 21 6 .778 1.93
12 Dwight Gooden 1985 276.2 229 NYM NL 35 35 16 8 0 24 4 .857 1.53
13 Bob Gibson 1968 304.2 258 STL NL 34 34 28 13 0 22 9 .710 1.12
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/18/2014.

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.