2013 Fantasy Baseball Face-Off: Clayton Kershaw vs. Justin Verlander

By Brad Berreman
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Spring training is in full-swing, which means fantasy baseball season is on the horizon. More importantly, draft day and the preparation involved now starts for those that are so inclined.

First up in my series analyzing two players at the same position are two of the top starting pitchers in all of baseball, Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers. Both are also clearly in the top tier of fantasy starting pitchers, if not in the top two spots in most preseason rankings, so no fantasy owner will be unhappy to have either guy as their No. 1 starter entering the season.

Let’s take a closer look at both Kershaw and Verlander’s 2012 stat lines, then I’ll offer some analysis and make my choice.

Clayton Kershaw-2012
14-9, 2.53 ERA, 227.2 innings, 33 starts; 229 strikeouts (9.1 K/9 rate), 63 walks (2.5 BB/9 rate), 3.63 K/BB ratio, 47 percent ground ball rate

Justin Verlander-2012
17-8, 2.64 ERA, 238.1 innings, 33 starts; 239 strikeouts (9.0 K/9 rate), 60 walks (2.3 BB/9), 3.98 K/BB ratio, 42 percent ground ball rate

Verlander and Kershaw’s stats from last season are remarkably similar, with narrow advantages for Verlander in K/BB ratio, BB/9 rate, wins, innings pitched and strikeouts. Kershaw counters with slight advantages in ERA, K/9 rate and ground ball percentage. We are clearly dealing with two terrific pitchers here, and the peripheral numbers beyond the ones I’ve cited support that.

Takeaways And Trends

– Kershaw is inducing more ground balls each year, trending up from 40 percent in 2010 and 43 percent in 2011, and his fly ball percentage has moved down in concert (42 percent in 2010, 39 percent in 2011, 34 percent last season)

– Verlander’s ground ball rate has been very stable, at 42 percent last season and no lower than 40 percent (2011) over the last three years, but his fly ball percentage did drop fairly significantly in 2012 (36 percent, down from 42 percent in 2011)

– Both guys have been very durable in recent years, with Verlander topping 200 innings in six straight seasons (at least 224 innings in four consecutive) and Kershaw pitching at least 200 innings in three straight seasons (at least 227 innings in two straight)

– As a sidenote that is not directly related to fantasy baseball, both Kershaw and Verlander won the Cy Young Award in their respective league in 2011 and finished second in the voting in 2012

Final Analysis

Choosing between Kershaw and Verlander is an exercise in nit-picking, as both pitchers are the personification of the word ace in both real and fantasy baseball. It comes down to examining the small details to tip the scales one way or another, and for that reason I choose Kershaw.

Kershaw is younger, turning 25 on March 19, while Verlander turned 30 this week. Verlander’s recent workload is a bit of a concern (953.2 innings pitched from 2009-2012), creating a small amount of risk, while the Dodgers have managed Kershaw’s pitch counts well at this relatively early stage of his career. Even the peripheral numbers, in an overall sense, give Kershaw a slight advantage in terms of maintaining his 2012 performance.

Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.

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