What can the Dodgers expect from Clayton Kershaw over the next seven years?

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Per MLB.com, the Dodgers locked up Clayton Kershaw for seven years at $215 million earlier today. Dodgers president Stan Kasten is hopeful that the club will make the deal official by Friday morning. The news caused our eyes to jump to the horizon, wondering how the lefty will fare between now and 2020. But first, let’s put Kershaw in some historical context with what he’s already done.

Kershaw has led the Majors in ERA three years in a row, a feat only accomplished by Lefty Grove and Greg Maddux. In 2011, he became the youngest pitcher since Dwight Gooden to win the Cy Young award in the National League and already has two of them at the young age of 25.

Adjusting Kershaw’s ERA for league and park factors, we find that Kershaw’s 194 adjusted ERA in 2013 was the 41st-best dating all the way back to 1901 among starters who qualified for the ERA title. (Note: 100 is average.) Since 1930, it’s the 24th-best. If you limit the time frame to 1970-2013, Kershaw is one of only 11 pitchers to post an adjusted ERA of 190 or better.

Expanding the time frame back to 1901, Kershaw’s 2013 was the 10th-best by a left-handed starter. He is one of 12 left-handed pitchers to post an adjusted ERA of 190 or better in the last 112 years.

Now, back to his contemporaries. Combining 2011, 2012, and 2013, Kershaw’s aggregate 166 adjusted ERA is the best in baseball among starters who have tossed at least 500 combined innings. The next-best is Justin Verlander at 149, followed by Cliff Lee at 139. Among left-handers, only Kershaw, Lee, and Gio Gonzalez (126) have finished above 125 since 2011.

Kershaw’s deal makes him the most well-paid pitcher in baseball, ahead of Justin Verlander, who signed a seven-year, $180 million deal with the Tigers on March 29 last year.

How will he do going forward? It’s difficult to make comparisons with Kershaw since he is such a unique pitcher given his age, his resume, and the way he pitches. Since 1901, there have been 19 pitchers to post an adjusted ERA of 125 or better while throwing at least 1,000 innings before the age of 26. Only five – Walter Johnson (176), Kershaw (146), Tom Seaver (141), Roger Clemens (141), and Hal Newhouser (141) – were above 140. Kershaw, Newhouser, Noodles Hahn, and Gomez are the only lefties, and Newhouser was the most recent – he retired after the 1955 season.

Baseball Reference lists Kershaw’s ten-best comparables through the age of 25. They are Gary Nolan, Seaver, Jim Palmer, Vida Blue, Jim Maloney, Pedro Martinez, Dave McNally, Roger Clemens, Lefty Leifield, and Hal Schumacher. Nolan and Seaver get the highest similarity scores by a wide margin.

Nolan posted a 1.99 ERA in 1973 at the age of 24, but he missed time in August and September with neck and shoulder issues. He only threw 10 1/3 innings the next season due to arm issues, and missed all of 1974 as well. Though he was solid in 1975 and ’76 for the Reds, he quickly ran out of steam. He posted  6.09 ERA in 57 2/3 innings in ’77 at the age of 29 and then was out of baseball due to more arm and shoulder issues.

Seaver, of course, is a success story. Despite putting a strenuous workload on his arm throughout his career, topping 200 innings pitched in 16 of 20 seasons, he was able to pitch through his age-41 season. After his age-25 season, he had already won a Rookie of the Year award and a Cy Young award, but he wasn’t finished. He won two more Cy Youngs in 1973 and in ’75 at the ages of 28 and 30, respectively. Through age 32 – which is how old Kershaw will be in the final year of his deal – Seaver had a career 2.48 ERA (142 adjusted ERA) in nearly 3,000 innings.

Generally speaking, one would expect Kershaw to more or less match his output in the recent past through about his age-29 season before gradually tapering off. At the moment, we only have projections for 2014, but here’s what they look like from multiple sources:

  • Steamer: 192.0 IP, 3.08 ERA, 197 K, 52 BB
  • Oliver: 233.0 IP, 2.13 ERA, 237 K, 55 BB
  • ZiPS: 227.1 IP, 2.26 ERA, 233 K, 54 BB

By all three projection systems, Kershaw is expected to once again be the best starter in baseball in 2014. Starting from there, Kershaw should continue to be plenty productive as he wraps up the latter half of his 20’s. He has a lot of room to be worse and still provide enormous value to the Dodgers, as long as he can stay healthy.

Therein lies the rub. Kershaw must stay healthy. Projecting injuries is still at best an inexact science and a science best left to the experts. But as a general point, gambling seven years on Kershaw’s age 26 through 32 seasons is a lot better than gambling five years on Ryan Howard’s age 32 through 36 seasons, for example.

Jeff Zimmerman at FanGraphs has done tremendous research on injuries and predicted rather well for the 2013 season. In his formula, Zimmerman suggests that for every year older a pitcher gets, his likelihood of suffering an injury increases by one percent. If he makes a full season’s worth of starts (33), his odds diminish by three percent. If he suffers through an injury-plagued year, his odds increase by eight percent.

