The 30 million dollar man!

It’s Steve Austin in Dodger Blue! No, it’s Superman! No, it’s …. Clayton Kershaw!

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The 25 year old phenom inked a 7 year deal with the Dodgers yesterday for $215 million dollars – that’s $30,700,000 per year (plus some 14k in walking around money). Kershaw is the first pitcher or player to reach the 30 million per year category for a long term deal (CC Sabathia got a one year $30 million dollar deal from the Yankees but that’s not 30 per year over an extended period of time – different in my book). Is he worth it?

Well, the blogosphere seems to think so: Peter Gammons, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, Dave Cameron of Fangraphs, and Steve Goldman of SBNation are all on board the Kershaw bandwagon.

I agree that Kershaw’s deal makes sense for the Dodgers. Here is the short list of starting pitchers to have an ERA+ above 140 with a minimum of 1,000 IP:

Rk Player ERA+ IP From To Age
1 Walter Johnson 179 1960.0 1908 1913 20-25
2 Clayton Kershaw 146 1180.0 2008 2013 20-25
3 Hal Newhouser 148 1470.2 1941 1946 20-25
4 Roger Clemens 141 1031.1 1984 1988 21-25
5 Smoky Joe Wood 156 1232.2 1910 1915 20-25
6 Tom Seaver 141 1093.0 1967 1970 22-25
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/16/2014.

This is an elite group, with some cautionary tales. Smoky Joe Wood had his career cut short by shoulder issues but then again it was the 19teens and Hal Newhouser was done by the age of 29, but still a good enough career for Prince Hal to get into the Hall.* In the modern era though, Tom Seaver and Roger Clemens are nice comps to have.

*Nice little aside about Newhouser. He was a scout for the Astros and advised the Astros to take Derek Jeter. The Astros ignored his advice and went with Phil Nevin instead. The rest is history. Newhouser quit as an Astros scout in protest over the team’s stupidity in ignoring his advice. I guess he was right. Newhouser had a pretty good record as a scout. He also discovered Milt Pappas and Dean Chance. I wonder, with all the technology and media today, if scouts really discover anyone anymore. Heck, Bryce Harper was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at the ripe age of sixteen. 

I wonder what another great young pitcher, Jose Fernandez, is feeling this morning? He’s twenty and rookie of the year. Here’s some food for thought though. The last starting pitcher to be NL rookie of the year? Dontrelle Willis of the Marlins in 2003. If he can keep images of Dontrelle Willis away, Fernandez’s life is looking pretty rosy this morning with the number $215 million dancing in his head.

I suspect the Marlins will not enter into this kind of deal with Fernandez when the time arrives – Kershaw is one year away from free agency. The Marlins just don’t do that. They will trade Fernandez away before giving him big money. Fernandez will most likely need to pitch into free agency to get his Kershaw like deal. Can he stay as healthy as Kershaw or will he turn into Dontrelle Willis?

Fortunately for Fernandez, ball clubs are bit more enlightened when it comes to monitoring the innings of young pitchers, as evidenced by Fernandez’s 172 IP last year and the Marlins shutting him down after his September 11 start when the Marlins still had 18 games left to play and potentially 3 more starts for Fernandez. I would note another good sign for Fernandez, he never threw more then 109 pitches in an outing and did not throw a complete game in 2013. And, he looks a lot different then Dontrelle Willis. He is stronger looking and doesn’t have the weird mechanics of Dontrelle Willis. In fact, when I’ve seen him pitch I’ve been impressed with how smooth he is on the mound. He makes it look easy.

Do you know the only other 20 year old who in his first season pitched more than 170 innings, had an ERA+ over 125 and struckout 150 or more batters?

  • Jose Fernandez – 172 2/3 IP, 12-6, 2.19 ERA, ERA+ 176, SO 187
  • Mystery Player – 186 2/3 IP, 13-7, 2.60 ERA, ERA+ 144, SO 152

Mystery Player – Dennis Eckersley.  If you keep Eckersley and say Dwight Gooden in mind, it makes you realize how hard it is to stay a great starter for a long time. Neither Gooden nor The Eck could do it. The Eck managed to reinvent himself as a closer because, in part, he managed to deal with his substance abuse issues while Doc Gooden could not. Here’s to hoping Jose Fernandez has a long and storied career. It would be quite something if both he and Kershaw pitched well into their mid 30s. If they do, the Hall of Fame would be their destination. But, such talk for a 20 year old is silly.

Kershaw, though, is another matter. I have a sense that his track record from 20-25 bodes well and I’m sure the Dodgers must think the same.

One final note – today, former 5th overall pick of the 1997 draft, Vernon Wells was released by the Yankees. Despite the lack of a job Wells will still get paid $21 million this year (18.6 by the Angels and 2.4 by the Yankees). No crying for Vernon, he made about $110 million over his 15 year career. Here are the players with a WAR over 25 from the first round of the 1997 draft:

  • JD Drew – 2nd (44.8)
  • Troy Glaus – 3rd (38.0)
  • Vernon Wells – 5th (28.8)
  • Lance Berkman – 16th (51.8)
  • Jayson Werth – 22nd (27.1)

Good bye Vernon. Perhaps the Blue Jays will offer you a retirement tour. They’ve done it before with Dave Stieb, Alfredo Griffin, and Pat Hentgen. Here’s hoping you stay home. No need to embrace further embarrassment.

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