SleepersMarch 16, 2010

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Sleeper Watch - 11 comments

By Ben Lewis

I live in LA right now, and while stuck in the hideous traffic that inhabits this city I turned on sports radio to hear what was going on in the world, or at least stuff that I would care about.  The topic for the day: What chance do the Dodgers have of winning the World Series this year?  This of course led to the string of Dodger homers calling in and saying what every fan says about their team, “we’ve got this in the bag” and the ever famous, “this is our year.”  But one comment that really struck me was one regarding Clayton Kershaw.

Dodgers Pitcher Kershaw Throws Against the Rockies in Denver

The guy was talking about how the Dodgers missing out on a deal for Halladay was okay, because they had Kershaw, who was ready to become the ace of their rotation despite being only twenty-one. I thought, “okay, I guess that makes sen…wait, twenty-one?! Now, I knew that Clayton was young, and I knew he had talent, but I mean the guy is exactly one year and two days older than me!  This might have been more of a personal crisis, the realization that a player outside of the NBA was just about my age, but it still caught me off guard just how young Clayton really is.  So I decided to sit down and break down my contemporary as to what his season might look like.

Last year, Kershaw’s numbers were out of this world: 185 Ks, 2.79 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 8 Wins. Wait, eight wins?  That can’t be right.  This guy made me do two double takes.  Now that is a feat in itself.  All of the stats behind this guy make it seem like he is the guy who will challenge Lincecum for Cy Young Awards for the rest of their careers, but eight wins? I’ll touch on that in a bit, but first, let’s take a look at some of his other stats from last year.

Kershaw posted a great 2.03 K/BB ratio, which is big in the National League, where every runner counts, and brought his HR/9 down from .92 to .37.  That means if he threw three complete games, the other team might see only one homer.  That’s unheard of in the age of steroids.  The only stat which will hurt him this year is BABIP, which was already under the league average, in part due to a great defense behind him, but with the loss of Orlando Hudson and with Manny sitting in left, I don’t think he will be so “lucky.”  But that is only one stat. I mean, the guy was a monster last year at age twenty!

Alright, so about that whole wins thing?  Now, on my lowly Padres I would understand a guy putting up those numbers and only winning eight games (just look at Jake Peavy’s early years), but Clayton’s on a playoff team.  It makes no sense.  According to Fangraph’s pitch type analysis, the three pitches he threw most last year, fastball, curveball and slider, all increased his team’s chances to win. He also added 2.94 to the probability the Dodgers would win. To put that in perspective, Javier Vazquez put up a 2.41 in that category and won 15 games all while playing for a team (the Braves) that won nine less games than Kershaw’s Dodgers.

Clayton might not have the hottest girlfriend on the team (damn you Matt Kemp!) and he might not be the most intimidating pitcher in the world since he looks like he could get pulled over for not looking old enough to drive, but the guy can flat out pitch.  He’s gonna put up huge stats, and the wins will come, I guarantee it. So go out and get him for your team, especially if its keeper.  And if you ever see Kershaw walking around L.A. offer to buy him a beer, since most bartenders probably won’t serve him.

Projection: 15-6, 190Ks, 3.00 ERA, 1.25 WHIP

Ben Lewis is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Ben in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of BeanBean. Also, check out his other works at his blog:
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11 Responses to “Clayton Kershaw”

  1. User avatar GiantsFan14 says:

    While he did have a huge strikeout rate in 2009, especially for a 21 year old, his walk rate was pretty troublesome. Also, as you said, his BABIP will regress and it’ll be almost impossible for him to maintain a 4.1% HR/FB so he’ll be seeing a few more balls leave the park this year. Still. if he takes some steps forward with his command, he could definitely be in the running for the Cy Young for years to come.

  2. User avatar Montana168 says:

    solid article but kershaw is not a sleeper, thats a joke.

  3. BeanBean says:

    To defend myself, I envision a sleeper as someone who will outperform where they are being drafted. I think Clayton could be a top 10 SP, whereas MDC has him going as the 19th starter off the board. In no way do I think he is a sleeper in the sense that he is coming out of nowhere, but rather being slept on by having his incredible talent watered down by worries of age and control.

