Max Scherzer and Yu Darvish were two of the best pitchers in all of baseball last season, and they both finished in the top-five in the American League in multiple categories as well as 1-2 in Cy Young Award voting. Scherzer had an advantage in wins (21 vs. 13 for Darvish) and innings pitched (214.1 vs. 209.2), but both were top-tier No. 1 starters for fantasy baseball owners.
Scherzer and Darvish are sure to be among the first handful of starting pitchers off the board in fantasy drafts this year, but is one more likely to maintain the level he showed in 2013?
The Case For Max Scherzer
Everything came together for Scherzer in 2013, as a combination of run support (6.8 runs per start), good fortune (.259 BABIP, 7.6 home run/fly ball ratio) and becoming a more complete pitcher yielded career-highs across the board in a Cy Young Award-winning season. Some of his peripheral ratios from 2013 (0.97 WHIP, a hit rate of 6.4 H/9 and the aforementioned BABIP) will surely rise this year, but the Tigers defense behind him should be better with Miguel Cabrera moving to first base and a full season of Jose Iglesias at shortstop.
Fantasy owners should not expect a win total (21) and ERA (2.90) in line with 2013 from Scherzer this season, but 15 wins with an ERA between 3.00-3.50 along with 230 strikeouts over 200-plus innings is a reasonable projection and more than enough to maintain his status as a fantasy ace in 2014.
The Case For Yu Darvish
Darvish was hampered by some back stiffness late last season that kept him from completing six innings in any of his final three starts, but his numbers did not dramatically suffer and he still led the majors in strikeuts (277).
Darvish also reaped the benefits of good fortune last season (.264 BABIP, 6.2 H/9 rate and a 83.9 percent strand rate), but otherwise most of his peripheral numbers, led by an 11.9 K/9 rate, support continued excellent performance. The main drag on Darvish’s fantasy potential is a walk rate (3.4 BB/9 last season) that leads to elevated pitch counts (100 or more pitches in 27 of his 32 starts in 2013, with 99 pitches in another outing) and an inability to stay in games long enough to get wins at times.
The choice between Scherzer and Darvish is a difficult one from a fantasy perspective, but I’m going with Darvish here. Improvement in his BB/9 rate last year (3.4; 4.2 in 2012) hints at some untapped upside for 2014, while Scherzer’s 2013 season feels like a high-water mark virtually across the board and he has nowhere to go but down overall.
Brad Berreman is a Senior Writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.