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Spin Doctors: Justin Verlander vs. Chris Sale

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Justin Upton (USAT)

Fantasy baseball is a game of opinions and disagreements. Okay, sometimes it's a game of arguments, too. That's what we try to capture for you in the Spin Doctors series; two Yahoo scribes who can't see eye to eye on numbers and potential.

Today's debate brings a pair of AL Central aces, Justin Verlander and Chris Sale. Who's more worthy of the big March ticket? Dalton Del Don and Scott Pianowski have a difference of opinion.

Del Don to Open: Before we get started, I’d like to make it clear I have Verlander just two spots ahead of Sale on my SP rankings, so it’s not exactly like I’d bet a large amount of money on the former. But still, I’ll back the guy who ranked as the No. 1 fantasy starter in 2011 and No. 3 in 2012 (he ranked 13th in 2010 and 9th in 2009). In other words, the track record here is pretty great. Verlander fell off last season, finishing as just the No. 54 most valuable fantasy starter, behind Mike Leake to give some reference.

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An extremely high workload over the previous four years probably led to some of this, but Verlander looked like his normal self down the stretch, when he posted a 2.27 ERA and 1.11 WHIP while recording 48 strikeouts over 39.2 innings in September. He followed that up by dominating in the postseason, when he allowed one run over 23.0 innings, which consisted of a 31:3 K:BB ratio in three starts against two of the four best offenses (when it comes to runs scored) in all of baseball.

Verlander’s velocity picked up during the second half of last year , and his overall SwStr% (10.5) was actually better than when he won the Cy Young in 2011 (10.2). The Tigers should also have a much better defense this year with Miguel Cabrera moving from third to first and Jose Iglesias taking over shortstop full time. Moreover, left-hander Chris Sale has the disadvantage of pitching in a park that has increased home runs for right-handed batters an MLB-high 38 percent over the past three years (and also by 19 percent for left-handed batters), whereas Comerica Park has been totally neutral when it comes to home runs on both sides of the plate. Verlander underwent "core muscle repair surgery" in early January, but that might just lead to a fresher arm in April.

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Sale of the Century (USAT)

Pianow to Close: When in doubt, gamers, let Occam's Razor be your guide. The simplest explanation is usually the best. Don't get cute and trip yourself up.

Sale is seven years younger than Verlander, and his MLB arm has 1272 less miles on it (not to mention Verlander's 93.1 accrued innings in the playoffs). Sale was considerably better last year, and he's not the one coming off January surgery. Pretty much every key Sale indicator is moving in the right direction: his strikeout rate, walk rate, ground-ball rate and fastball velocity all improved last season.  

You can use the arbitrary endpoint game with Verlander's fastball velocity, but the end-of-season readouts present a red flag: 95.0, 94.3, 93.3. A declining fastball and heavy workload entering age 31 - I'll look for reasons to steer away from that.

The ballpark angle is overrated, too. According to the Bill James Handbook, it's basically a wash. Comerica Park has helped scoring by nine percent the last three years, while U.S. Cellular is an eight-percent float. This isn't moving the needle. Wrap it up, I'll take it - Sale is your man.

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