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Draft Round Battles: Verlander Vs. Kershaw

There is definitely an argument to be made that Stephen Strasburg should be the first pitcher taken in your fantasy draft.  It's very possible that by October, Strasburg will have delivered a season that will make him the undisputed top starter for the 2014 drafts...but we're not there yet.

As Mock Draft Central's latest ADP report shows us, Strasburg is the consensus #3 pitcher taken while Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander are locked in a pitched (no pun intended) battle as the first starting pitcher selected.  Kershaw has the current edge with an 18.47 ADP and Verlander just behind at 22.85, making them the 17th- and 19th-drafted players overall.  So really, there's room for the pro-Strasburg camp within this draft battle --- even if some bold soul takes Strasburg as the first pitcher, you'll still be faced with the Kershaw vs. Verlander decision later on.

Neither ace is a wrong move.  Six of one, half a dozen of the other.  Some past draft battles have featured players who I felt were going to decline in 2013 or were at best risky, but in this case, you're getting a superstar no matter if you take the Claw or if you take JV.  In fact, I've taken both pitchers in a couple of different league drafts within the last week and I feel (knock on wood) I'm sitting pretty.  While I have a preference between the two aces, I never like to take the same guys in multiple leagues since that's just inviting bad karma in the form of a freak injury or drop in performance.  I had Matt Cain on all four of my fantasy teams last year and that worked out great, but what are the odds of that happening again?  Can't fight the universe, man.

So, Kershaw vs. Verlander.  Let's look at both men over the last four years, with a focus on the 5x5 stats.  WHIP is essentially equal and saves aren't an issue, unless the Tigers' closer situation gets so desperate that Jim Leyland just throws all caution to the wind and has Verlander in the bullpen during his rest days (it's either this or else Mike Ilitch funds a human cloning project to create a new Mike Henneman).  Anyway, let's stick to the other three universal pitcher stats...

Kershaw: 2.60 ERA, 147 ERA+, 874 strikeouts, 3.02 K/BB, 9.4 K/9, 56 wins, 1.09 WHIP

Verlander: 2.95 ERA, 144 ERA+, 977 strikeouts, 3.89 K/BB, 9.2 K/9, 78 wins, 1.076 WHIP

Strikeouts.  As noted, Leyland generally tends to pitch Verlander like he's a modern-day Old Hoss Radbourn, which is why Verlander has 117 more IP than Kershaw has over the last four seasons.  While they strike out batters at roughly the same rate, Verlander simply has more punchouts by sheer dint of the fact that he generally pitches deeper into games and thus has more opportunity to rack up the K's.  This is where the NL setting actually hurts Kershaw a bit since he is more apt to be lifted for a pinch-hitter in the late innings.       

ERA.  Verlander had a 3.45 ERA in 2009 and a 3.37 ERA in 2010, accounting for the 0.35 gap between he and Kershaw.  Of course, Verlander had some bad luck in those seasons --- he posted FIPs of 2.80 and 2.97, respectively, so his final ERA should've by all accounts been better.  As noted by the ERA+, both pitchers were virtually identical in this category all things being equal, and yet Kershaw gets the nod since your fantasy league doesn't track in could'ves and should'ves.  I also can't help but think Kershaw is helped by Dodger Stadium in keeping runs down in general, plus you wonder if the Tigers' horrid infield defense may catch up to Verlander this year.

Wins.  We sabermetric types can scoff at wins all we want, but they're still a big part of the fantasy game and Verlander's 78-56 edge in his category can't be ignored.  Part of that is luck, part is Detroit being a slightly better team than L.A. (by seven wins) over the last four seasons, part is due to Verlander pitching in the easier AL Central, and part could be due to the fact that the Tigers had Jose Valverde protecting those leads while the Dodgers shuffled through Jonathan Broxton, Javy Guerra, Kenley Jansen and even a little bit of Ramon Troncoso at the end of games.  Of course, the shoe is on the other foot going into 2013 now that the Dodgers will have Brandon League and Jansen waiting in the wings, while the Tigers are rolling the dice with Bruce Rondon.

Does that mean Kershaw is in for more wins?  Not necessarily, since frankly, I think the Dodgers are in real trouble as a team this year.  Forget the World Series talk --- I'd be impressed if the team even finishes above .500 given all the injuries and major holes they have up and down their roster.  Detroit, meanwhile, is the big favorite in the AL Central and has a good chance of another deep playoff run.  You could be a lot more optimistic about the Dodgers' chances (or maybe the chances of the White Sox, Indians or Royals) than I, but in terms of sheer results, I see the Tigers being the better team, which might well translate to Verlander having the edge in the win column.  It's such a random category to predict but judging by past history, I've got to give Verlander the duke here.

Add it all up and that's a 2-1 lead for Verlander, making him my pick over Kershaw.  As I said before, either man would look great atop your fantasy rotation so if you prefer Kershaw, go for it.  It's basically a no-lose draft battle here, and unless either man signs a contract extension, maybe they'll battle again in the 2014-15 free agent market



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