Ask the Professor: James Shields vs. Javier Vazquez

Steve sent in the following question:
I have to choose between the two in a 14 team H2H league and I’m trying to weigh my options. I know Vasquez had a subpar year in 2008, but the consistency is tough to overlook. He consistently throws over 200 innings, has around 200 strikeouts and his K/BB ratio is usually better than 3:1. What intrigues me about him is his move from the AL to the NL and pitching in Atlanta. Can his numbers improve in that league, pitching in that ballpark? As for Shields, he’s been tough the past couple years, posting similar numbers, but I’m worried about him being able to handle the workload, especially pitching deep into the playoffs and having to face the Yankees and Red Sox 36 times this year. Any thoughts?

I understand the allure of Javier Vazquez returning to the NL and pitching for the Braves, but don’t get caught up in all the hype.  He was last in the NL in 2005 with the Arizona Diamondbacks, when he posted an ERA of 4.43.  Of course, his other numbers were very good (1.25 WHIP, 192 K), but when comparing him against Shields every little bit counts.

Shields, pitching in possibly the best division in baseball the past two seasons, has been tremendous.  He’s put up WHIP’s of 1.11 and 1.15, as he hardly walks anyone as evidenced by his 1.67 BB/9 last season.  That’s a huge advantage, as he should easily outperform Vazquez in the WHIP department (Vazquez WHIP last season was 1.32).  I know Vazquez has shown the potential to post a miniscule WHIP before, but Shields gets the advantage with that type of control.

Shields’ ERA has been under 4 each of the past two seasons, and even with Vazquez’ move to the NL, there’s no guarantee he gets there (as I already mentioned).  Normally I’d give the NL pitcher the advantage, but I can’t in this case.  Shields has proven to be on the cusp of greatness and could emerge this season as an ace while Vazquez has proven to be an up-and-down performer over the years.  Shields gets the nod in ERA.

The wins are going to be close, as both teams are going to be very good.  I’d enter the season expecting around 14-16 W’s for both men, though it is very unpredictable.  I feel like a broken record, but you don’t draft for wins.

Vazquez does have the advantage in strikeouts, having struck out over 200 batters each of the past two seasons.  Still, it’s not like Shields is going to hurt you there, as he has shown the potential to pick up 180 (which he did in ’07).

So, with an advantage in ERA and WHIP, I’m going Shields.  As I said earlier, he has the chance to become a fantasy monster this season, his third full year in the majors, despite pitching in the AL East.  While he struggled against the Red Sox (5.85 ERA), he excelled against the Yankees (1.77 ERA), Blue Jays (3.25 ERA) and Orioles (2.57 ERA), showing that we should not shy away from him because of the division.  In fact, he had some good starts against the Red Sox, though he had two blow-ups that skewed his numbers.

If I have to make this decision, it’s Shields every time in my book.  Anyone disagree?

Picture courtesy of Icon Sports Media, Inc.

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