2011 Fantasy Projections, No. 41: Is Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw An Elite Pitcher?

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2011 Fantasy Projections, No. 41: Is Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw An Elite Pitcher?
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Our 2011 fantasy baseball projections will be released one-by-one until the top 100 players have been revealed. These rankings consider past achievements, current performance and expected future results based on standard 5×5 H2H settings.

It’s difficult to understand just how good Clayton Kershaw has been considering his young age. Last season Kershaw was the youngest among 45 pitchers who logged 200 innings, at age 22. Of those 45 pitchers, only three (Lincecum, Lester and Weaver) posted a strikeout rate higher than Kershaw’s (9.34).

To further emphasize the rarity of dominance at this age, I compared Kershaw’s age 21 and 22 seasons to those of fellow phenom, Felix Hernandez.

Felix Hernandez

  • 2007 (Age 21): 190 1/3 IP, 7.80 K/9, 2.51 BB/9, 3.92 ERA, 1.38 WHIP
  • 2008 (Age 22): 200 2/3 IP, 7.85 K/9, 3.59 BB/9, 3.45 ERA, 1.39 WHIP

Clayton Kershaw

  • 2009 (Age 21): 171 IP, 9.74 K/9, 4.79 BB/9, 2.79 ERA, 1.23 WHIP
  • 2010 (Age 22): 204 1/3 IP, 9.34 K/9, 3.57 BB/9, 2.91 ERA, 1.18 WHIP

Like most young pitchers (including Hernandez) Kershaw has struggled with his command. It’s important to note, however, that he greatly improved his walk rate from 2009 to last season. Further improvement into the 3.00 range could usher Kershaw into elite territory.

Red flags in Kershaw’s case are minimal. He’s defied xFIP each of the last two seasons thanks to the second lowest HR/9 rate (0.48) in the majors. Common sense would suggest Dodgers Stadium has aided Kershaw’s HR rates, but the numbers don’t support that. In fact, Kershaw was much better on the road than at home last season:

  • Home: 3.33 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 0.83 HR/9
  • Away: 2.43 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 0.28 HR/9

I’m normally skeptical of two-pitch pitchers, but Kershaw’s fastball and slider are both plus-offerings. In fact, Kershaw owned the one of the most effective sliders last season, second only to Francisco Liriano’s. If he can minimize his walks, Kershaw could rise into the elite class of fantasy starters.

  IP W K/9 BB/9 ERA WHIP
2010 stats 204.1 13 9.34 3.57 2.91 1.18
3-year average 160 9 9.24 4.16 3.19 1.27
2011 FBI Forecast 208 16 9.50 3.50 3.10 1.19

 

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