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Spin Doctors: Justin Verlander vs. Clayton Kershaw vs. Roy Halladay

Brad Evans
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Can Verlander duplicate last year's unforgettable season? The Noise says yes. (US Presswire)

The fantasy community has always been split on when and where premium pitchers are worth drafting. Though a sound argument, it's hard to dispute the invaluable contributions elite hurlers Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw and Roy Halladay will likely contribute to virtual leagues this year. Each boasts incredible credentials and a high price-tag. Which one should come off your draft board first? Brad Evans, Brandon Funston and Scott Pianowski take a stand.

Brad votes for Verlander:

Utter domination. That best describes Verlander's remarkable 2011. Posting numbers from a throwback era, the workhorse tossed 251 innings, punched out 250, emerged victorious 24 times, notched a 2.40 ERA and tallied a microscopic 0.91 WHIP. His gigantic season earned him the AL Cy Young and AL MVP honors, the first pitcher to earn the accolade since Dennis Eckersley since 1992 and the first start since Roger Clemens in 1986. His subsequent 1.95 value, according to Baseball Monster, dwarfed Kershaw by 0.27 points and Halladay by 0.65. Overall, it was the finest fantasy season by a pitcher in a decade.

Untrustworthy owners will scream, "Why pay for the career year?" No doubt they could cite several examples in support of the claim. However, the power righty is a different animal. In his prime at 29, he's very capable of coming close to replicating what he did last year. The AL Central isn't exactly the strongest of divisions. The Twins, Indians, Royals and White Sox will be lucky to be in the wildcard hunt. That combined with Detroit's acquisition of Prince Fielder, means he should be a near lock for another 20-plus wins.

He's also one of those rare pitchers capable of throwing a no-no every time he takes the mound. Essentially, he's everything you want in a starter, works deep into games, racks strikeouts, posts tidy ERA/WHIP numbers and wins consistently. In reality, this is really a splitting hairs exercise, each is deserving of early round consideration. But, in my estimation, Verlander delivers the most bang for the top buck.

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Expect Kershaw to bark loudly in 2012 (US Presswire)

Funston pipes up for Kershaw: The days of sitting Clayton Kershaw at the kids table are over.

Kershaw has now clocked three consecutive seasons with an ERA of 2.91 or less and a K/9 rate of 9.3 or better. And last season's Cy Young effort came with a BABIP of .269, right in line with his previous two seasons (.269 and .275). So Lady Luck wasn't really a factor in what was a truly Koufaxian display, winning the NL Quadruple Crown of pitching with 21 wins, 248 K's, a 2.28 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP. Last season, Kershaw also took the very important step of harnessing his control, dropping his BB/9 rate from 3.57 the previous season to an elite level of 2.08. All that, and he's still almost two weeks shy of his 24th birthday.

In terms of pitch value, Fangraphs lists Kershaw's fastball as top 5 among starters last season, and he was No. 1 in terms of the most successful slider. His curveball and changeup also rated as plus pitches. In short, this guy has video game stuff. And, at his age, there's every reason to believe he's only going to get better.

Roy Halladay is going to turn 35 in May. He ranked just behind Kershaw in the Yahoo! game last season. I'm not of the mind to think that Halladay is going to jump ahead of him this season given where they are at in their careers. As for Verlander, I'm sorry, but he hails from the American League, and in any close debate like this, I'm going to side with the ace that gets to face pitchers rather than designated hitters, especially when Verlander is coming off a season where his BABIP was 49 points lower than his career average.

I'm sure my colleagues will point to Kershaw's relative inexperience as a factor in this debate. But give me a break. Three seasons of ace-level success prior to turning 24 is more than enough to render that argument moot. And in Yahoo! default leagues, K/9 rules because of the innings cap. In all the vast years of experience that Halladay and Verlander have under their belts combined, only once (Verlander in '09) has either of the two surpassed the 9.0 K/9, something that, as I have already stated, Kershaw has done in each of his past three seasons.

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For Pianow, the Doc is always in. (US Presswire)

Pianow calls the Doc: Let me establish up front that I've got full man crushes on Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander. One of the purest joys in baseball is settling in on the couch and watching Kershaw and Vin Scully work their magic together; one on the mound, one in the booth. If you don't like these guys, you're either a monumental Giants fan or a person with deep-rooted issues. And living in suburban Detroit, I catch just about every start Verlander makes. He's ridiculous, he's a warrior, and he's fun.

But in the early rounds of my fantasy draft, I'm not trying to be a hero. It's all about surety, it's all about floor. Come on down, Doc Halladay.

You just don't get an ace when you sign up Halladay, you get a machine, a thoroughbred. He's thrown 233, 250, 239, 246, 225 and 220 innings the last six years. You might say "so what?" to that — innings aren't a category, right? But by piling up the innings, you go deeper in games and you're more likely to collect wins. And you also exhibit the maximum gravitational pull on your team's ERA and WHIP.

Maybe Kershaw will turn into that type of bankable horse too — he did throw 233.1 innings in his Cy Young year, after all. But it's his first time at the level. We'll see how he holds up as the seasons run together. I have no reason to doubt he can do it, but I know Halladay is a proven commodity.

You get big, juicy counting stats with Verlander, but do the ratio stats line up? Look at his ERAs before last year: 3.37, 3.45, 4.84, 3.66, 3.63. He didn't have a single WHIP below 1.16 prior to the 2011 dream season. The man is terrific, but the sledding is always harder in the American League. He's only spent one year at this other-worldly level.

Kershaw and Verlander have better strikeout stuff, but Halladay gets the edge in two other key areas: he walks less batters, and he collects more ground balls. And it's not like Halladay can't miss bats - he's struck out 439 NL batters since coming to Philly, and he's thrown a couple of no-hitters.

I know the LA schedule is cushy with some of the big parks in the division, but Halladay gets soft spots, too. The Mets look like a horrible ballclub on paper. Florida's new park is likely to play big. The stadiums in Washington and Atlanta slightly favor the pitchers. And Doc doesn't struggle in Philly's bandbox: he's posted a 2.31 ERA and 1.02 WHIP there.

We're splitting hairs on this one. If you're in the Kershaw or Verlander camp, I doubt I can sway you. It's just how I'm wired — I want the best floor picks whenever I write the big check. Halladay feels like the safest option to me.

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