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Player Showdowns: Starters

by NBC Sports EDGE Staff
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Often 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 2015 season projections and have writers take a side and debate who should be selected first. Whose side will you be on?

 

Adam Wainwright vs. Zack Greinke

 

Wainwright

 

I’m probably not going to end up with either of these guys in any of my leagues, but I have enough faith in Wainwright’s elbow to give him a slight edge over Greinke. Certainly, Wainwright’s track record in spotless, with three straight seasons of 32 starts since he returned from Tommy John surgery. His strikeout rate fell off last year, but his velocity was fine. It’s just so hard to homer against him, and because he works so deep into games, he always gives himself a chance to win. I wouldn’t count on him being quite as good as last year, and maybe he’ll start coming out of some games earlier as an accommodation to the elbow. I don’t think he’s a top-five fantasy starter this year, but I still put him in the top 10. – Matthew Pouliot (@matthewpouliot)

 

Greinke

 

The debate between Greinke and Wainwright has many checkmarks in Greinke's favor. In the real game, Wainwright gets points for being a bulldog; he's thrown at least 198 2/3 innings in five of the last six seasons, save only for the year he lost to Tommy John surgery. But save for leagues that count complete games or Gutsy Performances, a lot of that stuff is just what makes Wainwright a great pitcher. In our game, the fact that Greinke strikes out hitters at a higher rate, is younger, didn't have offseason elbow surgery and is pitching for a contract makes him a better choice. The last point is especially interesting -- Grienke has the ability to opt out of his contract after this season. After watching Max Scherzer secure a deal with an AAV of $30 million this winter, the 31-year-old Greinke will surely be pitching for a bigger payday as well. It's important to note that the differences are minor; both pitchers are next to elite, and neither would be a bad choice on draft day. It's just that, for a few reasons, Grienke is the better one. – Nathan Grimm (@Nate_Grimm)

 

Alex Wood vs. Jacob deGrom

 

Wood

 

Both Wood and deGrom burst onto the scene in 2014. Trying to disparage deGrom for being a 26-year-old rookie or having pedestrian minor league numbers prior to last year would aid my cause, but it would be disingenuous. I think deGrom's 2014 season was for real, and I think he'll be very good again this year. In arguing for Wood, I'll instead focus on upside. Wood will play the entire 2015 season at 24 years old, suggesting his best days are still ahead of him. And last year, he had some pretty darn good days -- Wood improved upon his strikeout percentage, walk rate, ERA and WHIP from 2013. When you take into account that Wood was even better as a starter than as a reliever last year, and that he's locked into the Braves rotation this spring, a full year of starting could yield even more impressive numbers than last year's 2.78 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 170/45 K/BB ratio. The Braves won't be great so his win total is hard to predict, but the same is true for any pitcher outside of Washington, D.C. Regardless, Wood should have a terrific season in 2015. – Nathan Grimm (@Nate_Grimm)

 

deGrom

 

DeGrom wasn't on the radar with most Mets fans, let alone fantasy owners, this time one year ago. However, he got a chance in the starting rotation in May after an injury to Dillon Gee and never looked back, posting a 2.69 ERA across 22 starts while averaging 9.2 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9. His sudden emergence earned him the National League Rookie of the Year Award. The 26-year-old right-hander was a late convert to pitching and lost some development time to Tommy John surgery in the minors, so it makes sense that he sneaked up on pretty much everyone. DeGrom doesn't profile as a fluke, though, as he posted solid peripherals, throws hard, and gets plenty of whiffs. I like his chances to maintain this level of performance as he makes half his starts in Citi Field while getting to face weak offenses like the Braves and Phillies. I'm a fan of what Wood has done so far -- just look at my NL East risers from the winter -- but he'll have one of the National League's worst offenses this season, so the win potential could be limited. And fairly or unfairly, Wood's unique delivery raises questions about his ability to hold up for 200 innings. I'd target either of these pitchers ultimately, but it's deGrom by a hair with me. Sorry, I had to go there. - D.J. Short (@djshort)

 

Doug Fister vs. Jon Lester

 

Fister

 

Lester picked a perfect time for a career year, but he wasn’t exactly looking like an ace headed into 2014, at least not in regular-season action. He had a 4.82 ERA in 2012 and a 3.75 ERA in 2013, with a sharp decline in his strikeout rate from where it was earlier in his career. Last year, the strikeouts came rushing back, and he was brilliant. However, that covered up a modest decline in his velocity (his average fastball dipped from 92.7 mph to 91.8). I just don't think it’s much of a stretch to see Lester reverting to 2013 form this year in Chicago. Give me Fister. His strikeout rate has tumbled, but he’s in a terrific situation in Washington. And part of the decline in his K rate was just that he was so good at getting quick outs with his sinker. He’ll beat his peripherals again, and there’s no reason he can’t strike out a few more batters along the way. – Matthew Pouliot (@matthewpouliot)

 

Lester

 

Lester saw his ERA rise and strikeout rate drop in 2012 and 2013, but he rediscovered the release point of his curveball in 2014 and that helped lead to a monster season in his walk year. Will he have an ERA in the mid-2s again in 2015? Maybe not, but I’m not betting against it now that he gets to face a pitcher instead of a designated hitter. Also working in Lester’s favor is a terrific track record of durability, as the left-hander has made more than 30 starts each of his seven seasons as a full-time big leaguer. Fister is a fine pitcher in his own right and is in a great situation with the Nationals. However, he has failed to reach 30 starts in two out of the last three seasons and has seen his strikeout rate tumble rapidly, dropping all the way down to 5.4 K/9 in 2014. Lester should have a massive edge in the strikeout department in 2015, and that’s why he’s a clear winner for me here. – Ryan Boyer (@RyanPBoyer)

