Over the last few of weeks, we've offered introductions to our Best Players of 2015 series. We set the stage for the whole endeavor, and we then revealed the players who landed between 45th and 11th on the list. If you need a refresher on the methodology, nine of our writers ranked players based on how well they thought players would perform during the 2015 season. They ordered them from No. 1 to No. 20, and those players got point values (20 for first, 19 for second, etc) and were ranked by the sum of their points. The highest possible score is 180. We're already told you Anthony Rendon ranked 10th, Jose Bautista finished ninth, Miguel Cabrera landed at eighth, Josh Donaldson ended up seventh, Buster Posey was sixth, Felix Hernandez took fifth, and Giancarlo Stanton nabbed fourth.
No. 3: Clayton Kershaw, Starting Pitcher (Los Angeles Dodgers)
Richard Mackson/USA Today
When I first proposed the idea of these rankings to our staff, this was the player about whom I was most curious. Where would our writers place Clayton Kershaw? He's baseball's best pitcher and the reigning NL MVP and Cy Young. And that's not just old school love, as he also won the inaugural FanGraphs Player of the Year Award. He's the best pitcher. No one is really going to argue with that. The question is how our writers who rank the best pitcher in the context of the best position players. Only one other arm made the top ten, how would Kershaw fit?
And I think he wound up as high as he could possibly go. There's too much inherent risk in a pitcher's arm, even a golden one, to rank him above the two outfielders who finished first and second. Maybe he's a better player at his best, but the odds of a pitcher surviving a full season are lower than a position player, so he would have to have been way above the hitters to make it. That's no knock. He's incredible.
Why We Love Him
This feels like a pretty superfluous section. Kershaw owns three seven win seasons in the last four and 38 WAR in his six and a half year career. He missed six starts in 2014 and was the runaway Cy Young winner and a comfortable MVP. And he's getting better. And he's newly 27.
The only thing that's wrong with Clayton Kershaw is that he's a pitcher and pitchers break. He's durable and amazing and he seems to be improving. He's the best pitcher in the game and appears to also be a really cool guy, if that's the kind of thing that matters. The only reason not to like Kershaw is if he's pitching against your team.
Steamer projects a 6 WAR season in 218 innings for Kershaw while ZiPS goes up to 6.3 WAR in 212 innings. If you're into PECOTA, it's a measly 5.8 WARP in 224 innings.
And if that isn't enough, Zachary Levine's look at Kershaw's bottom 10% projection is amazing.
Where He Fits In
Kershaw was named on all nine ballots, totaling 156 points, 14 ahead of the fourth place Stanton, but 12 behind second place. More impressively, no one voted him lower than fifth. He earned four fifth place votes, three third place votes, and a pair of second place votes to land at third overall.
He's the highest ranked pitcher and finished 104 points ahead of the second lefty on the list, Chris Sale. There's really no way to look at Kershaw and not put him near the top. The Dodgers are working on building a superpower and the left-handed star is their centerpiece. They're probably good enough to make the playoffs without him, but they're favorites to make the NLCS with him in tow.
The last two players aren't much of a surprise now that you know where Kershaw ranks, but there's plenty to say about them in the next week.