Sandy Koufax vs. Clayton Kershaw: Who is the Greatest Dodgers Pitcher of All Time?

There is a growing question amongst Dodgers fans of all generations of the iconic franchise. Who is the greatest pitcher in Dodgers history between Sandy Koufax and Clayton Kershaw?

Well, let’s start with Sandy Koufax. At his peak, Sandy Koufax was nearly unhittable. Hall of Famer Willie Stargell once said that trying to hit Sandy Koufax was like trying to drink coffee with a fork. But before he ascended to be the game’s top hurler, the first five years of Koufax’s career were rather mediocre. Koufax went 54-53 with a 3.94 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, with an unimpressive 9.2 K-BB%

Through his first five seasons. Koufax struggled with command early in his career, where he issued 405 free passes in 691.2 innings pitched through the 1960 season. However, the light bulb turned on for Koufax after taking Dodgers’ catcher Norm Sherry’s advice to dial down his intensity on the mound. Koufax would go on to walk just 412 batters in the final 1.632.2 innings of his career. With his command issues corrected, Koufax would establish himself as the premier starting pitcher in baseball en route to a first-ballot Hall of Fame career. Koufax finished his career with a 165-87 record, 2.76 ERA, 2.69 FIP, 1.106 WHIP, 25.2 K%, 6 BB%, .202 Opp Avg., with 54.5 fWAR across 2324.1 innings pitched. Koufax’s dominance during the second half of his career was otherworldly. From 1961-1965, Koufax owned a 2.19 ERA, 2.16 FIP, 0.97 WHIP, .194 Opp Avg. and led all pitchers with 46.3 fWAR in that stretch.

Additionally, Koufax tossed three no-hitters and one perfect game, with the Southpaw’s perfecto against the Chicago Cubs on September 9, 1965, considered one of the finest games ever pitched. The Southpaw set a new perfect game record after fanning 14 hitters. Named by MLB as one of the four “Greatest Living Players,” Koufax was Baseball’s first three-time Cy Young Award winner (’63, ’65’, ’66) and took home league MVP honors in 1963. You can make a strong argument for Kershaw when it comes to the regular season alone, but Sandy Koufax is superior in the postseason.

In Koufax’s era, the postseason meant the World Series, as there was no Wild Card Game, Division Series, or League Championship Series. Koufax made eight career appearances in the Fall Classic, including seven starts, where he went 4-3 with a 0.95 ERA, 0.825 WHIP with 61 strikeouts to 11 walks. “The Left Arm of God” shined brighter than anyone on the game’s biggest stage. On October 2, 1963, Koufax set a new World Series record after mowing down 15 Yankees in Game 1. Koufax’s World Series dominance continued in the 1965 World Series, where he pitched a shutout in Game 5 on three days rest, and then remarkably threw a shutout in Game 7 on two days rest, leading the Dodgers to their second World Series title in three years. Unfortunately, Koufax’s career was cut short due to an arthritic left arm that forced him to retire at age 30.

Sandy Koufax vs. Clayton Kershaw: Who is the Greatest Dodgers Pitcher of All Time?

We discuss who is the greatest pitcher in Dodgers history between Sandy Koufax and Clayton Kershaw. Plus, what if Koufax didn’t have to retire early?

While Clayton Kershaw can’t quite match the no-hitters, the perfect game (thanks Hanley), or the postseason brilliance of Sandy Koufax, you can make the argument that Kershaw was better for longer stretches in the regular season. For his career, Kershaw has posted a sparkling 2.49 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 3.57 FIP, .206 Opp Avg., 27.6 K%, 6.3 BB%, and a 69.5 fWAR across 2454.2 innings. Kershaw didn’t experience the early struggles like Koufax, but like Sandy, distanced himself from his peers at his peak. From 2011-2016, Kershaw held a 2.06 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 2.26 FIP, .196 Opp Avg., 29 K%, 5.2 BB%, and led all pitchers with a 43.4 fWAR.

