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Clayton Kershaw: What to Expect from the Los Angeles Dodger's Ace in 2012

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Clayton Kershaw: What to Expect from the Los Angeles Dodger's Ace in 2012
Joe Murphy/Getty Images
Kershaw, poised to deliver.

While the Dodger's ownership situation is murky, one thing is for certain: Clayton Kershaw is a legitimate ace.

The Dodger's have not had a Cy Young award winner return for the next season since Orel Hershiser in 1989. In a struggling Dodger's franchise, Kershaw has been one of the only bright spots.

The most important factor in Kershaw's development as a pitcher has been his maturity, even if he is only 23. No matter what happens to the franchise, Kershaw is locked up until the end of the 2013 season. 

Last season, he was the most dominant pitcher in the National League, and while he didn't win the MVP like AL counterpart Justin Verlander, his season was nearly as dominant.

Below, their statistics are compared:

Kershaw:

21-6, 2.28 ERA, 233.1 IP, 248 K, .977 WHIP, 4.59/1 K/BB ratio

Verlander:

24-5, 2.40 ERA, 251 IP, 250 K, .920 WHIP, 4.39/1 K/BB ratio

While Kershaw might have posted career highs in basically every statistically relevant category, the scariest part about his career arc is that he most likely has not reached his peak yet.

He has the possibility to become one of the best pitchers that the Dodgers have ever had, being the second-youngest Dodger starter to win the Cy Young award, second only to Fernando-mania.

Does Kershaw win the Cy Young in the 2012 season?

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Fernando Valenzula is fairly comparable to Kershaw, posting very similar numbers to Kershaw from the ages of 21-23. We know how Fernando turned out, but Kershaw has the potential to have his number retired by the Dodgers.

He has been one of the only bright spots in the Los Angeles Dodger's organization and projects to be the consistent force that clubs depend on. If the Dodgers can build the rest of their team around Kershaw, they have a shot to become NL West contenders.

Someone with the potential of Kershaw is hard to project because he is still on the upswing of his career arc, yet he already won the Cy Young award. However, if one were to average his three past seasons, the line for the 2012 season would project to be:

14-8 2.88 ERA, 208 IP, 216 K, 1.173 WHIP, 2.68 K/BB

This line would be a goal for most pitchers, but for Kershaw, it almost seems like a "price floor." A reasonable projection would be somewhere around:

16-9 2.60 ERA, 230 IP, 230 K, 1.05 WHIP, 4.21 K/BB

This may be near Kershaw's line for the 2012 season, although if he continues his statistical trend, he will improve in almost every category. It's scary to think what Kershaw could be in five years if he continues this trend.

The Dodgers need Kershaw to continue to improve if they want to contend for the 2012 season. 

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