Friday, March 24, 2023

Fantasy Baseball: How to value Clayton Kershaw, Carlos Rodon after their dominant debuts

Clayton Kershaw didn’t end up with a perfect game Wednesday, but it’s hard to ask more than what we saw from him in his season debut against the Twins. Kershaw was overwhelmingly dominant, striking out 13 hitters over seven innings without allowing a baserunner, with the abbreviated spring training to blame for his early exit after just 80 pitches. 

Kershaw’s velocity was down a little bit in the start, as he averaged 89.9 mph with his fastball compared to 90.6 last season, but given the aforementioned abbreviated spring training, it’s hard to hold that against him. It’s also hard to be too concerned about the lingering effects of last year’s elbow injury when he spun off 41 sliders (51% usage) and racked up a whopping 17 swings and misses with them. 

Kershaw entered the season with significant questions about his health, and he wasn’t the only pitcher for whom that was true. Carlos Rodon was just as impressive in his first start of the season striking out 12 in five innings against the Marlins, with his fastball velocity returning to his early-2021 levels after a worrisome dip late in the season that seemingly played a role in the White Sox decision not to tender him a qualifying offer heading into free agency. Like Kershaw, Rodon answered the “Is he currently healthy?” question in a resounding fashion, and I responded by moving him up in my SP ranks and the rest-of-season trade values.

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I’ll do something similar for Kershaw, who was a $10 player in Roto and $15 in H2H points leagues coming into the season. I’ve moved him up to SP23 in points and SP21 in Roto, giving him a value of $16 and $20, respectively. Those are not-inconsiderable jumps, and I’m not 100% sure it’s the right call, though not only because of my concerns about Kershaw. There are also reasons to be concerned about a bunch of the pitchers still ranked ahead of him, like Robbie Ray, Shane Bieber, and Aaron Nola, so it’s not out of the question we could see some more significant shakeups at the top of the position in the coming weeks; that won’t happen until May, barring injuries, of course.

However, it’s worth acknowledging that Rodon and Kershaw have only answered one of the questions we had about them coming into the season. If they had entered the season with no concerns about their health or their performance, Rodon might have been a top-15 pitcher in ADP, and Kershaw wouldn’t have been far behind. However, given the injury questions surrounding them, it was fair to wonder how good they could actually be. At least one start in, we have our answer to that: Very, very good. 

But that’s not the only reason their prices were discounted, and we only have to look back to spring training for a high-profile example of a pitcher with significant injury questions seemingly answering them and leading to a lot of Fantasy heartbreak. Jacob deGrom entered the offseason with concerns about the health of his elbow but saw his price spike in Fantasy drafts after striking out 10 in five spring innings. He answered the “Is he currently healthy?” question as emphatically as either Rodon or Kershaw. 

But that wasn’t the only question he had to answer, and it isn’t the only one Kershaw or Rodon have to answer either. Because there’s still the, “Can he stay healthy?” question, and that’s the one they can’t answer. We simply won’t know the answer to that question until after the season in the best-case scenario; the worst-case scenario is the deGrom outcome, where we find out the answer was “no” almost immediately after his value spiked. 

That latter question is going to hang over Kershaw and Rodon’s heads all season long. And it’s why any aggressive move for them is going to be met with skepticism. But I’m more comfortable with making an aggressive move up the rankings once the season starts than I am in spring training because the stakes are a whole lot lower than they were for that week when you had to spend a first-round pick on deGrom after his spring debut. 

It’s hard to say you should trade for either Kershaw or Rodon at what they’ll likely cost after these outings, and you could make a convincing argument that both are sell-high candidates given those lingering concerns. However, at the very least, I feel very confident they’ll both be good for as long as they can manage to stay healthy. That’s more than I could say a week ago. 

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