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Player Showdowns: Starters

by NBC Sports EDGE Staff
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:09 pm ET

Often times in the midst of your draft, you’ll find yourself deciding between a couple players at the same position. With Player Showdowns, we take two players who are closely ranked by Average Draft Position (ADP) and/or Rotoworld’s 2014 season projections and have writers take a side and debate who should be selected first. Whose side will you be on?



Cliff Lee vs. Justin Verlander




Get over the fact that Lee doesn’t throw hard. The guy is an unquestioned ace both in reality and fantasy. Since the beginning of his second tour of duty with the Phillies, Lee has posted a pristine 2.80 ERA and 1.05 WHIP with 667 strikeouts over 666 1/3 innings. Over that same stretch, Verlander holds a 2.81 ERA and 1.09 WHIP with 706 strikeouts over 707 2/3 frames. I don’t deny that Verlander has more upside, as he had one of the best seasons ever for a pitcher in 2011 and essentially matched it the following season. But he also has more downside after last year’s velocity issues helped result in an ugly 4.28 ERA during a four-month funk. Verlander looked like his old self at the end of the year and has pitched well this spring, but I can’t ignore the fact that his fastball velocity was nearly two mph slower in 2013 than it was during his historic 2011 campaign. No pitcher is a sure thing, but Lee is about as close as it gets. That’s why he gets the edge for me. – Ryan Boyer (@RyanPBoyer)




Lee had better numbers than Verlander in 2013 and it wasn’t particularly close. But look back one year prior and the opposite can be said. That’s the nature of pitching numbers, and in this showdown of top-tier fantasy starters I think it’s right to look to a larger, several-season sample size. Since the beginning of the 2009 season -- a fully-healthy stretch for both Verlander and Lee -- Verlander has registered a better K/9 (9.2 compared to Lee’s 8.4) and three more starts per year. Verlander also has the better adjusted ERA (ERA+) -- which accounts for park factors -- over that span. The Tigers project to have far more success this summer than the Phillies, which means better odds at a high wins total for the Detroit ace. There were some wear-and-tear concerns last year for Verlander, but he pitched well in the 2013 playoffs, has not allowed a run in 13 2/3 Grapefruit League innings this spring, and will be four years younger than Lee when the 2014 regular season begins. – Drew Silva (@drewsilv)

Chris Sale vs. David Price




It’s hard to go wrong with either of these two, but let me attempt to talk you into opting for Sale over Price. While Price has a Cy Young award under his belt and has pitched nearly twice as many innings at the major league level as Sale, the White Sox hurler has posted the better numbers to this point, holding an edge in ERA (2.97 to 3.19), WHIP (1.10 to 1.16) and K/9 rate (9.5 to 8.1). Sale’s edge in strikeouts has widened, as his 9.5 K/9 rate last season was his highest as a starter while Price’s 7.3 rate last year was his lowest since his rookie season. There’s also Price’s velocity drop, as he lost two mph on his fastball in 2013 (while Sale’s went up 1.5 mph from the previous season). What Price has going for him is that he’s on a better team, plays in a nice pitcher’s park and has a great defense behind him. However, we can’t rule out him finally getting traded during the season, and if he is dealt the odds are good that he’ll land in a less pitcher-friendly park and not have as good of a defense backing him. The margin is slim, but when choosing between these two lefties I’m going with the one who dons pinstripes. – Ryan Boyer (@RyanPBoyer)




Sale trumps Price on pure ability at this point, but he's handicapped by pitching for a lousy team in one of baseball's biggest home run parks. Price should get better support offensively and defensively, plus he pitches in the AL's lowest run-scoring environment. Really, though, there's a good chance this will come down to health one way or the other. Price has topped 208 innings in each of his three full seasons until missing time with some shoulder soreness last year. Even though it wasn't anything severe, the Rays handled him carefully, and he came back very strong, posting a 2.53 ERA in the final three months. Sale has yet to suffer a breakdown, though many expected one would come due to his unusual mechanics. In fact, the White Sox were worried enough about his elbow that they decided to make a closer out of him in 2012, only to reverse course at Sale's request. Sale also had his own minor shoulder problem last year, missing one turn with shoulder tendinitis. While Sale has done nothing to deserve an injury-prone tag, I still view him as a bigger health risk than most of the other elite starters. That said, even taking the injury risk out of it, I'd give Price the slight nod, based on the outside factors he was working for him. – Matthew Pouliot (@matthewpouliot)


