While the fantasy community has reached a consensus on the top tier of aces this season, determining the best option among Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber and Chris Sale is far more difficult.All four pitchers rank within the top 13 in MLB.com's 2018 Player Preview, so selecting any of
While the fantasy community has reached a consensus on the top tier of aces this season, determining the best option among Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber and Chris Sale is far more difficult.
All four pitchers rank within the top 13 in MLB.com's 2018 Player Preview, so selecting any of them will be a coup for fantasy owners. But some drafters are going to be in a position where all four are still available and they have to choose between them. Instead of picking a name out of a hat when that time comes, let's compare them in the four starter-related fantasy categories and some additional areas of interest to establish a pecking order.
• MLB.com's player rankings
ERA: Kershaw reigns supreme in this category, besting all other qualified pitchers by nearly a full run over the past five seasons by posting a 1.95 ERA in that span. Meanwhile, Scherzer (2.76 ERA from 2015-17) holds a narrow edge over Kluber, who has recorded an ERA below 2.50 in two of the past four years. Sale ranks fourth in this category, as he has logged just one season with a sub-2.90 ERA since becoming a starter at the outset of '12.
WHIP: While Kershaw also holds an edge in this category (0.87 WHIP across 2013-17), his advantage over Scherzer is razor thin. The Nats' ace has logged a 0.93 WHIP across three years with the club, and his 0.90 mark from '17 was lower than Kershaw's 0.95. Kluber led the Majors with a 0.87 WHIP last season, but he hasn't posted a mark below 1.05 in any other campaign. As a result, he sits solidly in the third spot. And Sale once again ranks fourth, owning a solid lifetime 1.05 WHIP but never finishing a season below 0.97.
Wins: Given Kluber's ability to log a heavy workload and Cleveland's potential for a 100-win season, the Indians righty gets the first-place nod here. Scherzer is a close second, as he's also a durable workhorse whose team could run away with its division. And though Sale has never won more than 17 games in a season, he ranks third ahead of Kershaw, whose ability to compile wins may be compromised if he continues his recent trend of injury-shortened campaigns.
Strikeouts: Sale headlines this category, as he's coming off a season in which his posted the highest strikeout total (308) of any pitcher since 2002. Scherzer grabs the second spot for the fourth time in four categories after collecting more than 250 whiffs in each of the past four seasons. Kluber sits in third place on the strength of his improved 11.7 K/9 rate last year, while Kershaw -- who is the only active pitcher other than Sale to record a 300-whiff campaign -- falls to fourth, based mostly on durability concerns.
Age: Owners who wish to fall on the better side of the aging curve will order their aces Sale, Kershaw, Kluber and Scherzer. Sale will turn 29 on March 30, while Kershaw (30), Kluber (32) and Scherzer (33) will have season ages of at least 30 in 2018.
Past workload: Sale ranks first here, as he's compiled more than 215 innings just once in the regular season and appeared in the postseason only one time (2017) in his eight-year career. Kluber comes in second; while he's thrown the fewest career regular-season innings (1,091) of the four, he's also amassed 83 1/3 more frames (postseason included) than Sale over the past four years. Kershaw has tossed fewer frames than the other hurlers in recent seasons due to injuries, but he has 1,935 career frames under his belt and is coming off a deep postseason run. And Scherzer finishes in the last spot, having thrown more innings than any other Major Leaguer in the past five years.
Competition: Scherzer sits in top spot, as the other four National League East clubs do not rank as favorites for a postseason berth or project to be offensive powerhouses. Kluber will have a similarly easy slate with three retooling clubs in the AL Central, but he'll have to deal with some formidable lineups elsewhere in the AL. Kershaw places third, as he will regularly face two tough lineups (Rockies, D-backs) and a pair of lesser ones within his division. And Sale ranks last, as his division includes the Yankees' imposing lineup and several hitter-friendly venues.
Durability: Although Scherzer (five) and Kluber (four) are each working on longer streaks of 200-inning campaigns than Sale (three), the latter is the only member of this group who stayed off the disabled list last year. As a result, Sale ranks first in this category while Kluber and Scherzer tie for second. Kershaw places last, as he has thrown fewer than 200 frames in three of the past four years.
Conclusion: While his durability is a concern, Kershaw remains the preferred pitching option, as no other hurler can match his ceiling across a 30-start season. Kluber occupies the next spot, offering a great blend of high ceiling and high floor. The youngest member of the group, Sale places third among starters. And although he still ranks as a potential first-round pick, Scherzer falls to fourth due to concerns regarding his age, past workload and nagging injuries late last year.
Fred Zinkie is MLB.com's lead fantasy writer. Follow @Fantasy411 and @FredZinkieMLB for fantasy baseball advice.