Jan 15, 2014, 7:18 PM EDT
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.
Sep 3, 2015, 11:04 PM EDT
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.
Sep 3, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT
Stroman threw 4 2/3 hitless innings in his first minor league rehab start.
Sep 3, 2015, 10:29 PM EDT
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.
Sep 3, 2015, 9:50 PM EDT
The Dodgers called up top prospect Corey Seager today and manager Don Mattingly isn’t wasting any time getting him into the starting lineup…
Sep 3, 2015, 8:46 PM EDT
Murphy had a stint on the disabled list earlier this season due to a left quad strain.
Sep 3, 2015, 7:37 PM EDT
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.
Sep 3, 2015, 6:50 PM EDT
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.
Sep 3, 2015, 6:13 PM EDT
ESPN has pulled Schilling from their broadcasts for the remainder of the season.
Sep 3, 2015, 4:31 PM EDT
Sentiments like these — of which I’ve seen a few — makes me wonder about Ruben Amaro.
Sep 3, 2015, 4:07 PM EDT
His glute injury proved minor.
Sep 3, 2015, 1:51 PM EDT
He was suffering from dehydration yesterday.
Sep 3, 2015, 1:05 PM EDT
Finally, Tom Brady and Boston sports fans get a win!
Sep 3, 2015, 12:46 PM EDT
Shut down for the season with a hip injury.
Sep 3, 2015, 12:18 PM EDT
This is must-click link material.
Sep 3, 2015, 11:29 AM EDT
Kevin Jepsen will fill in at closer.
Sep 3, 2015, 10:38 AM EDT
Not that either of those things are valid reasons to keep a guy out of the Hall of Fame.
Sep 3, 2015, 10:13 AM EDT
Considered by many to be the No. 1 prospect in baseball.
Sep 3, 2015, 9:25 AM EDT
But teams should be coming to him.
Sep 3, 2015, 7:55 AM EDT
Clayton Kershaw strikes out 15 as the Dodgers sweep the Giants.
Sep 3, 2015, 12:12 AM EDT
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 …
- Bryce Harper walks in all four of his plate appearances, scores four runs 0
- ESPN pulls Curt Schilling off broadcasts for rest of regular season and Wild Card game 91
- David Ortiz is more likely to be boned in Hall of Fame voting for being a DH than for PED stuff 124
- And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights 74
- The Marlins are going to change everything except their biggest problem this offseason 53
- Drooling over Miguel Sano’s incredible numbers through 50 career games 35
- Matt Williams puts up another strong performance in his quest to get himself fired 105
- Settling the Scores: Tuesday’s results 81
- Sarah Palin sticks up for Curt Schilling, tells ESPN to “stick to sports” (266)
- David Ortiz is more likely to be boned in Hall of Fame voting for being a DH than for PED stuff (125)
- Matt Williams puts up another strong performance in his quest to get himself fired (105)
- David Ortiz tweets his happiness about the Deflategate decision (96)
- ESPN pulls Curt Schilling off broadcasts for rest of regular season and Wild Card game (95)