Fantasy Baseball: Is It Time to Sell Clayton Kershaw?

Clayton Kershaw finally returned from the disabled list this week. But with the possibility of landing on it yet again, how should you be handling him as a fantasy owner going forward?

Thursday was supposed to be a celebration for the Los Angeles Dodgers. They were going for a series win against the Philadelphia Phillies at Dodger Stadium, and they were welcoming back their ace and arguably the best pitcher of his generation, Clayton Kershaw, from the disabled list.

After missing a month with biceps tendinitis, Kershaw came back and pitched five innings of one-run ball against the Phillies. On the surface, the numbers looked good. He struck out five batters and gave up just one earned run on four hits and one walk, leaving the game after throwing 62 pitches.

But after the game, the Dodgers announced Kershaw was removed from the game because of tightness in his back. So it would appear he's hurt again. And with a second straight DL stint (and third over the past two years) looming, it could finally be time to sell Kershaw.

History Of Back Problems

For anyone who has followed Kershaw's journey the last few years, you know this isn't the first time back issues have cropped up for the 30-year-old left-hander.

Back injuries have shortened his season in three out of the last four years, and it appears it's going to happen yet again. He missed six weeks with a back strain in 2014, two and a half months with a herniated disk in '16, and five weeks with another back strain last year.

After the game, Kershaw spoke on his back tightness: "Beyond frustrating. I felt like I was out of the woods. I was feeling good and then to have that crop up."

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, "Obviously with Clayton's history you want to make sure -- there is some concern. You want to make sure that he's well, so we're going to kind of dig into it and see if there is anything to it." However, Kershaw aded, "My back has felt unbelievable until today. The shoulder is fine. I'm frustrated and disappointed that I can't contribute to the team. Being on the DL is no fun. But maybe I can avoid that, we'll have to see what happens."

Regardless, these are not exactly quotes brimming with optimism.

Diminished Stuff

In his first seven starts of the season, Kershaw had an average fastball velocity between 90.6 and 91.9 miles per hour (mph), according to Fangraphs. In his start against the Phillies, he topped out at 90 and averaged only 88.5 mph on his fastball.

He threw his signature curveball just 9.7% of the time, down from an average ranging between 14.0% and 22.8% in his first seven starts this year. And a noticeable dropoff from his career average of 13.5%.

He simply didn't look good, and his peripherals have been trending downward even before his injuries this season. His strikeout rate had fallen from 31.6% and 29.8% in 2016 and 2017 to 26.5% this year. Meanwhile, his walk rate had ticked up a bit, too, from 4.4% last year to 5.5% in 2018. Opponents were hitting .233 against him this season, an increase from his .210 mark last year, and a full 30 points higher than his .203 average.

Why You Should Sell Him

If you have a loaded pitching staff and can afford to keep Kershaw on the DL, the more power to you. But for any Kershaw owners who don't have that luxury, now's the time to sell him if you can find a buyer.

According to our fantasy rankings, Kershaw checks in as the 188th ranked pitcher (in a tie with Chad Bettis) so far this season, and our remaining year projections see him pitching 74 more innings with a 3.61 ERA and 81 strikeouts with a 1.11 WHIP. These are decent numbers, but not what you were expecting when you likely drafted him in the very first round of your fantasy drafts.

That being said, Kershaw has been very effective when he hasn't been on the DL, winning the Cy Young and MVP award in '14 before finishing 5th in the Cy Young voting in '16, and as runner-up in the voting last year. That's coincided with ERAs of 1.77, 2.13, and 2.31 in those three seasons, so you could certainly use his past history as part of your sales pitch.

It could turn out that Kershaw won't miss much time with this issue and that he'll return to form and be a top-10 MLB pitcher again. But his first start back from the DL was worrisome, and back tightness for a player with a history of back problems raises red flags.

It should be enough for you to seek out a buyer in your league before it's too late.