Clayton Kershaw extension: A true ace is worth the cost

Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in the game and now he is also its highest paid player. Experts around the game don't have any problem with that

Clayton Kershaw signed a seven-year, $215 million extension with the Dodgers on Wednesday, making him the highest paid player in the game on the basis of average-annual contract value at $30.7 million per year.

The deal is also the largest overall contract ever given to a pitcher, topping the seven-year, $180 million extension that Justin Verlander received in March of 2013. Despite the incredible amount the Dodgers have laid out here, the reaction around the baseball world has been largely positive. If anyone is worth this kind of pay day, it is Kershaw.

Dave Cameron of Fangraphs said as much in his breakdown of Kershaw written just minutes before the deal was announced. Cameron came very close to nailing the length and average-annual value, landing just a little north of the $215 million price tag without the opt-out clause included in his line of thinking. Cameron pulls out some impressive comparisons for the young ace and reaches this conclusion:

Looking at the median performance of the six Kershaw comparisons identified above, we see that the median performance of that group from age-26 through age-32 was +35 WAR (both by FIP and RA9), for an average of +5 WAR per season.

...[Snip]...

Based on this kind of expected performance, Kershaw's market value on a seven year deal would put him around $243 million over seven years. Of course, the Dodgers already control 2014 for $20 million, so what we really care about is the market value of those additional six years, which comes out to $210 milion. If both sides agreed to just give Kershaw market value price a year before he reached free agency in exchange for not requiring a longer commitment, and then they just priced in the $20 million that Kershaw was going to get for 2014 if they didn't sign this deal, then the total value would come in around 7/$230M, or about $33 million per year.

So by Cameron's logic, this deal is just about market rate even if it happens to be the biggest contract ever given to a pitcher.

Steven Goldman of SBNation concurs, pointing out that whatever risk Kershaw carries because he is pitcher is mitigated by the fact that he has been so good this early in his career and he has not been abused up to this point:

Having said that, Kershaw is exactly the kind of pitcher who is the best bet for a superexpensivelong contract (this is the technical term). He's young, his injury history is anodyne, he's dominant, and though by virtue of reaching the majors at 20 he's thrown a lot of major league innings for his age, he hasn't been worked in an irresponsible way. He's thrown about as many innings as Greg Maddux had by the time that newly-minted Hall of Famer was 25 (Kershaw has had 1,180 innings, Maddux 1,174), but far fewer than pitchers who were used abusively like Dwight Gooden and Fernando Valenzuela, each of whom was over 1,500 innings at this point in his career and whose periods of dominance had pretty much been spent. Kershaw has had just five starts of 120 or more pitches. There are no red lights.

At Fox Sports, Ken Rosenthal also pegs this deal at market-value, even referencing Cameron's piece, but he focuses more on exactly what separates Kershaw from the other highly paid arms in the game:

Truth be told, Kershaw should be far above Verlander and Hernandez, crazy as that might sound. Kershaw's career ERA-plus - that is, his ERA adjusted to his ballpark and league - is 146. Both Verlander and Hernandez are 127. The average is set to 100.

Kershaw is the best pitcher in the game, and not by a little. The Dodgers are the biggest-spending team in the game, and not by a little.

At Sports Illustrated, Tom Verducci follows the same basic logic, but adds an interesting bit about just exactly how good the Dodgers think Kershaw is:

In Kershaw, the Dodgers have exactly the model player that makes a $215 million investment seem easy to digest. Los Angeles did an internal study about how Kershaw rated not just among his peers but also against all pitchers all time. What the Dodgers decided was that he was the best pitcher in history after passing the 1,000-inning mark. What they already knew was that his competitiveness on the mound and his perspective on life were also off-the-charts good.

Whether Kershaw is the best pitcher in history, or just the best pitcher alive today doesn't really make much of difference here. The bottom line is he is worth all those zeros at the end of his paychecks.

Of course, even if the deal makes sense, when the price tag is $215 million, no one can resist the temptation to break that number down in all types of silly ways.

The easy and obvious one:

The more detailed approach:

Going too far:

The deal isn't just about Kershaw, however. It is all so about the TV money that is flowing into the Dodgers coffers and into baseball in general.

I doubt this deal will end the "baseball is in decline" rhetoric completely, but as Olney points out, it does make it hard to justify such a theory.

There is one person who doesn't see either the Dodgers or Kershaw or even the game of baseball coming out on top in this deal, however:

Ellis may be on to something. Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors projects him to earn $3.2 million with the Dodgers next year. That is not much compared to Kershaw, but getting paid millions to have the best seat in the house is pretty sweet.

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