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Mailbag: Keeping Johan or Verlander?

Reader Beau B. asks:

“I get to keep three players. Two of those slots are going to Braun and Wright. The last slot will go to either Johan Santana or Justin Verlander. I’d love your input.

12 team league, 5×5 (basically the standard 5×5, but with OBP replacing BA, pitching categories are typical).”

The answer to this question is easy. I’m keeping Verlander, and not thinking twice about it. I suppose I should explain myself, so let’s go a little more in-depth.

First, Verlander is four years younger than Johan, making him a more valuable keeper. Johan also has a recent injury history, with Verlander pitching 200+ innings in three straight seasons.

Second, I think Verlander is a better fantasy pitcher than Johan this year, regardless of keeper status. Verlander won’t strike out 269 batters again, but he will get close to the 200 mark. Verlander’s 2009 was likely a career year that he will never repeat again, but there are some signs he could improve aspects of his fantasy game. His BABIP against was .328 last year, which should drop back down and settle closer to his .306 career line. The only worry I have with Verlander is his declining GB%, as it has dropped from 41.1% in 2007, to 39.9% in 2008, all the way to 36% in 2009. Comerica will help him in this regard, but any further drop in his GB% would be just plain scary.

A little over a month ago, I said this about Johan:

“From 2002-2007, he never struck out less than a batter an inning, and now he is doing so consistently. CHONE projects his strikeout rate to be at 8.11, with fan and Marcel projects hovering around the same mark. But what proof do we have that his strikeout rate should rise back towards his career average (even if it is only a slight bump)?”

On this week’s FanGraphs Audio featuring Jack Moore and Matt Klaassen, they had a discussion about Johan, and essentially came to the same conclusion. For Johan to get back to his old self (and be better than Roy Halladay) he needs to get his strikeouts in order.

Hopefully I have convinced you that you should be keeping Verlander over Johan. Quite frankly, it’s a fairly obvious decision for me.

For those of you in a non-keeper league, I’d draft Verlander over Johan, but that is a closer argument. Both are being selected around pick 45, so you aren’t going to get a value pick by choosing one over the other.