Clayton Kershaw Is Baseball's Savior

Kershaw becomes MLB's first $200 million dollar man.

Although Clayton Kershaw didn't become the $300 million man as several sources had predicted, he did become the first-ever $30 million baseball player and first ever $200 million pitcher, agreeing yesterday to a 7-year, $215 million extension with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Isn't this what we, as baseball fans, really needed? A new star in a new era, removed from any PED talk, who can save baseball from itself?

At first glance, that contract extension should provoke one of two different reactions. Either: "Clayton Kershaw deserves that much money! He's the best pitcher in the Major Leagues!" Or: "That's a terrible idea. Paying that much money to a pitcher, who could easily blow out his elbow/shoulder, is a bad investment."

I'm firmly in the first corner. After all, the Dodgers don't need to be stingy, and keeping the best pitcher in all of baseball -- still at 25 years old -- for any amount is a no-brainer.

Let's start with the stats, most of which will likely put his greatness in better perspective. First, this:

That's insane. Not only is Kershaw among the top-five best pitchers (by ERA) over the past five years, he is the best ... by a significant margin. But, you probably already assumed that, at least based on his last three seasons in which he led the big leagues in ERA, posting 2.28, 2.53, and 1.83, respectively.

Now, let's look at some stats that have more historical context. Here's a good one:

Kershaw's 2.60 is just a hair off from Seaver's 2.49, which is already fantastic company to be placed in. But, when you look at their ERA- -- a more comparable stat, as it adjusts for era, park, and league, where the lower the number, the better -- and FIP- -- same qualifications as ERA-, but which looks at how the pitcher fared independent of fielding -- Kershaw is off to an even better start to his career than Seaver had:

Note: This data includes the first four seasons for each pitcher in which they threw for more than 200 innings. All stats taken from FanGraphs.com

Tom Seaver

Season  Innings Pitched  ERA ERA- FIP-
1967 251.0 2.76 82 98
1968 277.2 2.20 74 80
1969 273.1 2.21 62 91
1970 290.2 2.82 71 69

Clayton Kershaw

Season  Innings Pitched  ERA  ERA-  FIP-
2010 204.1 2.91 76 82
2011 233.1 2.28 62 67
2012 227.2 2.53 67 78
2013 236.0 1.83 51 66

Kershaw has a lower ERA- in three of four years and a lower FIP- in all four years. That's truly remarkable, especially when you consider what type of career Seaver had after those four years (311 wins, 3,640 strikeouts, career ERA of 2.86 and career ERA- of 79).

Unfortunately, though, as Joe Posnanski pointed out on Twitter, Tom Seaver made around $7 million ... in his entire career. Considering that Kershaw's new contract means that he will make roughly $1 million per start over the next seven years, that's saddening.

Here are two more crazy stats, courtesy of @CespedesBBQ, just for fun:

and

Let's face it: the first one is just plain funny. The second one? That's frightening for both sides of the equation. Kershaw dominates the entire league, but those numbers against his rival team are silly.

But, there's more to it than that. Kershaw isn't just a great pitcher. For all of the information that is available to us, he's a great person, too, and as perfect a role model as any professional athlete ever can be. From Jonah Keri's outstanding profile on Kershaw, written earlier this season:

"Kershaw is a universally liked teammate, someone who gets a lot of support because he dishes it out himself. He’s building orphanages in Africa, for Pete’s sake."

That last part is what gets me. After visiting Africa with his wife in 2011, Kershaw launched a campaign called "Kershaw's Challenge." Since the launch, "Kershaw's Challenge" has raised over $300,000 towards purchasing land, building a home, and furnishing it, which serves as an orphanage for nine children. Last season, Kershaw added to his commitment with Arise Africa, the organization that hosts "Kershaw's Challenge," by working with them on a "Back to School" campaign, as well.

Instead of doing something frivolous with his new paycheck (say, building a Scrooge McDuck pool out of over $100 million in gold coins), we can almost expect Kershaw to take his money and do some good with it. Craig Calcaterra of HardballTalk addresses this well:

Clayton Kershaw is now the highest paid player in baseball on an annual basis. Do you realize who he just took that title from? Yeah, you guessed it: Alex Rodriguez, arguably the most villainous athlete in all of professional sports right now -- at least according to Bud Selig. In essence, baseball traded A-Rod, the face of Performance Enhancing Drugs and baseball controversy in New York City, for Clayton Kershaw, the humble ace in Los Angeles. These two players could not be more unlike each other if they tried.

Isn't this what we, as baseball fans, really needed? A new star in a new era, removed from any PED talk, who can save baseball from itself? A white knight, of sorts, who, with the spotlight on him more than ever, will show the world that baseball contains outstanding players and people?

At this point, we don't know if Clayton Kershaw will live up to his contract. After all, it's nearly impossible to improve upon his last three seasons, in which he won two Cy Young Awards and finished second the year he lost.

For the game of baseball, though, that doesn't matter as much. What matters is that we can turn our eyes to a new star, one who embodies everything that we desire in a baseball player. To me, that's worth every penny of his new contract.

 
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