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Starter Showdowns

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


Madison Bumgarner vs. Jacob deGrom




I have nothing negative to say about deGrom. He's one of the best pitchers in baseball, and the hair is good, too. It's just a case of me believing that Bumgarner is better, and somehow undervalued. It's a little understandable considering he was able to throw just 111 innings, and his ERA and strikeout rates were both the second worst of his career. So much of his "struggles" are based on his lousy September playing for a lousy team that it's tough for me to take seriously. Every other month -- and admittedly, the sample size was smaller because of his accident -- hitters posted an OPS of lower than .650 against the southpaw. I assume he'll be fresh, I assume he'll be motivated, and I assume he'll go back to what he was; one of the five best starting pitchers in all of baseball who was as consistent as any hurler not named Scherzer or Kershaw. I expect deGrom will be good -- maybe even great -- but I don't think he reaches the level of Mad Bum this year. – Christopher Crawford (@Crawford_MILB)




This would have been an easy call just one year ago, but there’s definitely been a shift in my mind as we move into 2018. Bumgarner missed over three months in 2017 after injuring his shoulder in a dirt bike accident and was solid enough upon his return, posting a 3.43 ERA over 13 starts. His control was just as good as ever, but he didn’t miss as many bats and was more homer-prone than usual. If the fly balls are here to stay — as they have been over the past two years — he might not have the ceiling he did before, even at a pitcher-friendly ballpark. DeGrom had his own issues with the home run ball last year, allowing a career-high 28 of them in 201 1/3 innings, but he also posted the best strikeout and swinging strike percentages of his career. His velocity was up a tick from 2016 and his control was back to normal levels during the second half. I’m confident his ERA will improve this year. Bumgarner remains a frontline fantasy starter, but I feel deGrom is the superior upside play.  - D.J. Short (@djshort)


Yu Darvish vs. Luis Severino




Severino was brilliant during a breakout 2017 season, holding a 2.98 ERA with a whopping 230 strikeouts across 193 1/3 innings of work. He’s just 24 and surely has a fine career ahead of him. However, there are a couple reasons why I’m nervous about him in 2018. One is that between the regular and postseason, he tossed 209 1/3 frames last season. That’s a 58-inning jump from 2016. Another is that Severino was the hardest-throwing starter in baseball last year and posted the sixth-highest slider percentage usage. Projecting injuries for pitchers is obviously an inexact science, but the combination of the innings jump, the high velocity and the slider usage is a red flag for me. I’m obviously hedging with my Severino ranking but consider him one of the riskier pitchers in the top-20. Meanwhile, Darvish had a fine first full season back from Tommy John surgery last year with a 3.86 ERA and 209/58 K/BB ratio over 186 2/3 innings. His strikeout rate was down a touch, but it was still at 27.3 percent, he maintained his improved control from 2016 and he displayed the best velocity of his career. I would expect the punchouts to rise in 2018, and Darvish is not going to go 10-12 again after signing on with the Cubs. – Ryan Boyer (@RyanPBoyer)




That ugly showing in last year’s World Series hasn’t scared me away from Darvish, just as it didn’t scare the Cubs away from signing the 31-year-old right-hander to a six-year, $126 million free agent contract this offseason. I have him ranked 13th among starting pitchers, solidly in the second tier for the 2018 season. But just above Darvish in that second tier, with the talent and situation to possibly make a move into the first tier, is the 24-year-old ace of a loaded Yankees squad. Severino was a force during the 2017 regular season, delivering a 2.98 ERA (152 ERA+) with 230 strikeouts over 193 1/3 innings while registering a career-best 97.6 mph average fastball velocity. He then got lit up by the Twins in the first inning of the American League Wild Card Game, but rebounded for a strong seven-inning start in the American League Division Series against the Indians. Last season, Severino had a better strikeout rate than Darvish, a better ERA, and also a better WHIP. His record was 14-6, with Darvish finishing 10-12 between the Rangers and Dodgers. Youth plays a role here. Upside plays a role here. I like both pitchers, but to me Severino has the more enticing upward trajectory in both real life and fantasy. – Drew Silva (@drewsilv)


Robbie Ray vs. Jose Quintana




Ray's 2017 breakout wasn't a shock to anyone who was paying attention to his career arc to that point. The southpaw has always had strong peripherals, and his strikeout rate has risen ever year he's been in the majors. That maxed out in 2017, when he struck out a ridiculous 32.8 percent of batters faced. That was behind only Chris Sale, Max Scherzer and Corey Kluber among qualified starters, and ahead of guys like Clayton Kershaw, Luis Severino and Stephen Strasburg, among others. Are there red flags? Sure, he walked a lot of guys, too, and his strand rate and BABIP are due for regression. He gave up a few too many homers. But a newly installed humidor in Chase Field should help with the homers and should be decent for his BABIP, too, given that he's one of the league's more fly-ball dependent starters. Quintana's steady as she goes and a fine choice, but I'm a sucker for sex appeal. Gimme. – Nate Grimm (@Nate_Grimm)




