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You don’t need me to tell you Clayton Kershaw is good at pitching, but I will argue he should be the obvious No. 2 pick in fantasy drafts this year. After finishing with a 1.77 mark last season, Kershaw became the first pitcher to ever lead the majors in ERA in four straight seasons. He also became the first hurler to win 21 games in just 27 starts since 1880. Kershaw allowed more than three runs in one start last year, a season in which he gave up a total of three unearned runs despite the Dodgers ranking in the bottom five in errors.
After finishing No. 2 in 2013, Kershaw was the most valuable fantasy player by a wide margin last year, according to Baseball Monster, and this was despite him missing more than a month of action. He led all of baseball in K% (31.9), K-BB% (27.8) and SwStr% (14.1) while somehow combining that with a career-best 1.77 GB/FB ratio. There’s little question Kershaw will regress in 2015, but it’s worth noting just how dominant he’s been relative to his peers as well as the fact he’s in such a good situation. It’s a pretty good combination when the best pitcher in baseball plays in the NL West and throws in a home park that’s decreased runs by 12 percent over the past three years, as only three other stadiums have suppressed scoring more over that span.
Moreover, Los Angeles replacing Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Dee Gordon with Joc Pederson, Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick is a massive defensive upgrade. Kershaw somehow finished with a 1.77 ERA last year with a defense behind him that finished with the eighth-worst UZR in baseball. If that’s not enough, the Dodgers will go from having one of the worst catchers when it comes to framing in A.J. Ellis to one of the best in Yasmani Grandal (although to be fair, Kershaw supposedly loves throwing to Ellis).
So we’ve established Kershaw is the best starting pitcher in baseball, with no one even close (I do love Max Scherzer in the NL this year), but that doesn’t do it justice, as there’s also an argument that top-tier starters should be taken over hitters from a strategical standpoint. Assuming you aren’t punting saves, a fantasy team will employ 6-7 starters compared to 13 hitters, with both accounting for 50 percent of your points in the standings (Chris Liss recently went more in depth on this, but I’ve been beating this drum for a couple of years now). So a pitcher who throws 225 innings is accounting for approximately 15 percent of half your categories, whereas a hitter represents 7.7 percent. That’s around double the impact!
Of course, Kershaw is pretty much a universal top-five pick, so I’m not reinventing the wheel here, but I suggest in general starting pitchers are undervalued, and it’s unclear to me why Andrew McCutchen is going earlier in the vast majority of leagues. I’m hardly a hater, but he wasn’t a top-10 player last year, when he had a career-low 21 stolen base attempts. McCutchen also hits in a park that’s decreased home runs by a whopping 42 percent for RHB over the past three seasons, which is by far the most in major league baseball (to put this in perspective, only two other parks have decreased HR for RHB by 20 percent or more over this span).
But I’m not here to denigrate McCutchen, who’s clearly a star worthy of a top pick (although I’d personally gamble on Miguel Cabrera ahead of him). I’m here to implore you to take Kershaw No. 2. In fact, I say there’s a better argument for him to go first than third.