Here at Fantasy Assembly, we’re spending two weeks on outfielders and two weeks on starting pitching. I thought I’d combine the two to debate who should go first overall. I love Mike Trout and his ability on the field, both as a baseball fan and as a fantasy player. However, when it comes to fantasy, we can’t ignore the huge swing toward pitching value over the last few seasons. The thought has always been that there is enough pitching depth to pick up later in the draft. Now there are several elite SP in the fold, and some managers might be tempted to say, “Well, since there are several elite SP out there, I can still afford to wait on pitching and should focus on a hitter first. If elite hitters are becoming more rare, then it’s more important for me to lock one up.”
That logic may work in shallow leagues, where pitchers and outfielders are generally plentiful, but if you play in a deep league or have 15+ teams, then the talent disappears pretty quickly. So which would you rather have as the top overall pick in 2015, Trout or Kershaw?
First, there’s no denying Trout’s skills. He has speed and power, though he ran less in 2014 due to hitting second. In fact, since his first full year he’s run less every season. It stands to reason that he’s such an impact bat and has tremendous power, so why risk him pulling something while stealing a base? Or perhaps it’s because Scioscia simply doesn’t like stealing: the Angels’ 81 SB in 2014 was 22nd in the majors, well below the AL league average of 93, and their success rate was 25th. Although Trout still owns enough speed to reach 30+ SB, it’s clear that he isn’t likely to do so in the future.
Other than nitpicking his speed, you can’t complain with what he does for you. He has legitimate 30+ HR power. He will keep collecting RBI due to his team’s offense and his hitting ability. He was tied for 4th in the MLB in HR, was 2nd in RBI, was 1st in R, and contributes in SB and BA. You can’t go wrong with Trout as the top pick. So why am I suggesting a pitcher?
A lot of fantasy managers will recall the convention of Not drafting OF early because you can get them later, due to there being so many. We at the Assembly talk about that strategy ourselves. That also used to be the case at first base, during the steroid era when nearly every guy playing there hit 30 HR. But if you believe in that theory of waiting on positions where talent is available later, then even someone like Trout could be slightly discounted. Also, consider that 36 of the top-50 players in 2014 (according to CBS 5×5 rankings) were hitters, and half of them were OF. If you believe in grabbing scarce positions, there are more elite hitters than pitchers, and more top OF than SP, so Kershaw should be a target. Now, let’s get into his numbers.
First let’s start with Kershaw’s 3-year average from 2011-13: 17 W, 2.21 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 236 K, 232 IP. That average was good enough for the #2 player in baseball during that period, with Miggy taking the top spot. Then after missing some time to start 2014, Kershaw did this: 21 W, 1.77 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 239 K, 198 IP. He’s not slowing down, and in fact he’s getting even better. Look at how much better Kershaw was than his competition in categories. I realize that more IP has more weight for ERA and WHIP, but Kershaw’s top ERA was 20% better than the runner-up, King Felix. Kershaw also beat Felix’s second-place WHIP by 7%. Trout only led hitters in one category, runs, and it was 3% better than the next guy.
My final argument is anecdotal, but I still feel it bears weight in this case. In his prime, Albert Pujols wasn’t always the #1 player every year, though he came close. People would take him first overall because he was the most likely player to be at the top, or even in the top-5, every single year. Trout certainly has that going for him, but so does Kershaw. Let’s go back to that three-year average for Kershaw. In any given year, some other SP comes close to Kershaw’s value (Cueto in 2014, Scherzer in 2013). But aside from Verlander (who’s now a risky investment), no other pitcher consistently performed in the top 10 of all players. Kershaw has been in the top-10 players for three of the last four years, and the year he missed, 2012, he was still 17th. When you add in the fact that he also leads categories on a regular basis, choosing Trout first isn’t the no-brainer you’d think.