Fantasy Baseball Risk/Reward: Clayton Kershaw

Brad Berreman

Brad has contributed to (or is contributing to) various websites, most notably Rotowire, Rant Sports, FanSided and Bruno Boys Fantasy Football. He joined GoingFor2 in June of this year.

Clayton Kershaw is clearly an elite starting pitcher, and almost inarguably the best in all of baseball. The stats back it up, with K/9 ratios of 10.8, 11.6 and 10.4 over the last three seasons and corresponding minuscule BB/9 ratios of 1.4, 1.6 and a record-setting 0.7 over that span.

But Kershaw has also made less than 30 starts in two of the last three seasons, with back and left shoulder issues limited him to 27 starts in 2014 and a herniated disc in his back yielding only 21 starts last season. From a fantasy baseball perspective, Kershaw made just five starts after the All-Star break in 2016 and he was obviously singularly irreplaceable on the waiver wire.

Advanced stats show now major chinks in Kershaw’s armor, starting with FIP marks of 1.81, 1.99 and 1.80 over the last three campaigns. The .254 BABIP against him last season reflected some good fortune, but a career mark of .271 in that category means more than a single season with some good luck over a smaller than usual sample for Kershaw (149 innings).

Kershaw was able to return late last season, and he did not need back surgery during the offseason. But he will turn 29 before this season starts, and back issues don’t magically go away. It’s a big reach to call Kershaw fragile or a major durability concern, but the possibility of extended missed time does linger going forward.

Kershaw will be the first pitcher taken in virtually all fantasy drafts, and he will require a significant dollar investment in auctions. That kind of roster centerpiece can make or break a fantasy season, and if Kershaw misses essentially 25-33 percent of his possible starts/innings again replacement level starters will have to fill that void for his fantasy owners. That’s not an ideal situation to be left in, clearly, and however, you view Kershaw’s missed time in two of the last three seasons there’s some level of risk now.

There are two types of pitchers, due purely to how unnatural the act of doing it is. Those that have been injured, and those that will be injured at some point. Kershaw has entered the first group recently, and he’s also in the second group as he approaches and crosses 30 years old.

Kershaw could help win your league going away with elite numbers over 30-35 starts and 200-plus innings. Those elite numbers were maintained in 2016, but the value of them was diminished a bit over the aforementioned 149 innings.

There’s nothing wrong with investing draft and auction capital in an ace starting pitcher, as part of a strategy that includes unearthing pitching sleepers later. But the gap between Kershaw and others of his general ilk (Madison Bumgarner, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, etc.) is not quite as pronounced as early ADP data and auction simulations seem to show, and I don’t see the Dodgers’ ace being on a lot of title-winning fantasy baseball rosters in 2017.

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Brad Berreman

Brad has contributed to (or is contributing to) various websites, most notably Rotowire, Rant Sports, FanSided and Bruno Boys Fantasy Football. He joined GoingFor2 in June of this year.

Brad Berreman

Brad has contributed to (or is contributing to) various websites, most notably Rotowire, Rant Sports, FanSided and Bruno Boys Fantasy Football. He joined GoingFor2 in June of this year.

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