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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 2016 season projections and have writers take a side and debate who should be selected first. Whose side will you be on?



Jake Arrieta vs. Max Scherzer




Taking Arrieta over Scherzer, for me, is about the highest possible ceiling. There’s no question that Scherzer has a more trustworthy track record, as Arrieta has only emerged as elite in the last two seasons. But Arrieta won the NL Cy Young Award by posting an absurdly low 1.77 ERA, which was helped by a major league best three shutouts. It wasn’t exactly a fluke, as Arrieta was once a top prospect in the Orioles’ system but couldn’t find major league success in Baltimore. Upon joining the Cubs in the second half of the 2013 season, Arrieta hit a groove and finished with a 3.66 ERA in nine starts. In 2014, he made 25 starts with a 2.53 ERA, averaging better than a strikeout per inning pitched and four strikeouts for every one walk. Scherzer, last season posted a career-best 2.79 ERA and averaged a ridiculous eight strikeouts per one walk. Scherzer is elite, no doubt, but I wouldn’t wager on him posting a sub-2.00 ERA over Arrieta, who has already done it. – Bill Baer (@Baer_Bill)




Health is the key with both of my entries in this week’s showdowns. Scherzer has made 30 starts seven straight seasons and averaged 220 innings the last three years. He hasn’t been on the DL since April 2009, when he missed a couple of weeks with shoulder stiffness. Arrieta, on the other hand, missed April 2014 with shoulder stiffness. He had a minor shoulder issue in 2013. He had elbow surgery to remove a bone spur in 2011. He had some elbow trouble in 2010 as well. Plus, he’s coming off a season in which he threw 248 2/3 innings, 70 more than he ever had before. I think Arrieta will probably outperform Scherzer is both throw 210-220 innings this year. I just think Scherzer is the significantly better bet to get to that level. – Matthew Pouliot (@matthewpouliot)


Gerrit Cole vs. Corey Kluber




Cole has been terrific through his first three big league seasons and the 25-year-old hurler could be poised for even bigger and better things in 2016. While he was overlooked due to the tremendous seasons that Jake Arrieta, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke had last year, all Cole did was go out and win 19 ballgames while registering a 2.60 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and career-high 202 strikeouts over 208 frames. He also drastically improved his command, lowering his walk rate to a career-best 5.3%. Cole is just entering his prime, and with another year of experience under his belt it's scary to think just how good he can be in 2016. On the surface, Kluber had a disappointing season in 2016, winning just nine games and posting a 3.49 ERA. All of his skills remain intact though, he was merely a victim of poor run support and a bit of bad luck. Even with the purported struggles, Kluber racked up an impressive 245 strikeouts in 222 frames. I expect both of these right-handers to finish in the top-10 among all starting pitchers in 2016. What gives Cole the slight edge to me is the fact that he's entering his prime, pitches in the National League and hasn't had the massive workload that Kluber shouldered the previous two seasons. – David Shovein (@DaveShovein)




These are obviously both front-line starting pitchers with the ability to challenge for Cy Young Award votes in their respective leagues in 2016, but I'm siding with the guy who has actually taken home that plaque. Kluber regressed somewhat in 2015 after his breakout 2014, but he still finished with a FIP under 3.00 and he registered a better WHIP than Cole with more strikeouts in more innings. Kluber is a proven workhorse, having logged an incredible 457 2/3 innings over the last two seasons to the tune of a 2.95 ERA and 10.1 K/9. Cole has totaled 346 innings in that same span, with a 3.02 ERA and an 8.8 K/9. Upside may be in Cole's corner because he is younger, but it's not like Kluber is a geezer. He'll turn 30 years old in April. You might also argue that Cole has a better shot at tallying wins, but I see the Indians being vastly improved this season with a three-headed rotation monster of Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar. Pittsburgh doesn't have that kind of starting pitching depth. Give me the guy with the longer track record as a fantasy ace. I'll take both of them if you're offering. – Drew Silva (@drewsilv)


Matt Harvey vs. Dallas Keuchel




I wish I could say I thought this was a difficult decision. Keuchel is a wonderful real-life pitcher, the ace of a team that will once again vie for the American League West crown. And you could do much worse than Keuchel in our game -- guys who post a sub-three ERA, approach 20 wins and strike out nearly a batter per inning are finite in number. But this is a different game, one that places emphasis on certain things while de-emphasizing others. So Keuchel's remarkable ground ball rate, while extremely useful for Astros manager A.J. Hinch et al, doesn't mean as much as the fact that Harvey has struck out 26.6 percent of the batters he's faced in his career. In fact, Keuchel's propensity for drawing contact, regardless of how it's put in play, actually devalues him slightly in fantasy. In 2015, Harvey's numbers were down, relatively -- a 2.71 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 13 wins is considered a down year for the soon-to-be 27-year-old -- but he wouldn't be the first player to need a year to get back up to speed after Tommy John surgery. The last time Harvey had a full, healthy season, all he did was put up a 2.27 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 191/31 K/BB ratio in 26 starts. For as good as Keuchel is, those are numbers he can't reasonably dream of, and that's why Harvey is the right call. – Nathan Grimm (@Nate_Grimm)




