Clayton Kershaw vs. Tim Lincecum: Who's the Better Pitcher Heading into 2012?

Christopher BenvieCorrespondent IIMarch 25, 2012

Clayton Kershaw vs. Tim Lincecum: Who's the Better Pitcher Heading into 2012?

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    Cy versus Cy.

    The Claw versus The Freak.

    Any way you want to bill it, the National League West has arguably the two best aces pitching within the division.  These teams are certainly no strangers to one another, and with the emergence of these two talents as certified Cy Young pitchers, it only makes the rivalry that much better.

    The question is, which one is better heading into the 2012 season?

    Is it Tim Lincecum, the two-time Cy Young Award winner?

    Or, is it the most recent NL Cy Young winner, Clayton Kershaw?

    Let's take a look at these two phenoms and make a prediction for the 2012 season.

Clayton Kershaw's Specs

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    First thing's first, in case you didn't know or lived on another planet, Clayton Kershaw is the big lefty who won the 2011 NL Cy Young Award.

    At 6'3" and weighing in at 215 lbs, Kershaw is quite an imposing figure on the mound.

    He is just 24 years old—in fact, he just turned 24 on March 19th.  That factors into his wear and tear in my opinion.

    In 2011, he pitched 233.1 innings while amounting 716.1 innings in his career.

    His 2011 season saw him post a 21-5 record, while the Dodgers in general went 82-79.

Tim Lincecum's Specs

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    Tim Lincecum has a Pedro Martinez thing going on for him: little man, big numbers.  Standing 5'11" (okay, not so little, but small in comparison to Kershaw) and weighing in at 165 lbs soaking wet, Lincecum is not as imposing on the mound.

    However, his delivery is freakishly intimidating.

    Lincecum will turn 28 this year (on June 15th).

    In 2011, he managed to rack up 217 innings, and that brought his regular season inning total to 1,028.

    Last season, he managed to go 13-14 for the 86-76 San Francisco Giants.

Raw Numbers for Kershaw

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    In 2011, Kershaw led all National League pitchers with a cool 2.28 ERA.

    He also led the NL in strikeouts with 248.

    His 6.7 H/9 also led the NL.

    In other words, he was good.  Real good.  It is also worth mentioning that his WHIP was just 0.977.

    2011 saw Kershaw win his first NL Cy Young Award as I've mentioned, but he also brought home a Gold Glove Award and made his first All-Star team.

    Was this the start of a trend?

Raw Numbers for Lincecum

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    While he didn't lead the league in any major categories in 2011, Tim Lincecum was still really good.

    His ERA was just 2.74, and he put up 220 strikeouts.

    He only allowed 7.3 H/9 while posting a 1.207 WHIP.

    2011 saw Lincecum make his fourth All-Star team, and while he placed sixth in the Cy Young race, he does already have two awards on his shelf (2008 & 2009).

Kershaw Analysis

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    Kershaw is known for being a sub-3.00 ERA pitcher with the exception of his rookie year, in which he posted a 4.26 ERA in 22 games, 21 of which were starts.

    From the outside, one can see that Kershaw is getting better every season.  Let's take a look at his WHIP totals:

    In 2008 (his rookie year), he posted a 1.495.  He would drop that WHIP by 18 percent in 2009, posting a 1.228.  That same year, he led the NL with a 6.3 H/9 ratio.

    In 2010, Kershaw would drop his WHIP another four percent, down to 1.179.

    Then, last season his WHIP dropped another 18 percent to 0.977.

    His career WHIP averages out to be 1.173.

    While his time up in the bigs is still fairly short, his winning percentage rests at .627 for the Dodgers.

Lincecum Analysis

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    Lincecum, objectively, has a bit of a different history. His ERA has some fluctuations, though generally speaking he posts a sub-3.00.

    He posted a 4.00 in 2007 and 3.43 in 2010.

    His WHIP also rises and falls, though his career average is only 1.188.

    Unlike Kershaw, who has just come into his own, Lincecum has been there, done that.  He has led the NL in strikeouts three times: 2008—265, 2009—261 and 2010—231.

    His career winning percentage is identical to Kershaw's at .627, despite having never won 20 games in a single season.  His best was 18 in 2008.

Money Talks: Kershaw

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    Is Clayton Kershaw underpaid?

    He just signed a two-year extension with the Dodgers that will pay him $7.5 million in 2012 and $11 million in 2013.

    Average annual salary: $9.25 million.

    Baseball Reference projects Kershaw as a 14-game winner.  Going by somewhat conventional wisdom that starting pitchers usually earn $1 million per win, than yes, you can say he is underpaid.

    Factor in the nice piece of hardware he took home last season, and the Dodgers are lucky to have him for so little.  He easily deserves $15-$18 million per season.

Money Talks: Lincecum

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    Speaking of extensions, Tim Lincecum just signed his own little payday with the Giants. 

    He is slated to earn $18 million in 2012 and $22 million in 2013.  

    The average annual salary for that deal: $20 million.

    Once again, it is worth noting that Lincecum has never won 20 games in his career, at no real fault of his own. The Giants, post-Barry Bonds, aren't exactly known as big-time run producers.  

    However, back to that conventional wisdom—Baseball Reference projects Lincecum as a 15-game winner; thus, he should be earning $15 million per season.

    The $18 million he'll earn this season seems on point to me, but $22 million next season might be stretching that dollar.

My Prediction...

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    While these two pitchers are insanely close in both statistics and capabilities, I have to go with the younger lefty.

    To me, being a southpaw gives Kershaw a head and shoulders advantage over Lincecum, even though The Freak has such an unconventional delivery.

    As you've seen, the numbers are spot on for each player, but I truly see Kershaw continuing his development and quite possibly replicating his 21-win season from 2011.