  4. User avatar Timgeorge2 says:

    Yup, Kershaw is not a sleeper. When I look at a list of sleepers, I want to learn something. We know about Kershaw already. He’s a great, young arm and he’s probably going where he should go. Granted, he does have alot of upside, but his value will be limited until he can get more efficient with his pitch count. It’s tough to win 15 games when you leave after 5-6 innings every start.


    Ryan Raburn, Kyle Blanks, Drew Stubbs, Troy Glaus, Francisco Liriano, Alcides Escobar, Shaun Marcum….those guys are sleepers.

  5. Francisco says:

    Not sure if this is the right forum for this but, if Alfredo Aceves wins the Yankee 5th starter job he could give Rip VanWinkle insomnia. I can’t quote stats (too old) but that dude knows how to pitch.

  6. Interesting read. A few things to gloss over though:

    I think one point you missed with your wins analysis is that Kershaw’s pitch inefficiency. Chances are if you’ve thrown 100 pitches in 5 innings, the more likely you won’t be in line for wins especially if the game is relatively close. Such was the case with Kershaw; he only got past the 6th inning 8 times in 30+ outings. If I remembered right, Kershaw and Chad Billingsley were one of the tops in the Majors for most pitches thrown per inning, with Yovani Gallardo heading that list. Simple as that, really. Less pitches thrown to get batters out means more innings (and possibly less walks). The more innings thrown, the better the chances Kershaw is in line for a win at the end of the day. Run support is another thing entirely, of course, but usually the pitchers who notch 15 wins or better will get there.

    If there’s a silver lining with Kershaw going into this year is that as the season progressed, he had more innings where he could keep his pitch count to a relatively acceptable minimum… That is, until he got himself into a big inning where he’s forced to make 30+ pitches.

    A note about his BABIP: it should regress, in that it was only a .274 mark when it should be in the low .300’s as the average pitcher. His HR/FB was really low, but he was also popping out hitters more often (13.5% IFFB) because of that extra little movement in his plus fastball. Most folks would rather see him induce more groundballs and he did that in his rookie season. Given that he has three plus pitches and an above-average changeup to boot (which he put on a leash last year), he does a more than decent job of keeping hitters guessing. Much is made of his curveball which has a fantastic drop, but his slider takes on a similar trajectory to his curve and it’s usually low and away for a strike.

    That said, I think his control can improve, going in line with what I was saying. Kershaw’s efficiency was better as the season had gone along because he was throwing more of that plus slider. The main reason why he’ll regress BABIP-wise really has to do with the fact he relies more on generating strikes within the zone and doesn’t really bait batters outside the strike zone (hence, a below-average 24% O-Swing and 59% O-Contact). He’s still learning how to pitch and is becoming more of a fastball-slider-curve pitcher (with the occasional improving changeup) than the fastball-curve reliant hurler he was coming up. Definitely not a sleeper (going on 9th round on average) though if he throws more innings (and hence, holds back on the walks), he can finish as a top 15-20 starter.

  7. …oh, and let’s cut the guy some slack. The term “sleeper” is quite subjective and IMO, it’s archaic to a certain extent.

  8. User avatar DaSh 1s says:

    Solid overall write up on Kershaw without a doubt, but to dub Kershaw a “sleeper”? come on now….thats just poor.

  9. User avatar DaSh 1s says:

    And to combat one thing:

    “Not sure if this is the right forum for this but, if Alfredo Aceves wins the Yankee 5th starter job he could give Rip VanWinkle insomnia. I can’t quote stats (too old) but that dude knows how to pitch.”

    Not one of his pitches area a plus pitch, he is simply effective because he has a abundance of mediocre pitches. Lets not get ahead of ourselves here.

  10. User avatar ayebatter says:

    Nice read.

  11. Smipims says:

    I had to give it a low rating for this reason:

    The guy seems to be preaching that Kershaw is going to take a huge step forward because of increased wins.

    However, he ignores that the guy is pretty wild and throws a lotta pitches per at bat. This contributes to games where he can get a lot of players on base yet still have no runners score. This meanings the guy can be hitting 100 pitches by the 5th or 6th inning. Its really hard to win games when you’re exiting that early.

    He’ll probably see an increase because 8 wins for a pitcher of his caliber is a little silly, but I still expect a lot of no-decisions from Kershaw.


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