Keuchel became fantasy-relevant during a breakthrough 2014 campaign, but took his game to another level en route to winning the American League Cy Young Award last season. His biggest improvement from a fantasy perspective in 2015 was a career-best strikeout rate (8.38 K/9). While that's not at an elite level, it's a huge plus with the quantity of innings he stands to log again. Combine that elevated strikeout rate with one of the highest groundball percentages in all of baseball (61.7%), and you have the recipe for elite ratios and a top-15 hurler heading into the 2016 draft season. There's no denying the talent level of Harvey, he's one of the best in the business. He bounced back from Tommy John surgery quicker and better than most had projected and became a dominant force in the second half of the 2015 season. There's a strong chance that the Mets monitor his workload once again in 2016, limiting him to around 200 total for the year. While he has a higher strikeout rate than Keuchel, if the Astros' southpaw gets an extra 20-30 innings there's a high probability that he'll be the better strikeout artist. With the ratios likely to be comparable, the added strikeouts and lessened injury risk lead me to prefer Keuchel just slightly in this battle. – David Shovein (@DaveShovein)


Carlos Martinez vs. Danny Salazar




If forced to choose, I would select Martinez over Salazar despite posting slightly worse defense-independent stats last season. It was both players’ first shot at a full-time starting role, as Salazar was bounced between Triple-A and the majors in 2014 while Martinez operated out of the bullpen. Last year, Martinez posted a 3.01 ERA, but averaged under three strikeouts for every one walk while Salazar posted a 3.45 ERA but averaged 3.7 strikeouts per walk. Based only on this information – and it’s a very good foundation for forecasting – Salazar would be the superior pick. However, Martinez is a ground ball pitcher, inducing them at a 54.5 percent clip in 2015 while Salazar was more of a fly ball pitcher, inducing grounders at a 44 percent rate. Being fly ball prone means one is more likely to allow home runs, and that held true with a 23-13 lead last season for Salazar over Martinez. Because the two pitchers are close in strikeouts and walks, it’s the better ground ball rate that pushes Martinez into the lead for me. – Bill Baer (@Baer_Bill)




Martinez is an exceptional talent, and he’ll likely be a top-20 fantasy SP if he stays healthy enough to throw 200 innings this year. Unfortunately, he’s also one of the biggest injury risks among the top 30 or so starters. Last year, his shoulder gave out on him at the 180-inning mark. He’s back healthy again now, but there are still big questions here. Before 2015, he had never thrown more than 114 innings. And as terrific as Martinez is, he’s not exactly an efficient worker. I’m simply not very optimistic about him surpassing last year’s innings total or even matching it. Salazar is no lock to stay healthy, either, but since returning from Tommy John surgery in 2011, he’s had just one injury hiccup, a short stay on the minor league DL in 2014 with triceps soreness. Salazar posted a 195/53 K/BB ratio in 185 innings last year, and while he used to be a big flyball pitcher, he was nearly at the league average in inducing grounders. He could end up with 200 strikeouts and an ERA in the low-3.00s this year. – Matthew Pouliot (@matthewpouliot)


Patrick Corbin vs. Raisel Iglesias




Corbin broke out in 2013 for the Diamondbacks, posting a 3.41 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 178/54 K/BB ratio across 208 1/3 innings to earn a trip to the All-Star Game. He missed 2014 after having Tommy John surgery but was mighty impressive after returning last July, holding a 3.60 ERA while upping his strikeout rate (21.9 percent) and lowering his walk rate (4.8 percent). Not only that, but Corbin’s velocity was actually up last season for the D’Backs. Arizona could keep Corbin’s innings down a little in 2016 in his first full year back from Tommy John surgery, but Iglesias’ will almost surely be limited more. The 124 1/3 frames the Reds’ righty threw last year was a career-high, and they’ve been easing him into things this spring (he won’t make his Cactus League debut until Monday). The D’Backs are also expected to compete for a playoff spot, so they figure to be more motivated to ride Corbin longer than the rebuilding Reds will Iglesias. I like Iglesias a lot, as was dynamite down the stretch with a 3.39 ERA and 77 strikeouts over 66 1/3 innings. He probably has a bit more upside in the strikeout department than Corbin. However, Corbin is a better bet for innings and wins and is a much more proven commodity than Iglesias. – Ryan Boyer (@RyanPBoyer)




This is a fun matchup between two mid-round "sleeper" options who I’ll likely be targeting in most drafts this spring. It makes the choice a difficult one for me, but I’m slightly more intrigued by Iglesias. His 4.15 ERA from last season doesn’t jump off the page, but he was dominant after getting a steady rotation spot during the second half and ended up striking out 104 batters in 95 1/3 innings. Only 13 pitchers (min. 90 IP) had a higher strikeout percentage. He was also 19th in swinging strike rate. With an excellent slider and good changeup, there’s reason to believe in his ability to miss bats. Iglesias was shut down early last season due to shoulder fatigue and could be placed on an innings limit in 2016, so there could be a cap to his upside. Run support could also be an issue with a rebuilding team. But I think he has a better chance to make the most out of his innings than Corbin. While I was encouraged by what the southpaw did after returning from Tommy John surgery last year, he has averaged 7.7 K/9 in the majors. That’s good, but it just doesn’t touch Iglesias’ upside with me. The ballparks are also pretty neutral. - D.J. Short (@djshort)




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