A decade or so from now, we’ll look back at the best pitchers in 2021 and of the current generation, and the names Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer will probably be the first two that come to mind. Both deserve to be given some consideration among the greatest pitchers of all time. But when looking at the 21st century alone, right now it’s all about Kershaw vs Scherzer.
Clayton Kershaw vs Max Scherzer comparison
Which one is more deserving of the title of the best pitcher in the 21st century?
Scherzer entered his prime years around 2013 when he made the first of seven consecutive all-star appearances and won his first of what is now three Cy Young awards. It’s safe to say that he remained in his prime through at least the 2019 season when he helped to guide the Nationals to a World Series. That’s seven seasons in which he averaged close to 17 wins per season and had an ERA over 3.00 just once, going as low as 2.51 in 2017 and 2.53 in 2018.
As for Kershaw, he was practically in his prime from his second season in the majors when he posted a 2.79 ERA in 2009. That was the first of 10 straight seasons in which he held his ERA under 3.00, including three seasons when he posted an ERA under 2.00.
To be fair, Kershaw didn’t show as much durability as Scherzer, failing to make at least 30 starts all but once between 2014 and 2019 whereas Scherzer made at least 30 starts every year from 2009 to 2018. However, it’s tough to argue against Kershaw being the more dominant pitcher during his peak years.
In any debate about the best pitchers of all time, longevity is always a key ingredient.
In this category, Scherzer and Kershaw are more or less equal. Both made their debuts in the majors in 2008 and have logged almost the same number of innings over the years.
Of course, Kershaw was a few years younger when both pitchers made their debut in 2008. Naturally, outside of a few more injuries, Kershaw has had slightly less of a drop-off in performance since the end of 2019, giving the southpaw the slightest of edges in this department.
In the Postseason
Not all games are created equal, and performing in October counts for a lot. Kershaw, to his credit, has made more postseason appearances than Scherzer, logging over 75 more playoff innings than Scherzer.
Of course, some of Kershaw’s meltdowns in the postseason have become infamous and earned him the reputation of a pitcher who can’t deliver in the playoffs. His 4.19 postseason ERA is modest but by no means egregious.
Scherzer has a slight edge with a 3.38 ERA in the playoffs. However, both pitchers have won a similar percentage of their postseason starts with Kershaw redeeming himself somewhat with two wins during the 2020 World Series.
The awards won by Scherzer and Kershaw are almost a wash.
Both pitchers have won three Cy Young Awards and have led their respective leagues in wins and strikeouts on multiple occasions. Scherzer also gets bonus points for pitching two immaculate innings and having two no-hitters while Kershaw has just one. Scherzer has also tied the MLB record by striking out 20 batters in a nine-inning game. Of course, Kershaw also owns a Gold Glove and won the pitching Triple Crown in 2011.
Kershaw vs Scherzer: The Verdict
If you can only choose one pitcher who has been the best in the 21st century, that pitcher would have to be Kershaw. He was in the majors at a younger age than Scherzer and was dominant almost immediately whereas Scherzer had some ups and downs during his early years in Detroit.
In so many ways, they are on near-equal footing. But Kershaw has been a little better for a little longer, ultimately giving him an edge over Scherzer.