When Justin Verlander pitched his first major league game in 2005, Clayton Kershaw was a 17-year-old in junior high school who could only dream of playing in the MLB. Eight years later, Verlander has all but locked his spot in the Hall of Fame, and Kershaw is well on the way to doing so himself.
The two young pitchers stand first and second in fantasy baseball rankings heading into 2013, Verlander taking the top spot, with Kershaw behind him, and all it takes is a glance at the recent past to know that they belong there.
In the last couple of years, there hasn’t been a better pitcher in all of baseball than Verlander. His 2011 campaign was not only the best of his career, but arguably one of the best in major league history, a year so good that the Detroit Tigers ace won the pitcher’s triple crown, AL Cy Young, and even the AL MVP without so much as a debate. That’s why, in 2012, fantasy baseball players were chomping at the bit to get their hands on the Tigers fireballer, taking him high in the first round, if not first overall in some leagues. As far as pitching went, there was Verlander—and then there was everyone else.
In 2013, that’s not the case anymore.
It never should have been to start with.
Lost in the shadow of Verlander’s 2011 explosion was the breakout season of baseball’s next true ace, a pitcher bound to one day uproot Verlander atop the pitcher rankings. His name is Clayton Kershaw, and many forget that he won the NL Cy Young hands down in 2011, having a season just as good if not better than Verlander’s. Yes, if not better than Verlander’s.
Believe it or not, Kershaw’s ERA was better than Verlander’s in 2011—a whole 12 points better, actually—and when it came to strikeouts, Kershaw stood only two behind Verlander despite having pitched nearly 18 fewer innings. Both of their WHIPs were below 1.000, and both broke the 20-win mark with only five losses on route to Cy Young seasons. The only difference?
Verlander did it at 28. Kershaw did it at 23.
Now in 2013, Verlander is about to celebrate his 30th birthday. Kershaw, on the other hand, is about to enter his prime at 25 and is going to do so with the best lineup in baseball backing him up, and World Series aspirations motivating him. In other words, the gap between the two is smaller than ever, which is why ESPN currently has Verlander ranked at 13th overall and Kershaw 14th. Come the end of the season, those two will likely be switched.
There isn’t a pitcher in baseball better than Verlander right now, but time is always a factor. The best of Verlander may have come and gone, made evident by his decline in 2012, while the best of Kershaw is still to come. For fantasy baseball players, that should be evidence enough.
In the end, Kershaw has spent his entire career in the shadow of Verlander, but he’s never been far behind the Tigers’ ace. 2013 is the year that changes. The stage is set for the Los Angeles Dodgers ace to explode, and Kershaw will certainly not disappoint.
When it comes to Verlander and Kershaw in 2013, Kershaw will win.
Put that in an envelope and seal it.