When 16-year-old left-hander Clayton Kershaw pitched at the WWBA PG/BA World Championship in Fort Myers, Fla., in October of 2004, he found himself competing against some pretty elite company. Kershaw, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound high school junior from Dallas, could sense the greatness around him and surely must have felt he belonged.
Now nine years removed from that Perfect Game tournament experience, Kershaw has risen above that pack of young stars and occupies a room all his own in the home of Major League Baseball’s truly elite pitching talents.
Kershaw, 25 years old and the undeniable staff ace for the National League West Division champion Los Angeles Dodgers, on Wednesday night received the 2013 National League Cy Young Award on a vote by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA).
He received 29 of 30 first-place votes and 207 points in the balloting by 30 national baseball writers, well ahead of runner-up Adam Wainwright of the St. Louis Cardinals (one first-place vote, 86 points) and third-place finisher Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins (62 points). Fernandez, a 2010 Perfect Game All-American, won the NL Rookie of the Year Award earlier this week.
This is Kershaw’s second NL Cy Young Award in three years – he won in 2011 and was runner-up in the voting in 2012 – and further establishes the young left-hander as the franchise’s most elite pitcher since three-time NL Cy Young Award winner Sandy Koufax wore Dodger Blue in the 1960s.
“This is such a cool thing,” Kershaw told the MLB Network after Wednesday’s announcement. “I feel like anybody can have one great season or one great half of a season. For me, I think the mark of a truly good player or good pitcher is to be able to do it year in, year out. For me, that’s my goal, to be that model of consistency.”
Kershaw’s 2013 season was almost a mirror image of his stellar efforts in the two previous campaigns. He led the league in ERA (1.83), strikeouts (232) and WHIP (0.915), the latter an indicator of walks plus hits per inning pitched.
His 16 wins was the second most of his career (he won 21 in 2011) and was tied for third in the National League and seventh in the major leagues. According to MLB.com, he was the only pitcher in the National League to finish in the top three in wins, ERA, strikeouts and innings pitched.
Kershaw’s 1.83 ERA earned him his third straight NL ERA title – it’s the second lowest ERA in the big leagues since Pedro Martinez posted a 1.74 in 2000 and the lowest in the NL since Greg Maddux produced a 1.63 in 1995. It is also the top ERA by a National League left-hander since Koufax posted a 1.73 in 1966.
“He doesn’t take a hitter off. Every pitch has a purpose,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told MLB.com in August. “He wants every out he can get (and) he keeps turning the page. Everything in the past is over and it’s about today. He’s pretty amazing.”
The Dodgers selected Kershaw with the seventh overall pick of the first round in the 2006 MLB First-Year Player Draft and he made his big league debut less than two years later on May 25, 2008, at age 20. In six seasons as a Dodgers’ starter he is 77-46 with a 2.60 ERA.
Kershaw was a little bit of late-bloomer but by the time he graduated from Dallas’ Highland Park High School in 2006, Perfect Game ranked him the No. 3 overall national prospect in his class. He was named the 2006 Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year after going 13-0 with 0.77 ERA and 139 strikeouts in 64 innings during his senior season at Highland Park.
“Clayton has electric stuff on the mound,” Highland Park head coach Lew Kennedy said after Kershaw earned the POY award in 2006. “He competes well and has a knack for getting strikeouts in tough situations. He is a humble young man who is a great role model for our team and community.”
He may have first started becoming a role model at that 2004 PG WWBA World Championship where there certainly was no shortage of available role models.
While Kershaw was suited up for the Dallas Tigers, he didn’t have to look far to spot current Pittsburgh Pirates teammates Andrew McCutchen (Team Florida) and Pedro Alvarez (Bayside Yankees/Virginia Barnstormers); San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey (East Cobb Astros); Cincinnati Reds right fielder Jay Bruce (Houston Heat); St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Lance Lynn (India Mustangs) and dozens of other future big-leaguers that were at the same event.
McCutchen is among three finalists for the NL Most Valuable Player Award which will be given out Thursday night.
Detroit Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer won the American League Cy Young Award in convincing fashion over Texas Rangers right-handed starter Yu Darvish and Seattle Mariners right-handed starter Hisashi Iwakuma.
With Kershaw’s repeat honor, the number of Perfect Game alumni to win a Cy Young award remains at three. Righty Zack Greinke, now a teammate of Kershaw’s with the Dodgers, won the AL Cy Young Award in 2009 with the Kansas City Royals, and Tampa Bay Rays lefty David Price won the AL Cy Young Award in 2012.