Clayton Kershaw was one of the more hyped young pitchers of 2008, though his numbers did not quite match the attention he received. That is somewhat similar to a young pitcher who made his debut in 2007, then took the baseball world by storm last season in the Giants Tim Lincecum. Let’s take a look at how their rookie seasons stack up before we get into the rest of the information:
Kershaw (’08): 5-5, 4.26 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 100 K in 107.2 IP
Lincecum (’07): 7-5, 4.00 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 150 K in 146.1 IP
Yes, Lincecum’s numbers were a bit better across the board, especially in the WHIP department. It wasn’t that Lincecum had tremendously better control, because he was walking 4.00 batters per 9 innings in his rookie season, compared to Kershaw’s 4.35. No, he was just less hittable, allowing opponents to hit .228 against him, compared to Kershaw’s .264.
That’s a big difference, but one that I would anticipate Kershaw, who hadn’t pitched above Double A prior to last season, to correct, at least partially, in ’09. It’s not like the number is terrible, not by any stretch, but there is plenty of room for improvement. Had he had enough innings to qualify, he pretty much would have found him smack in the middle of the league, right in line with Barry Zito (.268), Dana Eveland (.266) and Jamie Moyer (.264). Kershaw’s pure stuff is better than all of those pitchers, and I expect him to use it significantly better with a year under his belt.
The strikeouts are another number worth noting. In his rookie year, Lincecum had a K/9 of 9.23 (a number he improved to 10.51 in his second season). Kershaw was not quite at that level, but he did carry a very useful 8.36 K/9 in ’08. The number was better over the final 2 months of the season, when he had a K/9 of 9.00 (60 K’s over 60 innings).
In September Kershaw actually showed us a glimpse of just how good he could be. In 6 appearances (5 starts), he went 3-0 with an impressive 3.45 ERA.
You would expect it to take young pitchers a little bit of time to adjust to facing major league hitters. Tim Lincecum got beat up badly early on (7.71 ERA in June), but suddenly put things together in July of ’07, going 4-0 with a 1.62 ERA in 5 starts. Yes, he wasn’t quite as good in August and September, but overall his post All-Star Break ERA was at 3.39, compared to 4.63 prior to it. It simply takes pitchers some time, so the fact that you saw Kershaw make improvements is a great sign.
The final number to look at is the number of HR’s that Kershaw gave up, nearly 1 per 9 innings. Like his batting average against, it’s not an awful number, but it certainly isn’t a pretty one either. In contrast, Lincecum’s HR/9 was 0.74 during his rookie campaign, which he reduced to 0.44 last season. I don’t expect Kershaw to enjoy the same type of drop-off, but seeing that he did not allow a HR at Double A prior to his recall (61.1 innings), does give me some hope.
So, with all of that said, exactly what do I project Kershaw to do in ’09:
194.2 IP, 14 W, 3.75 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 191 K (8.85 K/9), 75 BB (3.48 BB/9)
I don’t see innings being an issue for him, as he threw a total of 169 innings this season. As we saw with Lincecum in 2008, I feel like Kershaw is going to improve dramatically in his first full season at the major league level. Don’t get me wrong, Kershaw is not going to put up a season similar to what Lincecum did, but with a strong line-up behind him, he should emerge as a solid #3 pitcher in all formats.
To me, he’s certainly a pitcher to target in the middle rounds of your draft this season, as he has the potential to exceed any expectations, even the very positive ones that I provided for you here. He could be one of the elite, and I’d certainly recommend rolling the dice on him.