Clayton Kershaw is a stud pitcher with absolutely filthy stuff. That much is elementary.
The part that's difficult to measure is how money will change him. Now, he's getting paid. Huge. He's set for life and then some.
And, so far this season, his numbers don't match up. He's got a 3.32 ERA after Monday's win over the White Sox, but he's struck out nine batters in five of his six outings since his first career trip to the disabled list.
"I think Kershaw just continues to fight no matter what. If they get him once, he's going to keep it right there," Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt told the Associated Press after giving up a homer to the White Sox's Jose Abreu in Monday's win. "He's not happy about the home run, but he's able to put it behind him and keep going. That's the sign of a guy with a short memory. The great ones don't worry about the past. They just know what they've got to do going forward."
The Los Angeles Dodgers' star 26-year-old left-hander remains the best pitcher in the game. That's why he got the seven-year, $215 million contract.
Now, we get to see if it will change him, like money often does. Just don't count on it. He's on a good team, he wants to lead them to be better.
And, after five years, he actually can opt out and be a free agent at age 30 and make even more than the $32 and $33 million he's scheduled to earn in 2009 and 2010.
You see, good pitchers can lose their greatness. Tim Lincecum was awesome for a time with the San Francisco Giants, leading them to a championship, but he's never really regained that. Others get hurt and never make it back. Others, like Barry Zito, never really are worth the astronomical contract they sign.
Kershaw will be different. He's that good. Not just top five, but THE top pitcher in the game with the ability to remain that for years. The Marlins' Jose Fernandez was figured to push him for that honor a few years down the road, but he'll be out for awhile with Tommy John surgery, meaning that's really irrelevant and it doesn't change Kershaw's value a bit. To the Dodgers, if he maintains, he'll be worth every penny and then some.
"It was one pitch. That's all it was tonight. One pitch. But he was great all the way to his last one," Dodgers catcher Drew Butera said to AP on Monday.
So many teams throw lefties out in their rotation that are ill-equipped to make the 40-plus starts a team is looking for from a front-end starter over a full major league season. But Kershaw just isn't the same. He's elite. He's an anomaly. And the stat-heads at places like FanGraphs will tell you that Kershaw is worth even more to the Dodgers with his wins-over-replacement (WAR) value than he's getting paid for.
He can and will change the course of the team's season every season. It's whether he'll have the work habits and ability to stay ahead of the competition as it adjusts.
"I was throwing strikes. They were swinging and my pitch count was low those first four, five innings," Kershaw said to AP on Monday. "They've got some aggressive guys over there. It doesn't really bother me as long as I make my pitches early."
Kershaw's ability to disguise what he's throwing makes it hard for hitters to adjust. When he can throw the ball as hard as he can, but also throwing in what might just be the game's best curveball, it's no surprise he just put together an MLB-best 1.83 earned-run average before earning that new contract, which will pay him $22 million this season ($18 million from the signing bonus).
You'll see over time, however, that the money won't change him.
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