Many avid fantasy baseball managers stress the importance of loading up fantasy rosters with big hitters in the early rounds of the draft, but in my opinion, many of them overlook the value of snagging a few starting pitchers in the early rounds. Don’t get me wrong, you should by all means build your team around a few hitters that you know will consistently produce for you all year long, but having a few top-notch pitchers can really carry a team throughout the season and especially down the stretch when many of your sluggers might be battling fatigue and injury. Here are my top three fantasy starting pitchers:
1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
Some might be surprised to see Kershaw at the top of the list, but after posting 14 wins last year on a Dodgers team that struggled to consistently score runs, if he stays healthy he can easily record anywhere from 17 to 20 wins. Last season Kershaw recorded 229 strikeouts and led the MLB in ERA. Fantasy owners can expect him to continue to improve on these numbers as he heads into his sixth season in the majors. One thing to consider before drafting Kershaw is that he was bothered by a hip injury last September, but honestly this should not scare anyone out of drafting him in the early rounds as he is only 25 years old and is typically not injury-prone.
2. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
Verlander is more than just a talented starting pitcher; he is durable and consistent. These are two qualities that fantasy owners always want to hear associated with their top draft picks and Verlander embodies both of them. Since 2006 he has started 30 or more games in each season and in that same span he is averaging right around 17 wins and 220 innings pitched per season. All that together is the definition of consistency. He is also coming off a two-year period in which he won the American League Cy Young Award (2011) and then finished second in voting (2012). Overall Verlander is a great pickup because you can count on him to produce consistently and you can be sure that he will have plenty of opportunities to put up big numbers.
3. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
I know it may seem odd that I am actively endorsing Strasburg as the third starter off the draft board after his last season was cut short by Nationals management in early September, but last year when he pitched he was as productive as any fantasy pitcher in the league. In just 28 starts last season, he recorded 15 wins, 205 strikeouts and 159.1 innings pitched, not to mention a pretty solid ERA of 3.16. If Strasburg is able to pitch for an entire season, fantasy owners should definitely expect these numbers to improve. Another thing to consider is that after being cut off in the middle of a hotly contested playoff race last season, Strasburg will most likely start this season with a chip on his shoulder and be ready to prove to everyone that he is durable enough to pitch for an entire season.
Some avid fantasy players may wonder why Felix Hernandez didn’t make the cut for this list and the main reason for that is the worry that the Mariners will not be able to provide enough run support for him to post the kind of numbers he is capable of. Last season Hernandez started 33 games and posted an ERA of 3.06 but because of a lack of run support, he only ended up with 13 wins the entire season. Moreover, fantasy owners must be careful when drafting starting pitchers in early rounds and must be aware of each starter’s particular situation. But after all factors have been considered, drafting a pitcher in an early round can actually end up being very beneficial for fantasy owners.