A Southpaw Showdown: Koufax or Kershaw

Historical comparisons in sports are great because there is usually no right answer to the question ‘who’s better’. Jordan or Kobe? Manning or Montana? Tiger or Jack? Individual opinions vary and can be easily validated or rebuked depending on your point of view. If you never saw Johnny Unitas throw a spiral how can you say that he was better than Brady? If you never watched Oscar Robertson drop an entire season’s worth of triple-double how can you possibly argue that LeBron is the superior basketball talent? Right or wrong, these comparisons fuel some of the most passionate conversations in sports.

In baseball today there is a debate developing that may never be solved, one that even though it is currently based on speculation and career trajectory remains very worthy of our attention. Who’s better: Sandy Koufax or Clayton Kershaw?

At this point in time the Hall of Famer Koufax’s legendary accomplishments make it difficult to compare him to just about any other pitcher in MLB history, let alone Clayton Kershaw. 1 MVP. 3 Cy Youngs. 3 World Series Championships. 2 World Series MVPs. The accolades do not do justice to the dominance of Koufax who’s career came to a premature end at the young of 30.

Yet the 26 year old Kershaw has already staked his claim as this era’s best pitcher and could soon find himself listed alongside some of the games all time greats. This season he is on pace to win his 3rd Cy Young award and could be in line for his first MVP as well. Kershaw’s superiority doesn’t stop there as he has allowed 3 runs or fewer in 24 of his 25 starts with the Dodgers going 18-1 in games he has started since the beginning of June.

The similarities between Koufax and Kershaw run deeper than their Dodger blue. Both lefties average around 230 strikeouts per 162 game season with Kershaw’s 2.48 career era slightly lower than Koufax’s 2.76. Koufax led the NL in complete games twice which Kershaw is doing for the first time this season.

The one area where there is no comparison is postseason performance as Koufax became an immortal because of October while Kershaw has so far struggled to find his playoff stride. Things could change this season however as the Los Angeles Dodgers are once again a top the NL West, thanks to Kershaw, with a talented roster poised for a postseason run.

And if the Dodgers do go on to win the World Series and Clayton Kershaw pitches like he has for most of his career, maybe then will the Kershaw/Koufax debate become a real thing, an argument for the ages, a showdown of southpaws.