Despite pitching for mostly bad White Sox teams, Quintana had a career ERA of 3.41 going into last season. As everyone knows, he got off to a rough start last year, and he still wasn’t quite as great as hoped after being traded to the Cubs at midseason. However, his strikeout rate was easily the best of his career. He fanned 26.2 percent of the batters he faced, good for 15th in MLB. Quintana’s velocity is better now than when he entered the league. He’s made 32 starts five years in a row and never been on the disabled list. Plus, he’s now pitching for a far better team in the easier league. He’s the safest SP pick there is. Maybe Ray is excellent again, but he actually had a higher FIP than Quintana despite beating him in ERA by a run and a quarter last year. He’s never thrown 180 innings in a season, and that he’s so inefficient with his pitches could make it more likely that he’ll get hurt. The possibility exists that Ray will be a top-10 starter this year, but Quintana has that kind of potential as well and is the surer thing. – Matthew Pouliot (@matthewpouliot)


Carlos Martinez vs. James Paxton




Very quietly, Martinez took a major step forward during the 2017 season. Sure, on the face his numbers look like they actually got worse, as his ERA rose more than half a run while his WHIP was the same as it was in 2016. Dig a little deeper, though, and you'll see plenty to get excited about. Martinez posted a career-best strikeout rate of 25.3% while matching his career-best walk rate of 8.3%. What made his numbers look worse than they actually were was an unsustainable 16.4 HR/FB%, when he had posted 10.6% each of the previous two seasons. That led to a 1.19 HR/9 rate which is nearly double his career average. Yes, more home runs are being hit around the league than ever before, but there's still every reason in the world to expect this number (and his corresponding ERA) to fall in 2018. Paxton is definitely an intriguing talent, but he's already 29 years old (three years older than Martinez) and has never logged more than 136 innings in a single season. His upside in strikeouts is immense and he looked incredible when he was on the hill in 2017, but I just can't bet on him to stay healthy for a full season. Martinez has averaged 193 1/3 innings over the past three seasons and while he doesn't have the same strikeout ceiling, he gives the strong and stable production that I'm seeking from my SP2. The general public seems to be on my side on this one, as Martinez is going around 20 picks before Paxton so far in NFBC drafts. – Dave Shovein (@DaveShovein)




There are some uncertainties, some yet-to-be-answered questions on both side of this debate. Can the 26-year-old Martinez emerge as a true ace for the Cardinals? He finally reached the 200-inning plateau last season but it came with his worst ERA (3.64) since 2014. He notched his first career shutout -- two of them, actually -- but had ongoing spells of inconsistency. His first-inning ERA was 5.34. His sixth-inning ERA was 7.03. Paxton is 29 years old and has not made it to 200 innings in a season -- hasn’t come close, really -- but the upside is plain to see should he be able to finally steer entirely clear of the disabled list. I want to be on board when he does. Paxton put up a 2.98 ERA and 156 strikeouts in 136 innings (24 starts) last season and he was especially dominant in the second half as his health showed better cooperation. Busch Stadium in St. Louis plays very pitcher-friendly, but Seattle’s Safeco Field is an even better place to pitch. This year, more than ever, it feels like you have to take some risks once you get beyond the top 10 or so options at starting pitcher. That’s probably directly related to the rise in offense around MLB. I’d rather take the risk on Paxton, who has shown he can be a top-tier guy even though it has come in frustratingly small doses thus far. – Drew Silva (@drewsilv)


Kyle Hendricks vs. Lance McCullers




With his velocity well down at the beginning of April, Hendricks, who finished third in the NL Cy Young balloting in 2016, looked like he’d be one of 2017’s biggest fantasy busts. Surprisingly, he was able to adapt and then the velocity started to come back some. Over his final 21 starts, he had a 2.62 ERA and a 110/33 K/BB ratio in 123 2/3 innings. Limiting the sample only to his 13 starts after he returned from tendinitis in his pitching hand, he had a 2.19 ERA. One still worries about Hendricks’ velocity; he was one of the NL’s softest throwers even before suddenly losing three mph at the beginning of 2017. Still, he’s in a great situation in Chicago and he’s a solid bet to stay healthy; aside from last year’s finger injury, he’s never been on the DL. McCullers, on the other hand, is about as big of a risk to blow out his arm as anyone in the league. I’d certainly give McCullers an edge over Hendricks if both were guaranteed to make 32 starts, but Hendricks has a far better chance of getting there. – Matthew Pouliot (@matthewpouliot)




I thought we've established this -- I'm a sucker for sex appeal. See: Ray, Robbie. But I guess I'll make an argument for McCullers as well. If not for health, one would be hard-pressed to find much to take issue with in the 24-year-old's game; he strikes out more than a batter per inning, he gets a ton of ground balls, and he plays for a team that has only gotten better since winning the World Series. He's basically the opposite of Hendricks, who is not sexy but who is reliable. Hendricks excels despite not missing a ton of bats. But therein lies the rub -- strikeouts are not only a reliable predictor of success, they're also a large part of our game. Even if McCullers doesn't make all of his starts -- and Hendricks missed some time last year with right hand tendinitis, so he's not infallible, either -- the starts and stats you'll get from McCullers, paired with a waiver wire pickup to fill in for the starts and stats he misses out on, should still approximate what Hendricks gives you, with the upside of a full slate of McCullers starts and stats. I'll take the chance on the ceiling. – Nate Grimm (@Nate_Grimm)



Previous Showdowns


First Base

Second Base


Third Base