In fantasy baseball, hitters always fly off the draft board first, and only a select few starting pitchers go in the first few rounds. There are just a handful of starters worth taking in the first three rounds and among them, Justin Verlander should be the first one off the board.
When looking at starting pitchers, there is a clear top three in my book: Verlander, Clayton Kershaw and Stephen Strasburg. The case can be made for either three to be taken first, but there are a few reasons why Verlander is the best.
The most attractive thing about Verlander is his durability. He has pitched at least 200 innings in six straight seasons and has proven to be one of the best workhorses in the game. Some may say that he could be wearing down because he does have more innings on his arm than Kershaw and Strasburg by far. Taking a closer look at his numbers, Verlander is clearly adjusting and becoming more of a pitcher; something that is going to help him in the long run. Young fireballers don’t last in the majors for very long unless they adjust and become smarter pitchers and that’s exactly what the veteran is doing.
In 2012, he threw his fastball a career-low 55.9 percent of the time while he threw his slider a career-high 11.9 percent and changeup a high of 17.3 percent of the time. He also dropped his fastball velocity for the fourth straight year to a still extremely effective 94.7 MPH average. The effectiveness of his slider in 2012 was key in leading to his career-high swinging-strike percentage of 11.7. He has learned how to better utilize three other pitches to go along with his devastating fastball.
Strasburg certainly has a chance to break out this year as his innings while rise, and he may even (finally) have his innings limit lifted. Don’t forget, however, that he is now just two years removed from Tommy John surgery and there’s still a chance the Washington Nationals limit his innings. Kershaw is another young stud that has now pitched over 200 innings in three straight years, but the experience and durability of the Detroit Tigers ace gives him the slight edge.