Analyzing the Record Deal for Kershaw

The game’s highest average annual value contract, $30.7 million, belongs to reigning Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw. Yesterday, the Dodgers southpaw, who turns 26 in March, agreed to a seven-year, $215 million extension. The deal includes an opt-out provision after the fifth season.

The initial response to the announcement has been quite positive.

Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times suggests that the deal is a no-brainer for a franchise where cost is of little concern:

Kershaw has been so consistent in his excellence that his catcher, A.J. Ellis, put the record contract into perfect perspective.

“He’s the highest-paid pitcher of all time, and it still feels like he’s underpaid,” Ellis said Wednesday.

There is no hometown discount in $215 million, but Kershaw might have gotten more in free agency, with the New York Yankees and his hometown Texas Rangers among the potential bidders. On the other hand, Kershaw would have had to endure a season of reporters from two dozen cities pestering him about whether he might like to play here, there or everywhere. . . .

This is about winning, as it should be, not about branding and not about a cost-benefit analysis. Kershaw would defy the track record of every big-money pitcher if he is not injured or ineffective, or both, at some point during the life of the contract.

There might be more glamour in Yasiel Puig or Matt Kemp or Hanley Ramirez or Brian Wilson. For now, Kershaw is the most reliable, responsible and successful of all the Dodgers, on and off the field.

Baseball Nation’s Grant Brisbee picks up on the Dodgers ability to throw money around:

If there’s a perfect partner for the Dodgers, a team impossible to evaluate like a normal rich team, it would be Kershaw, a pitcher impossible to a evaluate like a normal ace. He’s the same age as pitchers like Stephen Strasburg and Jarrod Parker — players generally thought of as young and full of potential. Kershaw’s that, except he’s already the best pitcher alive, and he shows no signs of slowing, no red flags. He’s the kind of pitcher a lot of teams would have gone nuts for. The Dodgers weren’t the only team that would have given Kershaw that contract.

Here’s the outlier contracts of outlier contracts, then, and he’s on the outlier team of outlier teams. It seems like the kind of deal that could hamstring a team, but that doesn’t apply to the Dodgers, who don’t really care. It seems like the kind of deal that can be a mess by the end, but that doesn’t apply to the Dodgers, a team with so much money, they have four pricey outfielders and no plans to trade any of them.

Kershaw is as good an investment as it gets, according to Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated, even if the $215 million contract represents “silly money”:

Over the past three seasons, Kershaw has the game’s lowest ERA (2.21), highest ERA+ (166) and highest strikeout total (709); only [Justin] Verlander has thrown more innings (707 2/3 to Kershaw’s 697) or compiled a higher WAR (20.8 to Kershaw’s 20.6). When one considers that the Dodgers’ ace is five years younger than his Tigers’ counterpart while playing in the game’s second-largest media market and under an ownership that became the first this side of the Yankees to breach the $200 million payroll threshold last year, it’s no surprise that he not only surpassed Verlander’s contract but that he did so by a wide margin — $5 million per year.

Verlander didn’t really step into his role as an ace until his age-26 season in 2009. By contrast, Kershaw already ranks among the elite pitchers up to this point in his career. His 146 ERA+ is the best of any Expansion Era pitcher (i.e, since 1961) through his age-25 season (minimum of 600 innings). His 32.2 WAR ranks fifth among that group and his 9.2 strikeouts per nine are 10th. Among contemporary pitchers over the course of his six-year career, his ERA+ ranks first, his strikeout rate third (Tim Lincecum is first at 9.7 per nine, Max Scherzer second at 9.4), and his WAR is third as well (Cliff Lee is first at 37.5, Verlander second at 32.6).

Despite all of that, this seems like silly money to be throwing around for any pitcher, but Kershaw’s age and clean injury history would appear to make him a better bet than most. He has never served a stint on the disabled list during his six-year major league career and has dealt with only a couple of minor injuries. He missed a pair of September 2009 starts due to an AC joint issue in his shoulder and one in September 2012 due to hip impingement. He has thrown 373 2/3 fewer innings than Verlander did at the time of his extension that covers his age 30-36 seasons, and 440 1/3 fewer innings than Felix Hernandez did at the time of his quickly-surpassed seven-year, $175 million extension that covers his age 27-33 seasons.

And finally, USA Today’s Jorge L. Ortiz addresses whether the Dodgers remain a player in the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes:

Now the question becomes whether the Dodgers, who a year ago signed a new TV deal worth $7 billion, have room left in the budget to pursue Tanaka, also 25. They certainly have a good working relationship with his agent, Casey Close, who also represents Kershaw and fellow Dodgers starter Zack Greinke.

Landing Tanaka would give L.A. a rotation featuring two Cy Young winners in Kershaw and Greinke, along with Tanaka (24-0 in Japan), South Korean lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu (14-8 as a rookie in 2013) and either Dan Haren or Josh Beckett.

It might seem like overkill to remain in the Tanaka sweepstakes now, but the one thing L.A.’s ownership has demonstrated is a willingness to pay top dollar for talent. Kershaw’s new deal is only the latest example.

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