It happened again.
Thursday night in the sixth inning, with his team already down two games to one against the Braves, Clayton Kershaw lost it. It’s honestly uncanny at this point. He is a generational talent, a man who has already punched his ticket to Cooperstown with 69.6 bWAR over 13 seasons. He’s only 32 years old, so we’re seeing a bit of a decline although he probably has at least three or four solid seasons left. But amid all his talent, his three Cy Young awards and his minuscule career ERA of 2.43 fact stands out: his worst season, by far, is the postseason.
Across 177⅓ postseason innings he has a 4.31 ERA. The only other season he had an ERA over four was his rookie campaign where he had an ERA of 4.26 over 107⅔ innings. This is no small sample size, Kershaw has thrown more postseason innings than six of his 13 seasons and it seems pretty clear October is his kryptonite.
It got me thinking about another pitcher who is a borderline Hall of Famer, but a beast in the postseason — the Cubs‘ own Jon Lester.
Before I get into Lester’s stats, let me be clear, you could sub him out with a lot of pitchers in this equation. Madison Bumgarner is another pitcher who comes to mind, Andy Pettitte and Orlando Hernández, better known as El Duque, were also suggested to me as possibilities. But this is a Cubs site, so let’s run this mental experiment with Jon Lester.
Jon Lester has 15 seasons in the big leagues. He’s been an All Star five times and finished second in Cy Young voting in 2016. He has a very respectable 3.60 career ERA and has been one of the leagues most durable pitchers. He’s also absolutely nails in the postseason where he’s thrown 154 innings to a 2.51 ERA — and three World Series rings.
I posed this question to two different groups this week, and admittedly my Twitter account and the Fangraphs’ Effectively Wild podcast Facebook group are not exactly scientifically valid sample sizes, but the question of which pitcher you’d rather have is not as clear as you might think. On Twitter I posed the question as just who would you rather have on your team — now, my Twitter has A LOT of Cubs fans following it who I am guessing read between the lines, but this is still pretty overwhelming:
Who would you rather have on your team?— Sara Sanchez (@BCB_Sara) October 16, 2020
Pitcher A is borderline Hall of Famer who is nails in the postseason.
Pitcher B is a no-doubt Hall of Famer and generational talent who routinely gets lit up in the postseason
Now, the Effectively Wild crew is a lot more torn and leaned toward Kershaw - but it’s a lot closer than you’d think:
At the end of the day would you rather have a pitcher with three Cy Young Awards and a guaranteed ticket to the Hall of Fame or a pitcher with three World Series rings who may never get the call from the Hall? I know my answer, what is yours?
Who would you rather have on your team?
This poll is closed
Pitcher A - a borderline Hall of Famer who is nails in the postseason
Pitcher B - a no-doubt Hall of Famer & generational talent who routinely gets lit up in the postseason