 

Tyson Ross vs. Garrett Richards

 

Ross

 

Richards was one of the breakout stars of the 2014 fantasy baseball season, posting a 2.61 ERA, 1.038 WHIP, and 164/51 K/BB ratio across 168 2/3 innings. But he suffered a torn left patellar tendon during a late-August start at Boston’s Fenway Park and underwent major knee surgery a couple days later. Richards had a problem-free winter of rehab and seems to be making impressive progress this spring in Angels camp, but we’re not going to know exactly how well he has recovered from the injury until he steps on a mound in a meaningful major league game. And that might not be until the third week of the 2015 regular season. It’s the uncertainty that has me siding with Ross in this debate, but I might have sided with Ross even if Richards was carrying a clean bill of health. Ross posted an outstanding 2.81 ERA in 31 starts last season for the Padres, striking out 195 batters in 195 2/3 innings. Control has been an issue, but it’s reasonable to think that the 27-year-old can take a step forward in that department in what will essentially be his second full season as a major league starter. Ross should set a career-high for wins this summer on a much-improved San Diego team. – Drew Silva (@drewsilv)

 

Richards

 

It may sound strange, but I’m worried about the health of one of these guys and it’s not the one coming off of major knee surgery. Richards blew out his left patellar tendon last August, but his rehab has moved along swimmingly and all signs point to him only missing the first couple weeks of the season. The Angels right-hander experienced a breakout 2014 campaign, putting up a 2.61 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 164/51 K/BB ratio across 168 2/3 innings. With a fastball that touches the upper-90s, a high groundball rate, a favorable home park and a terrific offense backing him, there’s little reason to doubt Richards’ breakthrough was for real. I love Ross’ ability, as well, as he’s also a high-velocity, groundball-inducing guy benefitting from a pitcher-friendly home park. What I worry about is that arm holding up. Ross had trouble staying healthy when he was with the A’s but was able to reach a career-high 195 2/3 innings during a breakout 2014 season. However, he ended the year with forearm issues, and for a guy who relies so much on his slider (his 41.2% usage rate for the pitch in 2014 easily out-paced all other starters), that’s very worrisome. I consider Richards the much safer bet for innings even with his late start, and that’s why I’m picking him here. – Ryan Boyer (@RyanPBoyer)

 

Dallas Keuchel vs. Matt Shoemaker

 

Keuchel

 

What we have here are two guys who surprised fantasy owners in a big way last season. While the surface stats didn't show it, Keuchel at least hinted at some upside in 2013. Those who speculated on him early were rewarded, as the 29-year-old southpaw finished with a 2.93 ERA and 146/48 K/BB ratio over 200 innings while leading all major league starters with a ground ball rate of 63.5 percent. It was the highest ground ball rate by any qualified starter since Tim Hudson (64.1 percent) in 2010. Sure, you would like to see more strikeouts, but his control has improved and he should keep the ball in the ballpark. Shoemaker's success was more unexpected than Keuchel's, as he posted unremarkable numbers in the minors, but the development of his splitter as an out-pitch was the big key to his breakthrough. He also threw plenty of strikes. Maybe hitters will learn how to attack him better, but I don't think he's a one-year wonder. He should remain a useful starter in mixed leagues, but his fly ball rate was five-percent higher than the league average last year and I wonder if that will come back to bite him at times. The difference is that Keuchel is someone I'd be confident about running out there every time. - D.J. Short (@djshort)

 

Shoemaker

 

Keuchel broke out last season, his first as a regular part of the Astros’ rotation. He finished with a 2.93 ERA and averaged 6.6 strikeouts per nine innings and 2.2 walks per nine. Walk and strikeout rates are the stats most instructive to us about a pitcher’s future success, so I looked at other pitchers in Keuchel’s neighborhood last season (+/- 0.5 in both stats) and it wasn’t enamoring: you have Adam Wainwright at the top followed by the fluky Tanner Roark, then a huge drop-off in quality with Wei-Yin Chen, Jason Vargas, Dan Haren, and Colby Lewis, among others. Fantasy owners seem to be cognizant of Keuchel’s likelihood to regress heavily in 2015, as he’s being taken 258th on average in Yahoo leagues. Shoemaker is being taken on average 199th. The right-hander posted a 3.04 ERA with an 8.2 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9 last season over 20 starts and seven relief appearances before suffering an oblique injury in September. The three players within +/- 0.5 of his K/9 and BB/9: Jordan Zimmermann, Jeff Samardzija, and Brandon McCarthy. Keuchel does do one thing much better than Shoemaker: induce ground balls. He did so at a 63.5 percent clip last season compared to Shoemaker’s 41.2 percent. The Astros, however, were baseball’s worst defensive team last season and all of their infielders were below average according to FanGraphs. It’s nice to induce ground balls but the defense has to turn those into outs for it to mean anything. If you force me to pick between Keuchel and Shoemaker, I’m Team Shoemaker every day of the week and twice on Sunday. – Bill Baer (Baer_Bill)

 

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