Is Wins Total For Clayton Kershaw Set Too Low?

Sunday, March 5, 2017 8:08 PM UTC

Sunday, Mar. 5, 2017 8:08 PM UTC

More and more baseball season props are being released daily at SBR’s top sportsbooks. Today, let’s examine the wins total set for the best pitcher on the planet and maybe the best ever when it’s all said and done: Clayton Kershaw.

So the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw is the Cy Young betting favorite on BetOnline’s MLB odds. That’s like saying water is wet. Kershaw is always the favorite. He is priced at +105 to win a fourth Cy Young. Kershaw is one of nine pitchers in baseball history to win at least three Cy Young Awards. Only four guys have won at least four: Roger Clemens (seven), Randy Johnson (five), Steve Carlton (four) and Greg Maddux (four). All but Clemens are in the Hall of Fame; he would be if not for PED use. Kershaw will absolutely be in Cooperstown five years after he retires.

BetOnline also lists Kershaw’s season wins total at 16.5, with the ‘under’ a slight -120 favorite. That seems criminally low – even though it’s the highest total for any pitcher on the site. Reigning NL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer of Washington, San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner, Boston’s Chris Sale (the AL Cy Young favorite) and Cleveland’s Corey Kluber are all at 15.5.

I’ll be as blunt as possible: if Kershaw stays healthy, he’s topping 16.5 wins. The southpaw had his first major injury last season, dealing with a herniated disc in his back. It limited Kershaw to 21 starts, his fewest since his 2008 rookie season. He still won 12 games and would have won another league ERA title had he enough innings to qualify. Kershaw finished with a career-best ERA of 1.69. Left-handed hitters basically have no chance against the guy. They hit .138 against him in 2016, 19-for-138. The league average was .259. Kershaw struck out 36.9 percent of lefties he faced (52 in 141 plate appearances). The league average was 19.7 percent. He walked two lefty hitters all year and didn’t allow a homer. Right-handers didn’t exactly light Kershaw up, either, as they hit .201 against him.

So far in Cactus League play, Kershaw has looked great. In two outings, Kershaw has retired all nine batters faced thus far. He is on track to start his seventh consecutive opening day, which is April 3 at home vs. the Padres, and has shown no sign of back troubles.

It should be noted that Kershaw has won more than 16 games only twice in his career: 2011 when he was 21-5 and 2014 when he was 21-3. However, this should be the best Dodgers team he has ever played on. The club was able to re-sign All-Star closer Kenley Jansen and third baseman Justin Turner. The Dodgers really struggled against left-handers last year but helped address that with the trade for Rays second baseman Logan Forsythe. He hit .264 with a career-high 20 homers last year with Tampa Bay and .270 against lefties. He should be a big upgrade on Chase Utley.

The one thing you have to consider when betting on win totals for National League pitchers is that they have the potential to lose a shot at a couple of wins a year by being pulled for a pinch-hitter in, say, the seventh inning when the pitcher’s spot is up to bat with the game tied. That’s not an issue for AL pitchers (not counting interleague games in NL parks).

Still, 16.5 wins seems low for Kershaw health permitting even if FanGraphs projects him to be 16-7. Those sites generally tend to skew lower. The Dodgers might not be MLB betting underdogs once all season with him on the mound (only once in 2016) and certainly won’t be at home.

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