While it has become fashionable to roster breakout pitchers in fantasy circles, you generally still need an ace to keep you afloat while you are searching for the next Kyle Hendricks.
You do not know when, or even if, your guys will pan out, so there is a lot of pressure to draft the right ace to build your staff around. Otherwise, you may end up in a hole you can't dig yourself out of.
Stephen Strasburg and Justin Verlander are currently sporting ADPs that suggest owners view them as aces. However, both have red flags. Are they safe to build a staff around, or are you better off looking at other options?Editor's note: Get 50% off any MLB Premium Pass. Draft guide, cheat sheets, 200 days of DFS access, and over 20 premium tools. Dominate your leagues all year long! Sign Up Now!
The Fantasy Jury is Out
Stephen Strasburg (SP, WAS) ADP: 54.5
Strasburg's ADP was higher before FantasyPros added data from CBS into its rankings, but I'm recommending him anyway. The injury bug bit Strasburg last year, limiting him to just 147.2 IP. His 15-4 record was still better than a lot of arms with full seasons, while his 30.6 percent K% allowed him to pile up a full season of strikeouts (183) in a limited time frame. If healthy, the good times should keep rolling in 2017.
This is primarily the result of excellent stuff. Strasburg's changeup is his signature offering, producing a SwStr% of 20.4 percent and a 38.4 percent chase rate in 2016. It is ably complemented by an above average fastball that produced a 9.4 percent SwStr% despite living in the strike zone (61.1 percent Zone%). He also started mixing in a solid slider (11 percent SwStr%, 50.1 percent Zone%) that seems to offer more K upside than the curve it is replacing (9.6 percent SwStr%, 46.5 percent Zone%). This is the arsenal of a true ace.
Strasburg's 3.60 ERA wasn't great, but a 3.20 xFIP foreshadows better marks to come. Some have argued that Strasburg perennially underperforms his advanced metrics, but the two figures were fairly close last year. HR/FB, BABIP, and LOB% were all luck-neutral, so there is no reason he can't deliver in ERA. He did so in last season's first half (2.62) before being compromised by injury, in fact.
Clayton Kershaw's back injury limited him to a partial campaign last year, but his utter dominance when on the mound still earned him Cy Young consideration. Strasburg may struggle to record 200 innings, but those he gives you are nothing short of elite. Add in whatever you get on the wire when he goes down, and only Kershaw feels like a lock to outproduce him.
Justin Verlander (SP, DET) ADP: 41
Verlander outpitched Strasburg by surface stats, posting a 16-9 record with a 3.04 ERA. However, his 3.78 xFIP, was far less impressive. Verlander succeeded by striking out a ton of batters (28.1 percent K%), limiting BABIP (.255), and stranding a bunch of guys (79.9 percent LOB%). I don't think any of the three are sustainable.
First, his repertoire. Verlander's fastball spiked to a 12.2 percent SwStr% last season against a career average of nine percent. A 34-year old arm with the mileage Verlander's has should not be posting career best whiff numbers. He also lacks a secondary offering with the K potential of Strasburg's changeup, as his best option (a slider with a 14.9 percent SwStr% and 41.4 percent O-Swing%) is good rather than great. Verlander's change of pace is solid by whiff metrics (12.8 percent SwStr%) but extremely hittable (.286/.344/.518 line against). Overall, I have no idea how Verlander struck out so many last year, and doubt he will do it again.
The low BABIP also seems unsustainable to me. Detroit was the second worst defensive unit in baseball last year, combining for -56 Defensive Runs Saved. Verlander's GB% of 33.7 percent suggests that he relied on his outfielders more than most, and they were particularly dreadful. Cameron Maybin was "good" for -11 DRS, a number that looks decent compared to J.D. Martinez's atrocious -22 DRS. Detroit still projects as a bad defensive outfit, so the BABIP is probably going up.
Maybe Verlander limited quality of contact? Nope, he in fact did the opposite. Verlander's 41 Barrels allowed tied him for fourth most in all of MLB, only besting Hector Santiago, Yordano Ventura, and James Shields. His 7.8 percent rate of Barrels per Batted Ball Event ranked slightly better, but still put him on a par with Robbie Ray (8.1 percent), a guy who seems very hittable despite featuring strikeout stuff. Ray is fine as a cheap gamble on upside, but Verlander is far too old and expensive to bank on. Bust alert!