Forecasting Clayton Kershaw For 2010

As I hinted a few weeks ago in my Max Scherzer 2010 projection post, I am not a big fan of Clayton Kershaw. There is no doubt that he possesses a devastating Fastball/Change Up combo with a plus slider to boot. This leads to incredible strikeout totals (9.74 K/9 last season, 7th amongst starting pitchers). However, his lack of command also leads to an incredibly high high walk rate (4.79 BB/9 last season, compared to a 3.46 MLB average). Such numbers are quite reminisce of Rich Harden, who possesses a career 9.35 K/9 and 3.93 BB/9, and we all love Rich Harden (when healthy), right?

SexyRexy drilled upon the point of why I dislike Kershaw last month: his 4.1% HR/FB rate was the lowest amongst all major league pitchers to throw 100 or more innings. As I pointed out in my article explaining the important of xFIP and HR/FB rates earlier this year, "[t]he league, as a whole, averages a HR/FB rate in the 11% range, though most pitchers have HR/FB% which normalize to the 9-12% range (depending on where they play)." Thus, no matter where Kershaw plays, be it Dodger Stadium or Safe Co., there is really no way to reasonably expect him to maintain the 0.37 HR/9 rate that came with his sub-40% groundball rate last season. Put the sparkling 3.08 FIP out of your mind. What matters is the 3.90 xFIP.

Now a 3.90 xFIP is nothing terrible. It's actually quite decent. It's just not "ace material" or anything worth paying a top 100 pick for, especially when a comparably (if not better) guy like Max Scherzer is available much later. Of course, simply asserting Kershaw is overvalued is not my style. Let's project him.

Using Kershaw's 3.90 2009 xFIP as the baseline for his 2010 ERA, we need an innings projection for Kershaw. Innings projections are difficult to forecast and often arbitrary because predicting injury, playoff berths, managerial discretion, etc., is very difficult. CHONE says 151, Fangraphs users say 192, ZiPS says 176.2 and Bill James says 180. As with Max Scherzer, perhaps just so I can compare them a little easier, I am going to use 180 IP.

Over 180 IP, a 3.90 ERA would result in 78 runs allowed. Because Kershaw is not changing teams, there is no need to accord for park factors or a change in league. All that really needs to be factored in is the defensive posture of the 2010 Los Angeles Dodgers. In 2009, the team was cumulatively worth -0.1 Fielding Runs Above Replacement (FRAR). Their defense neither cost nor gained them any runs. Because the team essentially only swapped out Orlando Hudson for Ronnie Belliard this offseason, the team's defense should not change too much next year. If you think the Dodgers, as a team, over or underperformed their defensive abilities last year, adjust these projections accordingly. However, I am simply going to swap out Orlando Hudson's 2009 FRAR of -3.3 with that of Ronnie Belliard's 2010 FRAR projection, -6.1. This gives the Dodgers a projected team FRAR of -2.8. Per 1442 innings of play, the average amount of defensive innings each team played last season, the Dodger's marginally below average defense would cost the team .002 runs per inning or 0.35 runs per 180 innings. Factor this into Kershaw's projected 78 runs allowed per 180 IP, and you get an estimated 3.92 ERA.

If we keep the strikeout rates constant, Kershaw would yield about 195 strikeouts. Solid numbers, but nothing spectacular. Kershaw also managed a 1.23 WHIP to go alone with his 4.79 BB/9 and .274 BABIP. If we assume a correction in Kershaw's 2010 BABIP towards the .300 MLB average, then we cannot assume another sub 1.30 WHIP season.

According to Mock Draft Central's ADP data, Kershaw (ADP of 92) is being drafted in the immediate vicinity of such pitchers as Tommy Hanson, Yovanni Gallardo, Cole Hamels, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ricky Nolasco. Each of these pitchers has both risk and tremendous upside, but it simply seems that Kershaw's downside and high walk totals trump all of these pitchers except Yovanni Gallardo. Personally, I'm taking Hanson, Hamels, Nolasco, Ubaldo, and Gallardo (in that order) before I even touch Kershaw. Even still, there are a handful of pitchers like John Lackey (120), Chad Billingsley (122), and Brett Anderson (152) that I would rather choose well before I am forced to settle with Kershaw. Clayton may be a stud in 2010, but the downside risk is too high to justify a top 100 pick in my opinion. Perhaps I am just too risk averse. Where Brandon Funston only sees "Lincecum-type upside with Kershaw," I see the Rich Harden a la 2009-like downside. That and his price tag. Just my two cents.


Sexy Rexy said...

Brandon Funston is also RETARDED!