Skip to content

What can the Dodgers expect from Clayton Kershaw over the next seven years?

Jan 15, 2014, 7:18 PM EDT

kershaw getty Getty Images

Per MLB.com, the Dodgers locked up Clayton Kershaw for seven years at $215 million earlier today. Dodgers president Stan Kasten is hopeful that the club will make the deal official by Friday morning. The news caused our eyes to jump to the horizon, wondering how the lefty will fare between now and 2020. But first, let’s put Kershaw in some historical context with what he’s already done.

Kershaw has led the Majors in ERA three years in a row, a feat only accomplished by Lefty Grove and Greg Maddux. In 2011, he became the youngest pitcher since Dwight Gooden to win the Cy Young award in the National League and already has two of them at the young age of 25.

Adjusting Kershaw’s ERA for league and park factors, we find that Kershaw’s 194 adjusted ERA in 2013 was the 41st-best dating all the way back to 1901 among starters who qualified for the ERA title. (Note: 100 is average.) Since 1930, it’s the 24th-best. If you limit the time frame to 1970-2013, Kershaw is one of only 11 pitchers to post an adjusted ERA of 190 or better.

Expanding the time frame back to 1901, Kershaw’s 2013 was the 10th-best by a left-handed starter. He is one of 12 left-handed pitchers to post an adjusted ERA of 190 or better in the last 112 years.

Now, back to his contemporaries. Combining 2011, 2012, and 2013, Kershaw’s aggregate 166 adjusted ERA is the best in baseball among starters who have tossed at least 500 combined innings. The next-best is Justin Verlander at 149, followed by Cliff Lee at 139. Among left-handers, only Kershaw, Lee, and Gio Gonzalez (126) have finished above 125 since 2011.

Kershaw’s deal makes him the most well-paid pitcher in baseball, ahead of Justin Verlander, who signed a seven-year, $180 million deal with the Tigers on March 29 last year.

How will he do going forward? It’s difficult to make comparisons with Kershaw since he is such a unique pitcher given his age, his resume, and the way he pitches. Since 1901, there have been 19 pitchers to post an adjusted ERA of 125 or better while throwing at least 1,000 innings before the age of 26. Only five – Walter Johnson (176), Kershaw (146), Tom Seaver (141), Roger Clemens (141), and Hal Newhouser (141) – were above 140. Kershaw, Newhouser, Noodles Hahn, and Gomez are the only lefties, and Newhouser was the most recent – he retired after the 1955 season.

Baseball Reference lists Kershaw’s ten-best comparables through the age of 25. They are Gary Nolan, Seaver, Jim Palmer, Vida Blue, Jim Maloney, Pedro Martinez, Dave McNally, Roger Clemens, Lefty Leifield, and Hal Schumacher. Nolan and Seaver get the highest similarity scores by a wide margin.

Nolan posted a 1.99 ERA in 1973 at the age of 24, but he missed time in August and September with neck and shoulder issues. He only threw 10 1/3 innings the next season due to arm issues, and missed all of 1974 as well. Though he was solid in 1975 and ’76 for the Reds, he quickly ran out of steam. He posted  6.09 ERA in 57 2/3 innings in ’77 at the age of 29 and then was out of baseball due to more arm and shoulder issues.

Seaver, of course, is a success story. Despite putting a strenuous workload on his arm throughout his career, topping 200 innings pitched in 16 of 20 seasons, he was able to pitch through his age-41 season. After his age-25 season, he had already won a Rookie of the Year award and a Cy Young award, but he wasn’t finished. He won two more Cy Youngs in 1973 and in ’75 at the ages of 28 and 30, respectively. Through age 32 – which is how old Kershaw will be in the final year of his deal – Seaver had a career 2.48 ERA (142 adjusted ERA) in nearly 3,000 innings.

Generally speaking, one would expect Kershaw to more or less match his output in the recent past through about his age-29 season before gradually tapering off. At the moment, we only have projections for 2014, but here’s what they look like from multiple sources:

  • Steamer: 192.0 IP, 3.08 ERA, 197 K, 52 BB
  • Oliver: 233.0 IP, 2.13 ERA, 237 K, 55 BB
  • ZiPS: 227.1 IP, 2.26 ERA, 233 K, 54 BB

By all three projection systems, Kershaw is expected to once again be the best starter in baseball in 2014. Starting from there, Kershaw should continue to be plenty productive as he wraps up the latter half of his 20’s. He has a lot of room to be worse and still provide enormous value to the Dodgers, as long as he can stay healthy.

Therein lies the rub. Kershaw must stay healthy. Projecting injuries is still at best an inexact science and a science best left to the experts. But as a general point, gambling seven years on Kershaw’s age 26 through 32 seasons is a lot better than gambling five years on Ryan Howard’s age 32 through 36 seasons, for example.

Jeff Zimmerman at FanGraphs has done tremendous research on injuries and predicted rather well for the 2013 season. In his formula, Zimmerman suggests that for every year older a pitcher gets, his likelihood of suffering an injury increases by one percent. If he makes a full season’s worth of starts (33), his odds diminish by three percent. If he suffers through an injury-plagued year, his odds increase by eight percent.

Over his six-year career, Kershaw has been almost perfectly healthy. He has never been on the disabled list, and has only missed time due to the AC joint in his right shoulder in 2009 (missed 13 games) and an impingement in his right hip last season (missed 10 games). Kershaw has also made exactly 33 starts three seasons in a row (he made 32 and 30 in the seasons prior, as well). So Kershaw’s odds of suffering an injury are pretty low going into 2014.

