From a fantasy baseball analysis perspective, the general consensus over the past few years has been; Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet. While it’s true that Kershaw is, a dominant, elite pitcher, one could argue that Chris Sale is not only comparable, but could be poised to challenge him for that so-called “best pitcher on the planet” title.

From a core skills and fantasy baseball performance, there’s evidence that supports Chris Sale as a better overall value compared to Kershaw. Additionally,  he’s been plagued with some injury issues that’s limited his innings while Sale has been a pillar of dependability over the past 4 seasons. Below is a breakdown and comparison of the aforementioned factors that should help your own decision on who the better value is.

Core Skills

I want to start off this section by stating what should be the obvious; the core skills for both these pitchers are considered outstanding. Kershaw and Sale are at the top of the heap in virtually all skill related categories. However, the charts below do point out trends that support a possible changing of the guard when it comes who the top dog is going into 2018.

The skills I like to look at indicate to me just how dominant a pitcher is, along with how lucky he may have been over the same stretch of time. First off, the strikeouts per 9 innings along with the strikeouts per walk issued identify how dominant a pitcher is and how much command he has over the strike zone. Secondly we, look at FIP/xFIP numbers compared top actual ERA performance over the same time-frame.

We’re almost splitting hairs here when it comes to base skills relative to dominance and control. However, Sale does appear to be improving in all categories while Kershaw is going in the opposite direction. Granted, the amount of decline is minimal and he still remains elite in all categories.

When looking at Chris Sale, you might be wondering what happened to his K/9 rate in 2016 as it took a noticeable decline. I wondered the same thing and found the Sale abandoned his 4 seam fastball which turned out to be his best strikeout pitch. He brought it back in 2017 with exceptional results as you can see.

Below is a look at the FIP/xFIP vs ERA numbers:

Here we see that Kershaw appears to be better overall. However, his actuals are noticeably lower than his FIP/xFIP’s while Sale’s are virtual mirrors of each other over the past 2 seasons while his actuals showed higher in 2015 than his FIP/xFIP numbers.

A reasonable explanation here may be attributed to the ballparks that they pitch in. Kershaw pitches in a park that is well-known to be a pitchers’ park while Sale has lived his entire career pitching in White Sox park and Fenway park which are not so pitcher friendly overall. In general, both their stat lines indicate they’re worthy of the ERA numbers they’ve been posting for the last 4 seasons.

Fantasy Baseball Performance Trends

In order to evaluate this one fairly, I used fantasy baseball point structures from the Fangraphs Ottoneau, ESPN and CBS spread over the past 4 seasons. Below are the data and graphics.

At first glance, it’s obvious from a point totals standpoint that Kershaw wins. But notice that over the past 2 seasons, it’s been Sale who’s dominated. Even more noticeable is the declining trend in Kershaw’s point production. This can be attributed to limited innings related to injuries, but remember that in fantasy baseball you draft in hopes of reliable performance from your players, especially from your top draft picks.

So, when it comes to making your choice based on performance trends, you may want to consider the data above when making your choice if it comes down to having a shot at either of these stud pitchers.

Value

This one’s pretty close. Kershaw should be the first pitcher off the board in virtually all fantasy baseball drafts. His current NFBC ADP sits at #7 with a range of 1st pick to 12th pick. Sale on the other hand, carries an ADP of 12th and he ranges from 6th to 20th. Fantrax ADP data has them listed as 7.77 and 14.57 respectively as of this writing.

So, as you can see, Kershaw will almost certainly cost you for 1st round pick while Sale might make it to round 2, but will not last long into the 2nd round. From this perspective, drafting later in the 1st round could potentially yield you a batting stud and Sale. But, for the most part, it’s almost a wash no matter which one you choose.

Conclusion

We’ve looked at their skills, past performance and overall value for what you’re buying at the draft table. The question now is; which one is the wiser choice. Based on the above, my choice is Sale. This is mostly relative to the risk vs cost factor related to overall value.

If I’m spending my first or second draft pick on a player, I want my shot at a player who’ll play all year and bring me a positive return on my investment. For this, I only have past history to go on and from that standpoint; Sale is the better choice for me.

His performance trends are moving in a positive direction and they’re surpassing that of Kershaw at this point in time. Sale’s value is slightly higher and his durability as a reliable, inning eating workhorse, give me a bit more confidence than Kershaw. In addition to that, the Dodgers were known to limit innings more so than many other teams adding yet another layer of skepticism to selecting Kershaw over Sale.

I welcome your feedback and any comments you wish to share, so feel free to leave them below. Good luck with your fantasy baseball league this season.

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Doug Lukas

Dedicated baseball enthusiast with a serious passion for helping readers succeed in all areas of fantasy baseball.
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