Diamond Duels: Clayton Kershaw vs. Zack Greinke

by Eric McClung and Nicholas Minnix on February 25, 2011 @ 14:40:01 PDT


Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers

Eric McClung

Kershaw's fantasy baseball player profile

  • Just how good is Kershaw? For starters, he is the only pitcher that has posted a batting average against under .215 in each of the last two years. In addition to being unhittable at times, Kershaw is a reliable strikeout machine. Even though Kershaw's K/9 dipped slightly from 9.74 to 9.34, he finished seventh among qualified pitchers in consecutive seasons. All while relying on his sensational curveball less often and developing a slider.
  • Los Angeles Dodgers SP Clayton Kershaw
    Kershaw a budding ace
    Kershaw has experienced issues with issuing walks, but he's improving. His BB/9 was cut from 4.79 in 2010 to 3.57 last year. After issuing 22 free passes in April, Kershaw walked 11 or fewer batters in three of the last five months of the season. Continued improvement in this area could move him into elite WHIP territory thanks to his aforementioned unhittable nature.
  • The pitcher-friendly configuration of Dodger Stadium certainly helps Kershaw's success, but it's a small factor. In fact, his home ERA was nearly a full run higher a year ago than on the road. Most surprising, 10 of his 13 home runs allowed came at Chavez Ravine. In 2009, Kershaw's home ERA was 1.83 with only one homer surrendered versus 3.81 away. A combination of last year's success on the road and anything close to his stellar 2009 home campaign will cement him as a fantasy ace.
  • After opening the season with six uneven starts, Kershaw posted a 2.54 ERA with a .209 BAA and 9.84 K/9 over his final 26 starts. Kershaw's fly ball rates are very high, which is his biggest knock; he finished 11th or better in both HR/FB and infield fly balls last year. With double-digit swinging strike percentages in each of the last two seasons, Kershaw is headed to a third straight year of increased production.
  • Last year, Zack Greinke saw a sharp decline in K/9 and an increase in contact percentage. Scouting reports and Pitch f/x show his stuff has less movement than in years past. In order to save his arm, Greinke cut down on throwing his slider last year, which raises serious questions about his competitiveness. If the Milwaukee Brewers fall out of the playoff picture, will Greinke once again start mailing it in? I don't plan on finding out.

Closing argument: This is a tale of two pitchers heading in different directions. Kershaw is maturing from a great thrower of the baseball to a top-flight pitcher that's going deeper into games. Meanwhile, Greinke seems to be losing it. The former Cy Young winner is unlikely to hit the lows of last year, but he's not going to have a revival of 2009 due to the across-the-board downturn. Not only does Kershaw have far more upside, he's a much safer pick.

Zack Greinke, SP, Milwaukee Brewers

Nicholas Minnix

Greinke's fantasy baseball player profile

  • Any argument about these two extremely talented hurlers begins with a comparison of their inclinations to issue walks. Specifically, Clayton Kershaw (4.17 BB/9 lifetime) has one, and Greinke (2.27) doesn't. Kershaw's 2010 3.57 BB/9 is at best mediocre but a vast improvement upon his rate from 2009 (4.79) and a step up from his limited work on the farm (3.72). Pitchers with poor BB/9 who take a big step forward in one season rarely take another one in the next. Usually, they regress, as any Kershaw projection will indicate.
  • New Milwaukee Brewers SP Zack Greinke
    New uni, same skills
    Naturally, Kershaw backers will counter by stepping to his rate-of-strikeouts advantage. But the southpaw needs whiffs to flourish. Thanks to his BB/9 breakthrough of 2010, 2.62 K/BB was easily his best mark in three seasons. He has relied on his natural ability - understandably - to escape self-imposed predicaments, and he's a little tougher to hit. Greinke's last three K/BB (3.27, 4.75, 3.29) reflect his greater margin for error. He is a K generator in his own right (7.56 K/9 career), and a move to the NL Central only helps.
  • Greinke, 27, achieved his fine peripherals in the American League, but what about his move to Miller Park? Kauffman Stadium became a pitcher's paradise. No worries: Greinke's overpowering and diverse arsenal limits good wood, reflected in his consistently low averages against. The right-hander also jumped closer to the 50 percent mark for grounders induced in 2010, putting an exclamation point on a trend that has been slowly building.
  • Downgrade Milwaukee's middling defense a bit: Yuniesky Betancourt < Alcides Escobar. But the Kansas City Royals fielded one of the league's worst fielding teams in the past three seasons. Kershaw's crew is no better than the Brew Crew on paper. The Brewers were also fourth in runs per game (4.63) last season and have been a top-half NL force for several years. LA (11th, 4.13) finished fourth in 2009 but has otherwise scored less frequently. Greinke's efficiency allows him to go a little deeper than Kershaw on a consistent basis. In 2009, the righty won 16 games for the 65-win Royals despite receiving the second-worst per-game run support among qualifiers.
  • Ignorance about social anxiety disorder has robbed critics' pea shooters of peas, which may be stored in their coconuts. Losing took a toll on Greinke; he lost focus as 2010 wore on. But he's thrilled to have escaped personal purgatory. He needed the chance to contribute to a winning cause and cares more than many pro athletes do. You can't rag on the Royals eternally but hold their ineptitude against a player who can't take it anymore.

Closing argument: No doubt, you're getting a talented fantasy starter either way. Give Cy Young Award winner Greinke the experience edge, though; he knows how to pitch. Kershaw, 23 this year, put up some fantastic numbers, but he still has more growth periods in store. The Los Angeles Dodgers' southpaw should, in the long run - or within the next couple of years - move past Greinke. This season, the nod has to go to the more established, high-end pitching commodity whose outlook did nothing but improve.

KFFL staff verdict


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Fantasy Baseball Diamond Duels


About Eric McClung

Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a three-time award finalist. Over the years, he's made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts. He's also captured the fantasy football championship in the KFFL staff league twice.

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