Showing posts with label Zack Greinke. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Zack Greinke. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Game 4 of the NLDS shapes up as a defining moment for Clayton Kershaw

Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw is widely considered the best pitcher in baseball. We'll make no argument to the contrary.

Kershaw's performance over the past four seasons has been without peer. This year, he finished 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA. He claimed his fourth consecutive National League ERA title, and that 1.77 mark was nearly half a run better than his closest competitor. He is a lock to win his third NL Cy Young award in the last four years.

Kershaw had a 1.83 ERA during the 2013 campaign, so that means he is just the second pitcher in the live-ball era to post an ERA of 1.85 or less in consecutive seasons. Hall of Famer Greg Maddux is the other.

Yes, Kershaw is the best in the game right now.

But you know what has eluded him to this point in his career? Postseason success. I've heard some people compare Kershaw to another former Dodgers' lefty, Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax. Some say Kershaw may go down as the best pitcher to play in the live-ball era once he's all done. Who am I to say he can't do that? But if he is going to be considered better than Koufax, he better figure out a way to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs.

The Cardinals will take a 2-1 series lead over the Dodgers into Tuesday's Game 4 of the National League Division Series. Kershaw is taking the ball on three days' rest. The season is on the line for the favored Dodgers.

Normally, a team feels pretty good about sending its ace out there in a must-win game, but Kershaw's postseason numbers are inexplicably terrible.

In 10 postseason games (7 starts), he's 1-4 with a 5.20 ERA. He has lost each of his last three playoff starts, all against the Cardinals. In two of those outings, he got bombed.

Kershaw went to the mound in a similar situation in Game 6 of last year's NLCS. The Cardinals were up 3-2 in the series, at home and looking to clinch. St. Louis roughed up Kershaw to the tune of seven earned runs on 10 hits over four innings. The Cardinals won, 9-0, and advanced to the World Series.

In Game 1 of this NLDS, Kershaw was staked to a 6-1 lead. He coughed up the whole thing, allowing eight earned runs on eight hits over 6.2 innings pitched. The Cardinals rallied to win, 10-9.

In Kershaw's last two playoff starts, he's allowed 15 earned runs on 18 hits over 10.2 innings pitched. Those aren't numbers you would associate with someone whose name is being mentioned alongside some of the all-time greats.

Most experts picked the Dodgers to win this series, because they figured the combination of Kershaw and teammate Zack Greinke would be too much for the Cardinals to handle. Greinke did his part in Game 2, a 3-2 Dodgers victory, and he's poised to pitch Game 5 back in Los Angeles if Kershaw can lead the Dodgers to a win in Game 4.

This game is a defining moment for Kershaw. His postseason failures are a black mark on an otherwise brilliant resume. As of this writing, we're just three hours from the first pitch of Game 4. I'll be interested to see how Kershaw responds in this pressure-packed start.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Big contract for any pitcher is risky business

The contract Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is going to receive is already giving some people upset stomachs. The size of it might end up being more eye-popping than the $50-60 million contracts teams gave to Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Keep in mind that was before the posting fee was capped at $20 million. The Red Sox and Rangers each coughed up posting fees in excess of $50 million, making the total investment for each pitcher more than $100 million.

It was a big deal when Kevin Brown
became the first $100 million pitcher
in baseball when he signed with the Dodgers.
That big of an investment rarely works out well if you're expecting the player to pitch well over the life of the whole contract. Here are the biggest contracts ever given to pitchers:

Felix Hernandez, Mariners, $175,000,000 (2013-19)
CC Sabathia, Yankees, $161,000,000 (2009-15)
Zack Greinke, Dodgers, $147,000,000 (2013-18)
Cole Hamels, Phillies, $144,000,000 (2013-18)
Johan Santana, Mets, $137,500,000 (2008-13)
Matt Cain, Giants, $127,500,000 (2012-17)
Barry Zito, Giants, $126,000,000 (2007-13)
CC Sabathia, Yankees, $122,000,000 (2012-16)
Mike Hampton, Rockies, $121,000,000 (2001-08)
Cliff Lee, Phillies, $120,000,000 (2011-15)
Yu Darvish, Rangers, $111.700,000 (2012-2017)*
Kevin Brown, Dodgers, $105,000,000 (1999-2005)
Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox, $102,111,111 (2007-2012)*
Adam Wainwright, Cardinals, $97,500,000 (2014-18)
Carlos Zambrano, Cubs, $91,500,000 (2008-12)
-Source: Cot's Baseball Contracts
*posting fee included with salary

Obviously most of these contracts are newer as teams have been flush with cash and the pay for elite pitchers has gone up. Though maybe it's interesting is that five of the top six contracts ever given out to pitchers weren't signed by free agents, but were extensions for guys with a year or two left before hitting the market.

Of the contracts that have been completed, all of them looked like a disaster at some point. Hampton's looked like one almost as soon as the ink dried in the thin Colorado air. Zito's was almost as bad save for the fact he still soaked up a lot of innings for the Giants over the course of his seven-year deal.

Over the course of Zambrano's extension, he suffered a decrease in either his performance or ability to take the mound each and every year of his new contract. Matsuzaka and Santana each had a few good years at the front ends of their deals before ineffectiveness and/or injuries did them in.

The best contract of all of them in my opinion was Brown's. Baseball's first $100 million arm was good for more than 1,000 innings with a 3.23 ERA over seven years. Brown, who I think has an underrated Hall of Fame case, missed some time with injuries, but still pitched a lot of mostly good innings for his money, only completely losing it the final year when he was 40.

The jury is still out on the other contracts. Cain, Verlander, Hamels and Sabathia each just endured their worst season in years. Greinke was very good, but missed time after breaking a bone in a scuffle with Carlos Quentin. With Hernandez, Lee, Darvish and Wainwright, things are looking so-far-so-good, though only Lee's contract is even close to completion.

The results here seem pretty apparent. If you don't have to spend almost $100 million or more on a pitcher, then don't. The risk is still one that teams are willing to make, especially teams that are close to contention. Should they be?

Possibly. In a way, this is already how teams view the cost of dabbling in free agency. They're willing to get a good value on the front end of a contract in exchange for dead money at the end.

Looking at each of these contracts, none of them really stopped the team paying the checks from doing anything else. Zito didn't keep the Giants from winning two World Series titles. Lee and Hamels aren't the problem with the Phillies' payroll. Even Mike Hampton's contract was eventually carved up and served in digestible bites that teams other than the Rockies helped swallow.

Unless Tanaka pulls a Hampton-Zito, the team that wins the bidding for his services will be getting a good pitcher for at least a few years. So any team with the money might as well bid away.