SAN FRANCISCO -- Clayton Kershaw playfully took ground balls at shortstop off the bat of third-base coach Tim Wallach during batting practice Wednesday afternoon at AT&T Park.
It was a bit awkward since he's a left-handed thrower, of course, but Kershaw scooped several balls up the middle and shoveled to second using his glove. He went into the hole, spun and made a nice, firm throw on the money to Dee Gordon.
It gave the impression that, should every other player on the Los Angeles Dodgers' roster capable of playing shortstop go down, he could probably do it.
Why not? There's very little Kershaw hasn't accomplished for the Dodgers in keeping other teams from scoring this season. He leads the major leagues in ERA (1.88), WHIP (.92) and ERA+. He leads the National League with 224 strikeouts, fewer than only Yu Darvish and Max Scherzer in the major leagues.
He's a 25-year-old Cy Young winner who, by virtually all measures, is having his finest season. After he polishes off his regular season with Friday night's start at Dodger Stadium against the Colorado Rockies, he figures to become only the third pitcher since 2000 to finish a season with a sub-2.00 ERA, joining Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez.
He will be only the second Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher to do it. The other, of course, was the man he's so often compared to, Sandy Koufax, who did it four times.
Yet, at 15-9, Kershaw is tied for 10th in the majors in wins going into Thursday's games. He is tied for 22nd in winning percentage.
In recent seasons, Cy Young voters have become astute enough to look beyond wins in selecting the league's best pitcher, so Kershaw stands little chance of missing out on his second Cy Young Award in three seasons. The San Francisco Giants' Tim Lincecum won the award in 2009 going 15-7. Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners won it in 2010 at 13-12.
But does that go far enough?
There has been a movement among some statistically-minded fans, led by MLB Network anchor Brian Kenny, to get rid of the win as an official statistic. Many of those people also believe Kershaw should be the league MVP. On Twitter, the campaign trends under #killthewin. Kershaw could be the poster child for the movement, but neither he nor fellow Cy Young winner Zack Greinke, the Dodgers’ 1-A, is in favor of such a drastic move.
"Getting rid of the stat would be way extreme," Greinke said. "I've always thought it doesn't indicate how well you pitched, but it's an important statistic. If the Cy Young is the Most Valuable Pitcher, then wins have to count. But if it's just who is the best individual pitcher, then I don't think it's as important."
As often happens these days in baseball arguments about players' value, the dispute has tended to break down on generational lines and along the lines of those who compete within the game and those who dissect it from afar.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly says he sees the value in a pitcher's won-loss record. Earlier this month, Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland went on a rant about the run-support statistic and, specifically, how it has been used against his ace right-hander, Scherzer, who is 21-3 but also ranks highly in more advanced statistics. He leads the American League in WHIP, for example.
"Some people could find a flaw in Bo Derek," Leyland said.
The Detroit Tigers have scored an average of 5.59 runs per game when Scherzer is pitching, over two runs per game more than the Dodgers have provided Kershaw, who ranks 66th in run support. Dodgers hitters have scored more runs for Hyun-Jin Ryu than any other L.A. starter.
Kershaw won 21 games (and the Cy Young) in 2011, but since then the Dodgers have struggled to score for him consistently. He went 15-9 last year and still finished second in Cy Young balloting. He admits it's not ideal, but he's dealing with it.
"Won-loss record is tough for a pitcher to be gauged on. There are just a lot of things you can't control, but at the same time, it feels good to see a win by your name," Kershaw said. "I think it is a stat. I don't think it should be used as the stat to determine a pitcher's success."
By most measures, Kershaw is pitching at a higher level than he was in either of his two previous seasons. This will be the third straight season in which he has led the majors in ERA. In 2011, he said, it felt as if he had a 2-0 lead every time he took the mound. He has learned not to base his confidence level on whether he is winning or losing games.
He isn't willing to call this season his best ever, at least not right now.
"I'll let you know in November," Kershaw said. "What really matters is team success. If we can make a run at this thing, it'll be the best season yet."
Perhaps the most amazing number is this: The Dodgers are just 18-14 in games Kershaw has started even though he leads the National League with an 8.1 WAR, according to baseball-reference.com.
That could leave the postseason for Kershaw to display his true value to the Dodgers as they try and turn a season of expectations into a season of fulfilled expectations. He will start Game 1 of the Dodgers' National League Division Series that begins next Thursday and, if things go well, the first game of every subsequent postseason series.
Kershaw is 0-1 with a 5.87 ERA in the postseason, but he hasn't pitched in one since 2009, when he was 21 years old.
"I don't think I really understood what was going on, to be honest with you," Kershaw said. "I just thought it was another game to pitch. I didn't understand it doesn't happen every day. I just thought it was part of the season. Now, I understand that it's pretty special to get to go there."