Kershaw also matched Koufax’s three Cy Young Awards (’11, ’13, ’14) and league MVP (’14). As far as signature performances, Kershaw has tossed more than his fair share of gems. Despite losing a chance at a perfect game after Hanley Ramirez’s error in the seventh inning, Kershaw’s no-hitter against the Rockies on June 14, 2014, stands as one of the greatest pitching performances of all time. Kershaw’s 102 game score ranks as the third-highest in MLB history behind Kerry Wood (105, May 6, 1998, vs. Astros) and Max Scherzer (104, October 3, 2015, vs. Mets), and above Koufax’s perfect game (101, September 9, 1965, vs. Cubs). Further, there have been 314 no-hitters in MLB history, and Kershaw’s is the only one with 15 strikeouts and zero walks. So when it comes to the regular season, Kershaw doesn’t take a backseat to anyone, but you can’t ignore Kershaw’s struggles in the postseason.

Kershaw has gone 13-12 with a 4.19 ERA and a 1.047 WHIP through 189 innings. While there is no doubt that Kershaw has had his share of postseason clunkers, he’s had plenty of solid to great starts as well. Kershaw tossed a gem in Game 1 of the 2017 World Series vs. the Astros, where he became the first pitcher to record 11 strikeouts without issuing a walk in the Fall Classic since Don Newcombe fanned 11 Yankees with no walks in Game 1 of the 1949 World Series.

Further, Kershaw was cruising in Game 5 of the 2017 World Series vs. the Astros before Houston illegally stole signs. With LA up 4-0 in the fourth inning, Houston’s offense magically came alive after a Carlos Correa double and a Yuli Gurriel 3-run home run evened the score at 4, and Houston went on to win one of the wildest World Series games in recent memory 13-12. Had the Astros not been cheating, and Kershaw shoved like he did Game 1, Kershaw might have taken home World Series MVP honors and thus have a stronger case to have the title as “greatest pitcher in Dodgers franchise history.” Kershaw failed to exorcise his postseason demons during the 2018 World Series vs. the Red Sox, where he allowed 9 runs in 11 innings of work. Kershaw’s postseason horrors continued in 2019, where he gave up five earned runs in 6.1 innings pitched, as the top-seeded Dodgers were upset by the Wild Card Nationals in 5 games. Kershaw eventually had his moment during the 2020 postseason, where he pitched well throughout, including a strong 2.31 ERA vs. the Rays in the World Series. The Dodgers ended their 32-year World Series drought by beating the Rays in six games, and Kershaw was finally able to silence some of his doubters by pitching well on the game’s biggest stage. So, while Kershaw’s postseason woes are a bit overblown, Koufax’s sheer dominance and at his peak and his continuous ability to lead the Dodgers to win the game’s ultimate prize make him the Greatest pitcher in Dodgers history.

Doug McKain

Doug McKain is a lifelong Dodger fan and hosts Dodgers Nation’s “DNpostgame” show online. He also hosts Dodgers DougOut and the LA Sports Report on YouTube. DMAC is also a rabid Lakers fan, and lover of all Los Angeles sports.


  1. It’s also worth noting that Koufax won three Cy Young’s when there was one award for both leagues.There is little question that Kershaw had better head to head seasons than Scherzer (2013) or Kluber (2014) but it would have been a pretty tight call against Verlander (2011). Still,it is interesting how close Kershaw and Koufax are in the regular season. Alas, Koufax was the god of my youth and will always be the greatest Dodger pitcher.

    1. To me Koufax was the best of the best, or at least of my lifetime. To watch him on the mound was seeing poetry in motion. He was my very favorite player of all time.

  2. To me, because I’m an old man, it has to be Koufax. It’s tuff to compare them because they are from different generations. But, if you take both pitchers 5 best years and compare them, not to each other, but to their peers, it’s easy to say they were the best pitchers of their generation.

  3. Koufax couldn’t be hit during his brief career. He had to ice his arm every day because of his arthritis. He was one of a kind. My cousin played with him and Fred Wilson at Lafayette HS in Brooklyn. My mother played on the girls basketball team when the girls on defense couldn’t cross half court!

