Thursday, January 16, 2014

Dodgers Break Bank for Kershaw

Last winter LA made Zack Greinke very rich, but Kershaw's even richer
The way the Los Angeles Yankees Dodgers have been throwing around money lately, it was only a matter of time before they made their ace Clayton Kershaw an offer he couldn't refuse.

Yesterday both parties agreed to a seven-year extension that will pay Kershaw $215 million, making him the highest paid pitcher in history by a comfortable margin. With an average annual value of $30.714 million, it will also make him the most expensive player at any position (exceeding CC Sabathia). Kerhshaw has one more season to go before the contract kicks in and he can opt-out after five years, which he's likely to do seeing as how he'll be 31 at that time and could easily score another giant payday (barring serious injury or decline).

Of course, if there's any pitcher on the planet worth that kind of money, it's Kershaw, who's only 25 but has already proven himself to be on par with the likes of Sandy Koufax, Johan SantanaPedro Martinez. He's won two of the past three NL Cy Young awards and probably deserved to win in 2012 as well, when he was runner-up to R.A. Dickey. He's posted the sport's best ERA in each of the past three seasons, something only Koufax, Greg Maddux and Lefty Grove have accomplished during the live ball era.

All metrics, advanced and traditional, agree that Kershaw has been one of baseball's best pitchers over the past three years. Since the start of the 2011 season he ranks first in ERA, ERA-. FIP, WHIP, strikeouts, and opponent batting average. On top of that, he rates second in shutouts and complete games, third in wins, innings pitched, and xFIP, and fourth in K/BB ratio. Only Charlie Morton does a better job at keeping the ball in the park, and FanGraphs estimates that only Justin Verlander has been more valuable per fWAR.

So while investing lots of years and dollars in pitchers is always risky, Kershaw is about as safe as they come. He's young, dominant, and durable (not to mention left-handed), presumably with many more great years in front of him. At his age, two of his three most similar pitchers are Tom Seaver and Jim Palmer (the other is Gary Nolan, who was on the Cooperstown track before injuries ended his career before his 30th birthday). He's a Hall-of-Famer in the making, and the Dodgers were wise to lock him up for at least the rest of the decade before he could reach free agency.

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