Clayton Kershaw, Cliff Lee on pace for historically-great seasons

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In a piece posted last night, ESPN’s Christina Kahrl notes that lefties Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers and Cliff Lee of the Phillies are on pace for historically-great seasons, using Wins Above Replacement from Baseball Reference:

3. Just one pitcher in 10 years has produced a season worth 9.0 WAR or better

And that would be Zack Greinke for the Royals in his Cy Young season of 2009. But this season two pitchers might challenge that mark: Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers (4.5 WAR) and Cliff Lee of the Phillies (4.6 WAR and counting).

For pitchers, piling up big stacks of value from on-field performance is tough, especially in today’s workload-conscious era as teams mitigate risk. But even allowing for that, while there have been 182 pitching seasons worth 9.0 WAR or more, just 30 of those seasons have come since divisional play started in 1969.

Lee came close to crossing the 9-WAR threshold with an 8.6 effort in 2011 with the Phillies. Kershaw’s career-high was 6.5 in 2011.

Kershaw and Lee head a very stacked group of talented National League arms. They are two of eight in the league with an ERA of 2.51 or better. Comparatively, only two starters in the American League have an ERA of 2.51 or better (Clay Buchholz, Hisashi Iwakuma). It will be interesting to see who gets the honor of starting for the National League in the upcoming All-Star Game.

Jimmy Nelson to undergo back surgery

Jimmy Nelson back surgery
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Bill Shaikin of The Los Angeles Times reports that Dodgers pitcher Jimmy Nelson will undergo lumbar surgery on his lower back on Tuesday.

Nelson, 31, signed with the Dodgers on an incentive-laden one-year, $1.25 million contract with a vesting 2021 option back in January. With incentives, Nelson could have pushed his 2021 option from $2 million to $9 million. The Dodgers can instead buy him out of his contract for $500,000.

At the beginning of spring training in February, Nelson was battling groin and lower back issues and ultimately exited a late-February bullpen session due to back issues, ending his chance to win a spot in the Dodgers’ rotation.

Nelson missed the entire 2018 season due to a shoulder injury and briefly pitched for the Brewers last season. Across 22 innings, the right-hander allowed 17 earned runs on 25 hits and 17 walks with 26 strikeouts.

David Price recently opted out of the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic, so the Dodgers’ rotation appears to include Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Julio Urías, Alex Wood, and one of Ross Stripling, Dustin May, and Tony Gonsolin.