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Will Clayton Kershaw Be an Elite Fantasy Baseball Option in 2010?

Eric StashinSenior Writer IJanuary 6, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 15:  Starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers a pitch in the first inning of Game One of the NLCS against the Philadelphia Phillies during the 2009 MLB Playoffs at Dodger Stadium on October 15, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Prior to last season I was extremely high on Clayton Kershaw and he didn’t disappoint.  As we head into 2010, I’m an even bigger believer in him as a potential fantasy ace and Cy Young candidate.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t concerns, but when you look at him on a whole there’s little not to like.

Before we get into the positives and the doubts, let’s look at his statistics from 2009:

8 Wins
171.0 Innings
2.79 ERA
1.23 WHIP
185 Strikeouts (9.74 K/9)
91 Walks (4.79 BB/9)
.274 BABIP

The first thing that you certainly cannot like is the walks.  His inability to consistently throw strikes cost him from going deep into games, as his pitch count continued to rise in the early innings.  Just look at how many innings he was able to throw in his starts last season:

8+ innings - once
7+ innings - seven (not including the eight inning start)
6+ innings - eight (not including the seven or eight inning starts)

That means of his 30 starts, 14 of them were less than six innings.  It’s no wonder that he was only able to win eight games last season despite his impressive other numbers.  Asking the bullpen to get 12 outs or more consistently makes it hard to pile up the victories.

The question than comes to if he can get his control in order.  In 2008 during his 61.1 innings at Double-A he posted a BB/9 of 2.79.  Granted, it is a small sample size, but it is something to give a shred of hope.  He’ll be 22-years old on Opening Day, so it should not be surprising to see him take a step in the right direction.  Will he suddenly become an elite control artist?  Of course not, but an improvement should be there.

The other concerning number would be his strand rate, which was at 77.5 percent last season.  That was 13th among pitchers with at least 170 innings (71 pitchers) and a slight regression could be seen.  I’m not suggesting a huge falloff (he was at 75.7 percent in 2008), but any type of regression will likely lead to an increased ERA.

Those are two very concerning things, but they certainly aren’t deal breakers.  Everything else points to tremendous success.

The strikeouts are very realistic.  Over his minor league career he was at an 11.3 K/9.  While the majority of that was against lower levels (he never pitched above Double-A), he did post a 9.21 K/9 in 86 innings between 2007 & 2008 at Double-A.  To think that he’s going to have a great regression there would be a mistake.

People may question is ability to continue to pitch to an elite WHIP, thanks to the walks and a BABIP of .274.  While he may suffer a little bit of an increase there, he’s still going to be above average.  He’s more of a groundball pitcher, with a minor league mark of 47.0 percent.

Last season he induced just 39.4 percent groundballs, meaning that he should see a turnaround there.  More flyballs likely mean less hits, since it is harder for them to fall in.  Yes, I wouldn’t bank on such an impressive BABIP, but if he can start getting more flyballs, the impact won’t be as great.  Also, don’t forget the strikeouts, which help to neutralize the BABIP.

So, let’s take a look at what I’m projecting him for in 2010:

195.0 IP, 16 W, 2.95 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 205 K (9.46 K/9), 85 BB (3.92 BB/9)

Maybe I’m being a little bit overly optimistic in the control department, but I fully believe in Kershaw’s ability to develop into an ace pitcher.  He has all the tools (the above is based on a BABIP of .297) and the scouts have been drooling over him since the day he was drafted.  He may not put it together in one fell swoop, but he’s already begun his maturation into superstardom.

In 2009 he took the first step and in 2010 it’s just going to be the next step forward.

What are your thoughts?  Am I too high on Kershaw for 2010?  Do you expect him to be one of the elite pitchers in the league?

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