  4. Doug, I believe you missed commenting that Sandy pitched in pain during his peak years. He was 14-5 at the All Star break in 1962, But had to stop pitching due to left hand finger issue. Koufax was 27-3 in 1966. Jim Palmer asked how did he lose 3 games. Kershaw seems to have been unable to deal with pain very well over the last several seasons. No question, Sandy Koufax is the best dodger pitcher of all time. Even the baseball writers selected Sandy as the most significant Dodger player of all time.

  5. Its not even a close call
    Sandy Koufax is the greatest of all time!!
    ask yourself, in their prime,
    “the 7th game of the World Series, pitching on the road, with 2 days rest,
    pitching a complete game 3 hit shutout , who would rather have pitching? ”
    Sandy Koufax did this .
    Sandy Koufax.

  6. Only thing to add here is that Koufax dominated in the post season (World Series) when it mattered most. Kershaw has had injury issues the past few seasons but was able to pitch part of that time. From 1961 to 1966 Koufax was most dominant in the regular season as well.

  7. Sandy is the greatest pitcher, most strike outs,the team at the time had fewer hitters, how many games did he loose by score 1-0?

  8. I’m biased as I was a kid growing up when Koufax was in his prime, but he was just so good in his prime. An odd career, partly due to being a bonus baby, but when he figured it out and got it together, my god what a pitcher. Which takes nothing away from Kershaw, he’s a HOF’er to come, but Koufax was just better in his short career.

  9. With Kershaw, you expect a terrific game. With Koufax, you expected a perfect game. The anticipation was there every time Sandy pitched.

  10. Sandy Koufax:

    MLB statistics
    Win–loss record 165–87
    Earned run average 2.76
    Strikeouts 2,396

    Clayton Kershaw:
    MLB statistics
    (through 2021 season)
    Win–loss record 185–84
    Earned run average 2.49
    Strikeouts 2,670

    Don Drysdale:
    Win–loss record 209–166
    Earned run average 2.95
    Strikeouts 2,486

    Clearly Kershaw is greater than Koufax: More wins and strikeouts. Less losses, lower ERA.

  11. Without doubt, Koufax #1 gets the strikes and the outs, reg season and when it counts. My stress levels, I’m sure would not mount. Kershaw, allows back-to-back homers on back-to-back pitches in a consequential game, has excuses every time he looses and my stomach turns to stitches.

  12. Just ask yourself which one you would want to pitch in a one and done game.

    It’s Koufax.

  13. Koufax is one of the best pitchers of all time, if he had not had to retire early, he would have won many more games and there would be no contest. Koufax best Dodger pitcher ever, Clayton is great, but for my money give me Sandy.

  14. Kershaw isn’t even in the same area code as Koufax. When healthy, Koufax was the greatest of all time. His body betrayed him, therefore you would have to rate Kershaw as good as, but not better than, Sandy. jmho

  15. A baseball pundit was asked about whether Koufax was the best in the Major leaguedhe answered Koufax pitches on a higher plain

  16. I only wish the baseball doctors knew back then how to repair Koufax’s arthritic arm. In my book, he was the best left hander in MLB history not named Babe Ruth.

  17. If you just look at their peak, say 5 years, I will take Koufax. If you look at their entire career, give me Kershaw. Sandy’s biggest drawback was longevity.

  18. For a career Kershaw is the best Dodger pitcher ever, IMO. For a 5 year span, give me Koufax. Drysdale is in 2nd place for career and 3rd place for his prime…. IMHO

  19. Sandy Koufax was, is the best ever!! How many no hitters has Kershaw pitched? How many perfect games has Kershaw pitched? When it was all on the line in October who came through? Koufax’s career speaks for itself.???

  20. Post season:
    Koufax, 4-3, 0.95 (all WS)
    Drysdale, 3-3. 2.95 (all WS)
    Kershaw, 13-12, 4.19

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