Most fantasy baseball owners enter the draft focused on getting a franchise hitter. Somebody like Ryan Braun, Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout who can pace an offense. While that's sound strategy, it's crucial to land a staff ace, as well.
Since the opening round is usually heavy on hitters, the top-tier pitchers often last into the second round. At that point, owners have a decision to make. Pair their top hitter with another slugger like Giancarlo Stanton or start building a pitching staff.
While the second hitter option is undoubtedly intriguing, going with a big-name pitcher is the way to go. It leads to more balance, and normally by the third round, the elite pitchers are gone. With that in mind, here are the top starters to target for 2013.
1. Justin Verlander
Justin Verlander takes the top spot due to consistency. It's what every fantasy owner craves, but the number of players who can provide it are extremely limited. The Detroit Tigers ace is a virtual lock for 17 wins, which is still a key fantasy category despite the advanced stats surge, and a sub-3.50 ERA.
He's tallied at least 17 wins in six of the past seven seasons. His ERA hasn't gone over the 3.50 mark since 2008, and it's been under 2.65 the past two years. He's started at least 30 games for seven straight seasons. And he strikes out around a batter per inning.
There are a handful of pitchers capable of posting those type of numbers for one season. Verlander does it year in and year out. That type of sustained dominance is enough to earn him the top spot among starters, and he's still only 29 years old.
2. Stephen Strasburg
Stephen Strasburg was 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA and 197 strikeouts in 159.1 innings when the Washington Nationals decided to shut him down last season. Stephen Borelli of USA Today reported the team wants 200 innings from him in 2013, which will allow him to go much deeper in the season.
As long as Strasburg stays healthy, the heavier workload will make him an elite fantasy pitcher. The most intriguing thing is his strikeout rate, which checks in at more than 11 batters per nine innings for his career. In weeks where he gets two starts, a fantasy team should win that category.
In 45 starts, his ERA is below 3.00 and his WHIP is only a shade above 1.00. Those are all top-notch numbers and his performance last season gives owners plenty of reason to believe he can keep it up. There's some risk involved, but he's worth it.
3. Clayton Kershaw
Clayton Kershaw's ERA has been below 3.00 for four straight seasons. He's been downright unhittable for extended periods during that stretch. The only reason he hasn't ranked higher at the end of some of those years is the Los Angeles Dodgers' lack of offense hurting his wins total.
Again, wins is a category that sabermetricians don't like, but fantasy owners must consider it because it makes up 10 percent of a weekly matchup. Luckily for Kershaw owners, the Dodgers' offense should be a lot better this season.
Assuming Kershaw does receive more run support, he should challenge for the top spot among fantasy pitchers. His other numbers have been at that level for awhile and ending up with around 20 wins will make him the complete fantasy pitcher owners desire.