David Price and Clayton Kershaw: Two for the Ages

Strike ThreeCorrespondent IFebruary 14, 2009

David Price gets all the hype.  He is on everyone’s list of top prospects and players to watch. 

From ESPN to Baseball America to the Bleacher Report, David Price is being pegged as probable Rookie of the Year, perennial All-Star, eventual Cy Young winner, and Hall of Fame hopeful. 

If he can do it without ever flunking a drug test, he will ascend directly to the heavens and pitch for the Mt. Olympus Immortals. (Current Rotation: Zeus, Jesus Christ, Damon Rutherford, Nuke Lalush, and Walter Johnson)   

Now don’t get me wrong.  I am on the bandwagon.  I have watched David Price pitch, live and in person, on two occasions: once when he was a highly touted college pitcher making his way through the SEC, and once during his brief but breathtaking stint with the Montgomery Biscuits. 

Take it from me.  The guy can pitch. 

But he is not the only up-and-coming pitcher in the league.  The Dodgers have a tall lanky left hander of their own. His name is Clayton Kershaw. 

And while Price may get the hype, the statistics suggest that Kershaw is every bit his equal, and a bit further along.

Looking at stats available on Baseballcube.com, we can compare the career performance of Price and Kershaw across some common metrics.  Innings pitched give us a rough and dirty measure of experience. 

Strike-outs per nine innings (K/9) tell us about stuff and “pitchability,” walk + hits per innings pitched (WHIP) tells us about the number of base runners allowed, and the old standard ERA lets us know about the number of runs given up. 

Personally, I like K/9 and WHIP better than ERA, but all three have some utility.

From 2005 through 2007, Price was pitching for Vanderbilt in the NCAA.  He pitched 69, 51, and 133 innings across the three seasons and put up phenomenal numbers.  In his final season, the 21 year old had a K/9 of 11.9 and WHIP of 1.17. 

In 2008, Price made his mercurial rise through the Tampa Bay system.  Six starts for Vero Beach, nine for the Montgomery Biscuits, four for the famed Durham Bulls, and then onto Tampa Bay for a late-season coming-out party.

Nothing like a pennant race and World Series to sharpen the nerves and feed the legends. 

David Price, who at 23 enters the 2009 season poised to pitch his first full season in the Devil Rays rotation, has done nothing to dampen our enthusiasm.

Now, what about Clayton Kershaw?

Turns out he is actually a couple of years ahead of Price.  In 2006, while the 20-year-old Price was mowing down college boys and taking Intro to Psychology, the precocious Kershaw (18 years old) struck out 54 in just 37 innings while posting a 1.95 ERA.

Now the Gulf Coast League may not offer the perks of Vanderbilt, but it’s got a pretty good reputation for educating young pitchers. 

Kershaw made 25 starts in A and AA ball in 2007.  In 2008, he started in the minors, but an early season call up allowed enough time for Kershaw to pitch 107 innings for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Over the course of the 2008 season, Kershaw’s took the mound for 21 starts with the Dodgers.  He scuffled.  He gave up his fair of hits and had trouble harnessing his pitches.  But he displayed plenty of stuff, evidenced by 100 strikeouts in 107 innings. 

Of course, Kershaw did not get to pitch in the World Series.  But he did make six September starts in the nip and tuck NL West.  The Dodgers went 5-1 in those starts. 

Not bad for a 20-year-old kid. 

So, at the age of 20, Kershaw has made 20 more starts major league starts than the elder Price, logging over 80 more innings along the way. 

Another bit of data to consider.  Kershaw’s minor league numbers (K/9 = 11.3, WHIP = 1.12) are actually a hair better than Price’s (K/9 = 9.0, WHIP = 1.14).

Of course, comparing the minor league performance of Price and Kershaw is like comparing Luke Skywalker to Mace Windu.  You may have a preference, but either Jedi can pitch on my team. 

But once again, Kershaw put up his minor league numbers at ages 18 through 20.  Price did not face professional hitters until he was 22 years old.

There is no telling how the careers of David Price or Clayton Kershaw will turn out.  Going into the 2009 season, Price is garnering the most attention. 

But I have a feeling Kershaw will win plenty of games in his career, and steal plenty of headlines.  And when all is said and done, it may be Kershaw suiting up for the Immortals.


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