Tony Cingrani vs. Andrew Cashner




Like so many of these, Cingrani vs. Cashner is a matchup of two different players. Cingrani is a high-strikeout pitcher who gets by with a fastball and not much else; Cashner has all the ability to be a strikeout pitcher but has found success by pitching to contact. And yet, Cashner is the sexier name this draft season. That's largely due to the expectation that he'll turn some of those ground balls into strikeouts, but right now that's simply projection. And if spring statistics are any indication, Cashner is sticking with what's worked -- he's struck out six batters over nine scoreless innings while inducing 16 ground ball outs through three exhibition starts. That's plenty useful, especially considering he'll pitch half his games at run-suppressing Petco Park, but there are plenty of pitchers who get ground balls and keep runs off the board. But people aren't running out to draft the Wade Mileys of the world. On the other hand, Cingrani doesn't need to improve to be a strong fantasy option; he simply needs to continue doing what's been effective for him. The southpaw's 2.92 ERA isn't likely to stick, but there's no reason to think an ERA around 3.50 with over a strikeout per inning isn't possible. That may represent the best-case scenario for his counterpart, so bet on projection at your own risk. I'll take the proven commodity. – Nathan Grimm (@Nate_Grimm)




Cingrani posted a 2.92 ERA in 18 starts and five relief appearances as a rookie last season and averaged 10.3 K/9, so why am I going for Cashner? Well, it's a combination of factors. First off, Cashner was pretty solid in his own right last year, compiling a 3.09 ERA and 128/47 K/BB ratio over 175 innings while putting up a ground ball rate of 52.5 percent. The strikeout rate was surprisingly low given his mid-90s fastball, but it's worth noting that he got more swings and misses as the season moved along. This was no accident, as he began to rely more on his slider. If he can carry that momentum into 2014, we could have a frontline fantasy starter on our hands. That he pitches half of his games in PETCO Park only helps his cause. While it has worked for him so far, Cingrani walks a fine line as a (mostly) one-pitch pitcher. Among pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched last year, only Bartolo Colon relied on his fastball more often. The young southpaw is also a fly ball pitcher in a hitter-friendly park. I think both of them will be valuable in mixed leagues this season, but Cashner is the more well-rounded option. Injuries have been an issue for him in the early part of his career, but a breakout is a legitimate possibility in 2014. - D.J. Short (@djshort)


Jeff Samardzija vs. Jon Lester




Lester had an outlier 2012 season when he put up a 4.82 ERA, but in his other five full seasons he’s had between a 3.21 and 3.75 ERA and a 1.20 and 1.29 WHIP while making 31-33 starts. That’s some nice production and there’s nothing wrong with wanting it on your fantasy squad. But of these two I’m going to go with the guy who I think has more upside, and that’s Samardzija. The hard-throwing Cubs right-hander didn’t have the big breakthrough season in 2013 that many were anticipating, but there was still plenty to like with those 214 strikeouts and a perfectly fine 3.3 BB/9 rate. Lester has a couple 200-strikeout seasons under his belt, but he’s been rather pedestrian in that area the last two seasons, holding 7.3 and 7.5 K/9 rates, respectively. The Red Sox hurler currently has the better supporting cast, but there’s a good chance Samardzija will be traded this year to a team that can give him more run support. Lester is a fine fantasy rotation stabilizer, but I think Samardzija at some point will have a year where he explodes. Here’s hoping that it comes in 2014. – Ryan Boyer (@RyanPBoyer)




These are my No. 34 and 35 starting pitchers, so simply put, I don't have much of a preference here. Samardzija offers the greater upside of the two, though he seemed like a better breakout candidate one year ago. In 2012, he fanned 3.2 batters for each one he walked. Last year, he was down to 2.7, though he did get a few more grounders. He still has a dreadful offense supporting him, and a defense that could get worse as the team breaks in younger players. Lester lacks Samardzija's potential when it comes to ERA and WHIP. His strikeout rate isn't nearly what it was a few years ago, and he's handicapped pitching in the tough AL East and an excellent offensive environment in Fenway. He is a safe choice, though, having made 31 starts six straight seasons and winning 15 games five times in that span. More so than most starters, you know what you'll get from him. – Matthew Pouliot (@matthewpouliot)






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