The Dodgers have an ace. His name is Clayton Kershaw.
I made a similar declaration nearly one year ago to the day, with the hope Kershaw would realize his potential. He definitely has. And he's only going to continue improving.
Despite the Dodger offense scoring only 3.9 runs per game, the big lefty is 10-6 on the season for a reeling Dodger team. Even his brilliance could not stop the Dodgers from getting swept by the Wild Card-leading and arch-rival Giants on Sunday, in spite of stupid managerial decisions by Joe Torre (see: Three intentional walks, including one to Aaron Rowand with two outs and a runner on second base in the sixth inning).
The numbers say Kershaw should have a better record. He could easily have 13 or 14 wins by now, because wins are all that matter when evaluating pitchers, right? The funny thing is, the 10 wins this season surpassed his career-high of eight, which he posted in 2009.
Kershaw is an ace -- there's no doubt about that. His 2.94 ERA and 1.23 WHIP are lower than that of reigning two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum. Kershaw's 3.9 BB/9 is down by nearly a one walk from 2009 (4.8 to 3.9), and he isn't sacrificing strikeouts, as he has a 9.4 K/9 rate. He also has the sixth-best Wins Above Replacement rate (3.3) in the NL amongst pitchers.
Kershaw on pace for a career-high 211 innings. His repeatable delievery allows him to pitch deeper into games. He averaged 5.7 innings per start in '09 -- that number is up to 6.25 this season. That, coupled with the lower BB/9, is encouraging for a 22-year-old.
He has a better pitches per plate appearance (P/PA) rate than NL Cy Young frontrunner Josh Johnson (3.99 to 4.01) and better pitches per innings pitched rate (P/IP) than Brewer fireballer and All-Star Yovani Gallardo.
The kid is becoming a pitcher, not just a thrower. If the Dodgers could start scoring some runs, they might not be mired in this five-game (soon to be six-game) losing streak. The team is falling like a rock, but they have a rock heading the rotation in Kershaw.
With Chad Billingsley pitching well of late, there's still hope these two will anchor the Dodger rotation for the next five years. The addition of a top-flight starter in the off-season (Cliff Lee, finally???) could give the Dodgers the best 1-2-3 in the National League -- if not the majors.
Logic would dictate the Dodgers would have some money to play with in the off-season, as Hiroki Kuroda's and Vicente Padilla's contracts will be coming off the books. Manny Ramirez's contract will be as well (perhaps before Aug. 31), but he is still owed a lot of money in deferred payments.
However, the ownership situation could prevent the Dodgers from again adding some much-needed star power in the off-season.
But make no mistake: The Dodgers don't need an ace; they already have one. They need a complimentary piece to the puzzle. If that's a Cliff Lee or Zack Greinke, that would be great.
I'm sure I'll be authoring another "Kershaw is an ace" piece in about a year. Here's hoping it'll also include a case for him winning the 2011 NL Cy Young Award and leading the Dodgers back to the playoffs.