Taken all together, this is about as good of a gamble as the Dodgers could have hoped to have taken. The Dodgers are gambling on seven years which encompass the entirety of Kershaw’s prime and the contract barely takes him into his 30’s. Moreover, Kershaw has had a pristine bill of health through six seasons, especially since he has avoided elbow and shoulder injuries in his pitching arm. And, of course, he has been by far the best pitcher in baseball in recent years. There’s always the chance that this deal will go horribly wrong for the Dodgers, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more favorable situation with which to invest $215 million.

Latest Posts
  1. Bryce Harper walks in all four of his plate appearances, scores four runs

    Sep 3, 2015, 11:04 PM EDT

    FILE - In this July 21, 2015, file photo, Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper pauses in the dugout during a baseball game against the New York Mets at Nationals Park in Washington. Mike Trout turned 24 on Friday, and he and Bryce Harper could become the youngest pair of MVPs in major league history if they win this year.  (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File) AP

    Bryce Harper didn’t have an official at-bat tonight, but he still made a major impact in the Nationals’ 15-1 blowout victory over the Braves.

  2. Marcus Stroman is getting closer to rejoining the Blue Jays

    Sep 3, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT

    Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Marcus Stroman throws during the first inning of a spring training exhibition baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton, Fla., Wednesday, March 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) AP

    Stroman threw 4 2/3 hitless innings in his first minor league rehab start.

  3. Jose Iglesias exits game after being hit in hand while trying to bunt

    Sep 3, 2015, 10:29 PM EDT

    jose iglesias

    Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias was forced to exit Thursday’s game against the Royals in the third inning when he was hit in the hand while trying to drop down a bunt.

  4. Corey Seager starting at shortstop and batting eighth in MLB debut Thursday

    Sep 3, 2015, 9:50 PM EDT

    GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 28: Corey Seager #61 of the Los Angeles Dodgers poses for a portrait during spring training photo day at Camelback Ranch on February 28, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images) Getty Images

    The Dodgers called up top prospect Corey Seager today and manager Don Mattingly isn’t wasting any time getting him into the starting lineup…

  5. Daniel Murphy day-to-day with mild quad strain

    Sep 3, 2015, 8:46 PM EDT

    NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 16:  Daniel Murphy #28 of the New York Mets reacts after he is out at first to tend the eighth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates on August 16, 2015 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.The Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the New York Mets 8-1.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Murphy had a stint on the disabled list earlier this season due to a left quad strain.

  6. Stephen Strasburg expected to return for series against Mets next week

    Sep 3, 2015, 7:37 PM EDT

    Washington Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins at Nationals Park, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) AP

    Strasburg left his most recent start on Sunday with discomfort in his upper back, but he’s on track to make his return for a crucial series against the Mets next week.

  7. Andrew McCutchen is battling some Achilles tightness

    Sep 3, 2015, 6:50 PM EDT

    Pittsburgh Pirates' Andrew McCutchen hits a solo-home run off Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Dan Haren during the third inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) AP

    McCutchen feels “a little sore” and has been “hobbling around a little bit,” so he’ll take a rest before a big series against the Cardinals this weekend.

  8. ESPN pulls Curt Schilling off broadcasts for rest of regular season and Wild Card game

    Sep 3, 2015, 6:13 PM EDT

    Curt Schilling AP

    ESPN has pulled Schilling from their broadcasts for the remainder of the season.

  9. Rival scout says he’s really impressed with what the Phillies have done this year

    Sep 3, 2015, 4:31 PM EDT

    Ruben Amaro Jr. Ruben Amaro Jr.

    Sentiments like these — of which I’ve seen a few — makes me wonder about Ruben Amaro.

  10. Matt Harvey is expected to take his next turn

    Sep 3, 2015, 1:51 PM EDT

    Matt Harvey Matt Harvey

    He was suffering from dehydration yesterday.

  11. David Ortiz tweets his happiness about the Deflategate decision

    Sep 3, 2015, 1:05 PM EDT

    World Series - Boston Red Sox v St Louis Cardinals - Game Four Getty Images

    Finally, Tom Brady and Boston sports fans get a win!

  12. Tim Lincecum’s career with the Giants is likely over

    Sep 3, 2015, 12:46 PM EDT

    Tim Lincecum Getty Getty Images

    Shut down for the season with a hip injury.

  13. David Ortiz is more likely to be boned in Hall of Fame voting for being a DH than for PED stuff

    Sep 3, 2015, 10:38 AM EDT

    David Ortiz Getty Images

    Not that either of those things are valid reasons to keep a guy out of the Hall of Fame.

  14. Dodgers calling up No. 1 prospect Corey Seager for MLB debut

    Sep 3, 2015, 10:13 AM EDT

    Corey Seager Dodgers AP

    Considered by many to be the No. 1 prospect in baseball.

  15. And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights

    Sep 3, 2015, 7:55 AM EDT

    Clayton Kershaw AP

    Clayton Kershaw strikes out 15 as the Dodgers sweep the Giants.

  16. Video: Justin Turner pulls off a slick slide at second base

    Sep 3, 2015, 12:12 AM EDT

    Justin Turner AP

    Justin Turner was going to be out by a mile on this ill-advised stolen base attempt in the bottom of the fourth inning Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium, but he got a little creative …

Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. G. Stanton (2819)
  2. G. Springer (2706)
  3. H. Ramirez (2691)
  4. C. Correa (2667)
  5. B. Crawford (2503)
  1. M. Teixeira (2448)
  2. H. Pence (2446)
  3. J. Baez (2370)
  4. J. Hamilton (2299)
  5. Y. Puig (2294)