Fantasy baseball debate: Stephen Strasburg vs. Adam Wainwright

Both Adam Wainwright and Stephen Strasburg will star on fantasy pitching staffs in 2014.
Simon Buruty/SI

As part of's 2014 fantasy baseball preview, our experts Michael Beller and David Gonos will be engaging in a series of debates. For our third debate, they argue whether you should target Adam Wainwright or Stephen Strasburg.

David Gonos makes the case for Adam Wainwright:

So you're thinking about drafting Stephen Strasburg or Adam Wainwright. Step into my office -- let's see if I can sell you on why Wainwright is the better choice for 2014.

Both players had Tommy John surgery in 2011. Since then, Adam Wainwright has started 66 times, compiling a 33-22 record, 441 IP, 403 strikeouts, a 3.39 ERA and a 1.147 WHIP. Stephen Strasburg has started 58 times, amassing a 23-15 record, 342 IP, 388 strikeouts, a 3.08 ERA and a 1.099 WHIP.

In a 12-team league, both of these pitchers will likely star as an ace on a fantasy squad, but let's determine why Wainwright, 32, is such a great choice in both Rotisserie and head-to-head formats.

His stats from the past two seasons, compared to Strasburg, aren't that impressive. However, Wainwright corrected all that went wrong in 2012 and took a step forward, putting up a 19-9 record with a 2.94 ERA (a full run lower than his 2012 number). He's coming off one of the best seasons of his career, and there are no indicators that he'll regress in 2014. Strangely, he doesn't get the same publicity in fantasy as other pitchers receive, but that's mostly due to his K/9, which stood at 8.16 last season. Ideally, fantasy owners want double-digit strikeouts from their aces every outing. However, keep in mind that he has eclipsed the 230-innings pitched mark three times in his past four full seasons (not including his Tommy John surgery season of 2011).

However, the fantasy baseball world has said Strasburg is going to be the next pitcher to reach 300 strikeouts in a season. Why would I steer you away from that?

In 2013, Strasburg tossed 191 K's in 183 innings pitched over 30 starts; not the most strikeouts he's ever thrown in a season, but the most innings he's ever pitched in the majors. However, he disclosed some forearm discomfort in his pitching arm after the season ended. Strasburg also had surgery this past offseason to get bone chips removed from his pitching elbow. His less-than-stellar numbers last season all makes sense, right?

Another strike against Strasburg is if you look at his BABIP over the past two seasons. Hitters had a .313 BABIP against him in 2012, yet, he had just a .263 BABIP last season. In other words, he was "luckier" in his worse season.

When thinking about Strasburg's four major league seasons, a few things stand out. He has never had a 200-strikeout season, much less a 300-strikeout season. He has an arm that just might not be up to the task of his torque. He has been coddled through most of his career, yet he still has many injuries -- at the age of 25.

In Wainwright's favor, the Cardinals' bullpen should be a top-five unit. Even if youngster Trevor Rosenthal falters by midseason, he should have a healthy Jason Motte as a backup, however. Strasburg's supported by an average bullpen (maybe a bit above average), but let's also remember that the Nationals were reportedly the loser in the battle to sign closer Grant Balfour (who eventually went to the Rays). That doesn't sound like a rousing endorsement for their current closer, Rafael Soriano.

If I'm making the decision between Strasburg and Wainwright, I'm assessing my league as much as I am my own ability. If I think I'm in a competitive league, then you need to be risk-averse in the early rounds, making sure you don't make any missteps. But if you're always in the top three spots in your league, and you're fairly confident in your ability to pick up late-round sleepers or solid free agents off of waivers, then you can roll the dice on Strasburg.

BELLER: St. Louis Cardinals 2014 team preview

Michael Beller makes the case for Stephen Strasburg:

Well, well, well, you want an ace pitcher, do you? Well, the good news here is that no matter if you take Stephen Strasburg or Adam Wainwright, you will get an ace who will anchor your staff and make you very happy. But allow me to tell you why you'll be just a bit more happy if you end up going with Strasburg.

Let me start with Strasburg's numbers last season. They were a small step back from his dominant 2012, but he still put up a 3.00 ERA, 3.21 FIP, 1.05 WHIP and 191 strikeouts in 183 innings. For his career, the 25-year-old has a 2.96 ERA, 2.79 FIP and a ridiculous 10.44 K/9 over 434.1 innings. Even with his noted injury history, his top-tier production is as reliable as anyone this side of Clayton Kershaw.

Ah yes, there it is, Strasburg's bugaboo. Anytime you come across a Strasburg doubter, you're surely going to hear about what an injury risk he is. Well, that's funny, because do you know how many scheduled starts he has missed since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2010? Three.

Yes, I admit that I'm simplifying the issue a bit. He dealt with forearm tightness last year and had some bone chips removed from his pitching elbow during the offseason. But don't believe the myth that he's this fragile creature that could fall apart if the breeze hits him at the wrong angle.

Strasburg's strikeout rate took a slight dip last year, but I'd still call 26.1 percent, the seventh highest in the majors, pretty darn good. In fact, it's evidence that he is being more efficient with his pitches. Strasburg threw 34 more innings and faced 78 more batters last year than he did in 2012, but he averaged a full fewer pitch per batter faced. What's more, his ground-ball rate shot up to 51.1 percent while his line-drive rate plummeted to 17.5 percent, best in all of major league baseball. Some people will say that he was lucky to have a .263 BABIP. I say that when you're the hardest pitcher to square up in the league and induce ground balls more than half the time, your BABIP is going to be awfully low. And you're going to earn it.

Wainwright is the picture of health, having made at least 32 starts and thrown at least 198.2 innings each of the last four years. In three of those four years, he racked up at least 230 innings pitched. As such, he's able to amass big-time strikeout numbers while putting up great averages. He also plays on arguably the best team in the majors, so the wins should be there. Still, the St. Louis ace is eminently more hittable than is Strasburg.

For as good of a pitcher as Wainwright is, hitters are able to get to him rather often. He had a 23.4-percent line-drive rate last year, and gave up a whopping 65 extra-base hits. We already discussed Strasburg's league-best line-drive rate. He allowed just 33 extra-base hits. Even when you consider that Wainwright threw about 60 more innings than Strasburg, he still allowed extra-base hits at a 50-percent higher clip, on a per-inning basis, than Strasburg.

These are two of the best pitchers in real-life and fantasy baseball, and they're in the same elite tier that includes all of the true aces other than Kershaw, who is in a world of his own. Don't let trumped-up fears over Strasburg's purportedly bad health scare you away from what is the superior option. Strasburg is an elite strikeout pitcher who is just 25 years old and still getting better. He's the clear choice.

BELLER: Washington Nationals 2014 team preview Fantasy Baseball Debate Series:

I. Robinson Cano vs. Jason Kipnis
II. Shin-Soo Choo vs. Alex Rios
III. Adam Wainwright vs. Stephen Strasburg
IV. Prince Fielder vs. Joey Votto
V. Evan Longoria vs. David Wright
VI. Carlos Santana vs. Joe Mauer

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