Over his six-year career, Kershaw has been almost perfectly healthy. He has never been on the disabled list, and has only missed time due to the AC joint in his right shoulder in 2009 (missed 13 games) and an impingement in his right hip last season (missed 10 games). Kershaw has also made exactly 33 starts three seasons in a row (he made 32 and 30 in the seasons prior, as well). So Kershaw’s odds of suffering an injury are pretty low going into 2014.

Taken all together, this is about as good of a gamble as the Dodgers could have hoped to have taken. The Dodgers are gambling on seven years which encompass the entirety of Kershaw’s prime and the contract barely takes him into his 30’s. Moreover, Kershaw has had a pristine bill of health through six seasons, especially since he has avoided elbow and shoulder injuries in his pitching arm. And, of course, he has been by far the best pitcher in baseball in recent years. There’s always the chance that this deal will go horribly wrong for the Dodgers, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more favorable situation with which to invest $215 million.

Hunter Strickland says he doesn’t have an anger problem

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Giants closer Hunter Strickland struggled in the ninth inning Monday against the Marlins, surrendering three runs en route to a 5-4 loss. Strickland took issue with Marlins outfielder Lewis Brinson, who tied the game with a single and celebrated as he rounded first base. When Strickland was yanked from the game, Brinson was on third base, so Strickland had some parting words on his way to the dugout. Then, in the clubhouse, Strickland punched a door in anger, breaking his pitching hand. He’ll miss six to eight weeks as a result.

Strickland posted to his Instagram on Tuesday, taking responsibility for his actions. He wrote, “To my family, my teammates, my coaches, this organization, and our fan base, I am truly sorry that one split second, stupid decision has caused so much harm and now set me back from being out there with my team to pursue our goal.”

Speaking to the media for the first time since breaking his hand, Strickland said (via Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports), “I don’t think I have an anger problem, but sometimes I let my emotions get the best of me.”

Well, if that emotion is anger, and you let it get the best of you, then you have an anger problem. This isn’t an isolated incident.

In the 2014 NLDS against the Nationals, Bryce Harper had Strickland’s number. In Game 1, Harper hit a solo home run ioff of Strickland, putting the Nationals on the board trailing 3-1. Strickland gave up another home run to Harper in Game 4 which tied the game at 2-2. Though the distance made it a no-doubt home run, the ball went down the right field line, so Harper was watching the ball in the air and didn’t immediately run the bases, which irked Strickland. The Giants still went on to win the game and advance to the NLCS, but Strickland carried the grudge with him into the 2017 season. The 2017 season! It just so happened that Strickland never faced Harper at all in the 2015-16 seasons, which makes sense because the two clubs only meet for two series per season and Strickland only pitches one inning per game if he gets into one.

The Nationals and Giants met in San Francisco at the end of May last year. In the first game of the series, Strickland entered with the Giants trailing 2-0 in the eighth inning. He got two quick outs, bringing up Harper for their first meeting since Game 4 of the 2014 NLDS. With his first pitch, Strickland nailed harper on the hip with a 98 MPH fastball. Harper didn’t like it, so he charged the mound and the two threw punches at each other as the benches and bullpens spilled onto the field.

In the 2014 World Series, Strickland had a beef with Royals catcher Salvador Perez. Strickland gave up a double to Perez, then a two-run home run to Omar Infante. As Perez crossed home plate, Strickland started yelling at Perez. He appeared to yell, “Get in the dugout, boy.” The term “boy” carries a racist connotation when used by white people towards men of color. It’s unclear why Strickland was upset with Perez, but Perez said Strickland started jawing at him when he was on second base after hitting his double.

So here’s what we know about Strickland:

  • He gets angry when players look at their home run balls in the air, even if that player is unsure if it will stay fair
  • He gets angry if you get a double off of him in an important game
  • He gets angry when players pump their fists and yell in celebration after getting a big hit in the regular season
  • He gets angry a lot
  • He sometimes gets violent when he’s angry

Short of hitters not showing any emotion at all and not getting hits off of him, it’s not clear what kind of behavior satisfies Strickland and won’t make him angry. So, essentially, anything a batter does could potentially set Strickland off. I’d call that an anger problem. If this weren’t in the context of sports, Strickland’s behavior would be problematic.

Strickland’s behavior doesn’t come off as particularly unique because he’s far from the only player to injure himself punching something in anger. He’s far from the only player to get ticked off when batters get a hit off him and celebrate. This anger is part of baseball culture, part of sports culture at large, and embedded in masculinity — what it means to be a man. We teach men, particularly athletes, to repress a wide range of emotions. As a result, many men resort first to anger — one of the few emotions we allow men to express openly — when dealing with any type of adversity.

If Strickland were a well-adjusted person with high emotional intelligence, he would realize that throwing a baseball close to 100 at someone with the intent to injure them is not a good way to resolve a conflict. Strickland could have gone to the Marlins’ clubhouse after the game and had a level-headed chat with Brinson, saying, “I felt embarrassed and emasculated when you got a hit off of me and celebrated the way you did. Perhaps in the future, you could tone it down.” But we don’t teach men and allow them to discuss and express their emotions in healthy ways, so Strickland lashes out at Harper and Perez and Brinson instead.