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.
Apr 18, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT
Did Brett Lawrie apologize to Alcides Escobar for his hard slide in Friday’s game between the Athletics and Royals? We’re not sure.
Apr 18, 2015, 6:55 PM EDT
Ryan Braun will lead off for the first time in his career in Saturday’s game against the Pirates.
Apr 18, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT
Jake Peavy is dealing with lower back issues.
Apr 18, 2015, 5:32 PM EDT
Hamilton suffered the injury beating out an infield single in the eighth inning.
Apr 18, 2015, 5:25 PM EDT
Justin Verlander’s return to the Tigers doesn’t appear imminent.
Apr 18, 2015, 5:20 PM EDT
Hamilton filed for divorce in late February, which is right around the time when word leaked about his offseason drug relapse.
Apr 18, 2015, 4:19 PM EDT
You’ll be seeing MLB’s all-time hits leader Pete Rose in FOX’s coverage of baseball this season.
Apr 18, 2015, 4:12 PM EDT
The home run traveled at a distance of 461 feet. My goodness.
Apr 18, 2015, 3:58 PM EDT
Scary moment in today’s Phillies-Nationals game, as home plate umpire Brian Knight was forced to exit after he was hit in the facemask by a pitch in the top of the ninth inning.
Apr 18, 2015, 3:47 PM EDT
Greg Holland has been one of the game’s best relievers dating back to 2011, but the Royals will have to make due without him for a little while.
Apr 18, 2015, 2:56 PM EDT
The Cardinals are calling Holliday’s exit “precautionary,” so it’s probably safe to consider him day-to-day.
Apr 18, 2015, 2:27 PM EDT
Tracy, 26, was designated for assignment by the Yankees last Sunday.
Apr 18, 2015, 2:11 PM EDT
The Nats’ infield depth is being tested in the early part of the season.
Apr 18, 2015, 1:24 PM EDT
Schoop was off to a nice start so far this season, batting .259 (7-for-27) with three home runs and a .940 OPS over nine games.
Apr 18, 2015, 1:01 PM EDT
Reds right-hander Homer Bailey landed on the disabled list at the end of spring training while he completed his rehab from surgery to repair a tear of the flexor tendon in his elbow, but he has been activated to make his season debut this afternoon against the Cardinals.
Apr 18, 2015, 12:18 PM EDT
The Marlins are off to a disappointing 3-8 start this season and slugger Giancarlo Stanton doesn’t like what he has seen.
Apr 18, 2015, 12:10 PM EDT
Josh Hamilton’s future with the Angels is in question, as the two sides are discussing a number of scenarios to resolve their dispute.
Apr 18, 2015, 11:29 AM EDT
V-Mart took a few days off this week to rest his knee.
Apr 18, 2015, 10:45 AM EDT
Danny Salazar was optioned to Triple-A after struggling during spring training, but he’ll now get an extended opportunity in Cleveland’s rotation.
Apr 18, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
It’s safe to say that nobody would have guessed this one.
- Pete Rose joins FOX as a baseball analyst 12
- Settling the Score: Friday’s results 55
- Josh Hamilton’s teammates say he’s in great shape and ready to play 28
- Mike Trout hit his 100th career home run to become the youngest member of the 100 HR/100 SB club 26
- Make that two: Alex Rodriguez hits second homer of the night, giving him 658 for his career 46
- Alex Rodriguez hit his 657th career home run 48
- Let’s all just stare at Kris Bryant’s numbers for a while 28
- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights 39
- The Commissioner’s Office thinks that the Angels could indeed go after Josh Hamilton under his contract (153)
- “Why Ted Cruz is like the Atlanta Braves” (150)
- “We no longer need the terrorists. We’re now so good at terrorizing ourselves.” (143)
- Another argument in favor of making the DH universal (127)
- When it comes to Josh Hamilton, Arte Moreno is a craven opportunist, not a “smart businessman” (116)