Verlander and Kershaw exceeding expectations

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - In fantasy sports, there are few things less noteworthy than when a player meets expectations.

We expect the highest level of excellence from certain players, and when they continually reach those plateaus, there isn't a need to make a fuss about it.

As a result, these players almost become underrated due to our inattentiveness. After the draft or auction, we plug them into a spot in our lineups and we know they'll be there for the next six months. The only time we'll even turn our attention to them is if they underachieve or fall victim to injury.

Detroit Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander and Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw, the 2011 Cy Young Award winners, joined that group last year and now what they are accomplishing barely registers on the fantasy radar.

But I think it's time to make a fuss, isn't it?

After all, the Verlander-Kershaw duo gave us 25 shutout innings in three starts last week, including Verlander's May 18 outing in which he no-hit the Pittsburgh Pirates for 8 1/3 innings before settling for a one-hit shutout.

Not to be outdone, Kershaw threw a shutout of his own, a six-hitter against the powerful St. Louis Cardinals one day later.

Last year, the two aces combined to finish 35 games above .500, with Verlander going 24-5 and Kershaw 21-5. The pair nearly combined for 500 strikeouts, as Verlander fanned 250 and Kershaw recorded 248.

Best of all, Verlander and Kershaw each had an ERA under 2.50 and a WHIP under 1.00, so reaching base against the two pitchers last season was more difficult than scoring a date with supermodel Kate Upton, who appeared in a 2K Sports commercial with Verlander in the preseason.

In the spot, Upton wouldn't let Verlander into the Perfect Club -- 2K Sports has a yearly contest in which it gives away $1 million to the first player who can throw a perfect game in online gameplay -- because he hadn't thrown a perfect game; the bombshell was quite unimpressed with Verlander's dominance last season.

To that I say, really? Really, Kate? Verlander's 2.40 ERA and no-hitter against Toronto didn't do it for you? Because it sure did it for the fantasy community.

The problem is, Verlander and Kershaw were so good that we became spoiled, unable to be moved by pure greatness. Basically, we all became Upton in that commercial, minus the skin-tight black dress and perfectly coiffed blonde hair.

Because of that, I wouldn't blame you if you didn't believe me when I tell you that both of them have been better in nearly every statistical category this year. But they have.

While Verlander led the American League with 6.2 hits per nine innings last season, he's dropped that average by nearly one hit this year, registering a H/9 of 5.3 and a BAA of .163. His walks are also down slightly, giving him a 0.80 WHIP -- 0.12 lower than last season.

Verlander's league-leading 2.14 ERA in 2012 is 0.26 lower than his league- leading total from last season.

Kershaw's ERA and WHIP also are down from last year's marks -- his 1.90 ERA is 0.38 lower and his WHIP is 0.10 lower than last season.

Like Verlander, Kershaw has reduced his H/9 and BB/9. He's sacrificed some strikeouts -- his K/9 is down to 7.4 from 9.6 -- but that's only because batters are making contact earlier in the count against him.

Kershaw is averaging 3.58 pitches per plate appearance in 2012, compared to 3.78 last year, but his ratios -- strike percentage, swing-and-miss percentage and contact percentage -- are all nearly identical to 2011.

The only category that has dropped is Kershaw's foul-ball percentage, meaning that batters are putting balls that they would have fouled off last year into play. This would be a concern if all of these balls were solid line drives, but they've mostly been weak grounders, as indicated by Kershaw's increased groundball-to-flyball ratio of 0.98, which is much higher than his 0.77 GB/FB in 2011.

This early weak contact will keep Kershaw's walk rates low and allow him to go deeper into games. If you remove Kershaw's Opening Day start, in which he had to be removed after three innings due to a stomach bug, he is averaging 7.25 innings per start this year compared to 7.1 in 2011.

Both Verlander and Kershaw also are further along than they were last year at this time.

Through nine starts in 2011, Verlander was 4-3 with a 2.91 ERA and Kershaw was 5-3 with a 2.75 ERA.

If the rest of 2012 goes as well as June-September 2011 went for these two rotation stalwarts, we could be looking at numbers even better than the astronomical totals they put up last year.

That still may not be enough to impress Kate Upton, but it should at least make the fantasy baseball community stand and applaud ... until next season, when Verlander and Kershaw will have to top themselves all over again.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Thomas Harrigan at tharrigan@sportsnetwork.com.

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