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2012 Position Rankings: Starting Pitchers

With the position players all wrapped up, it's time to move to the mound. The steady decline in offense around the league means there are more quality starters now than anytime in the last few years. The rankings are based on standard 12-team mixed leagues with 5x5 scoring, but obviously saves are a non-issue here.

  1. Roy Halladay, PHI - The Master. Doc does it all in both reality and fantasy, providing strikeouts, wins, and innings while keeping his ERA and WHIP at near microscopic levels.
  2. Justin Verlander, DET - Will he win 24 games again? Almost certainly not. Verlander will flirt with 20 though, and his fly ball ways will keep the Miguel Cabrera-at-third base damage to a minimum.
  3. Clayton Kershaw, LAD - Still just 23, the sky is the limit for last year's NL pitching Triple Crown winner. If Kershaw shows his improved walk rate is real and not a fluke, he'll challenge Halladay's throne.
  4. Cliff Lee, PHI - A left-handed and slightly lesser version of Halladay, Lee's strikeout rate jumped to over nine-per-nine with the move to the NL last season.
  5. CC Sabathia, NYY - Few pitchers move to the AL East and get better like Sabathia has. His strikeout rate shot back up last season, and he's always got a shot at 20+ wins.
  6. Felix Hernandez, SEA - The King saw his ERA jump over a full run last season even though his underlying performance was unchanged. Continue to expect greatness.
  7. Cole Hamels, PHI - Overshadowed by the two guys ahead of him in the rotation, Hamels is entering his prime years and is poised for a huge contract push.
  8. Jered Weaver, LAA - Weaver's strikeout rate dropping back into the mid-7.0 K/9 range after one year over nine-per-nine, but he's at his peak right now and his team improved around him.
  9. Tim Lincecum, SF - It's hard to ignore the trends - three-year decline in strikeout rate and two-year decline in walk rate - but Lincecum is starting from such a high baseline that he could continue to decline and still be elite.
  10. David Price, TB - Price's underlying performance in 2011 was better than in 2010, but his ERA and win total didn't reflect the improvement. At age 26, another step forward could be coming.
  11. Dan Haren, LAA - Not facing pitchers anymore did take a bite out of Haren's strikeout total, but the more favorable park helped his homer rate and ERA. Still somehow underrated.
  12. Yovani Gallardo, MIL - The fluky low homer rate from 2010 (0.6 HR/9) returned to his career average last season (1.2 HR/9), but the long ball is the only blemish in Gallardo's game.
  13. Jon Lester, BOS - Both his strikeout and homer rate took steps back last season, but Lester is right in his prime years with a great team around him. He gets the benefit of the doubt after one off year.
  14. Zack Greinke, MIL - An early-season rib injury cost him about five starts, but otherwise his strikeout run jumped more than three whiffs per nine to 10.54 K/9. I doubt he'll ever be 2009 good again, but Greinke is still excellent.
  15. Matt Cain, SF - Remarkably consistent, Cain doesn't get a ton of strikeouts and his team doesn't always give him the most run support, but you know exactly what you'll get out of him each year.
  16. James Shields, TB - After giving up homer after homer in 2010, Shields incorporated his curveball more in 2011 to get more ground balls while keeping his strikeout and walk rates static. Sub-3.00 ERAs in the AL East are hard to sustain, however.
  17. Madison Bumgarner, SF - Still only 22, MadBum took a big step forward in the strikeout department last season while keeping his walks down. There's still more roon for growth here.
  18. Mat Latos, CIN - Despite playing in Petco Park, Latos has next to no home/road split. He'll inevitably surrender more homers in Cincinnati, but everything else makes up for it.
  19. C.J. Wilson, LAA - Moving from hitter friendly Texas to pitcher friendly Anaheim will help Wilson's performance, but facing his old mates six times a year won't.
  20. Ian Kennedy, ARI - Kennedy is an extreme fly ball pitcher who probably should have allowed a few more homers last season (0.8 HR/9), but that's pretty much the only blemish on his record.
  21. Matt Garza, CHC - It wasn't just the move to the NL that boosted Garza's performance. He starting throwing substantially more sliders and changeups, and the results were a ton more strikeouts and grounders.
  22. Anibal Sanchez, FLA - Now more than three full years out from shoulder surgery, Sanchez's strikeout rate jumped in his age 27 last year. If the Marlins' new stadium plays as big as expected, he could end up a top ten fantasy starter.
  23. Stephen Strasburg, WAS - Strasburg will be held to 160 IP or so in 2012, but his performance in 92 big league innings has been off the charts good. The upside is scary.
  24. Michael Pineda, NYY - Moving to a tougher league and tougher division will hurt his numbers, but Pineda will get a ton more run and bullpen support while fantasy owners will get more wins.
  25. Ricky Romero, TOR - Owner of the quietest sub-3.00 ERA in baseball last year, Romero has been improving his walk rate while keeping his strikeout and ground ball rates static. He just keeps getting better.
  26. Josh Beckett, BOS - The question with Beckett continues to be health. His performance was ace-like last year, but you have to count on him missing a handful of starts a year, if not more.
  27. Jordan Zimmermann, WAS - As he gets futher away from Tommy John surgery, hopefully the strikeout stuff Zimmermann showed in 2009 returns. Big time breakout potential.
  28. Gio Gonzalez, WAS - Gio has gotten better every year of his career, but moving out of the spacious Colisseum in Oakland will jack up his homer rate a bit. 
  29. Adam Wainwright, STL - A bonafide fantasy ace before Tommy John surgery, Wainwright will be back this season and will probably struggle with control like most guys a year out from elbow surgery.
  30. Yu Darvish, TEX - Everything is there for greatness, but his expected performance is completely unpredictable. I usually steer clear of international imports in year one.
  31. Daniel Hudson, ARI - Hudson traded some strikeouts for ground balls last year, which isn't a trade that helps fantasy owners. Still only 24, he needs to get back to missing bats like he did in 2010.
  32. Shaun Marcum, MIL - The big concern here is Marcum's dreadful finish to the season, which carried over into the playoffs. If that's behind him, expect another mid-3.00 ERAs and 13 or so wins.
  33. Tommy Hanson, ATL - Last year's shoulder problem and this spring's concussion make Hanson a questionable proposition, but his performance in 460.1 big league innings is tough to top.
  34. Jeremy Hellickson, TB - The peripheral stats (4.42 FIP) don't match the ERA (2.95), so Hellickson is going to have to beef up his strikeout or ground ball rate to maintain long-term success. Don't overvalue him based on the Rookie of the Year Award.
  35. Johnny Cueto, CIN - Ignore the ERA (2.31) but be conscious of the three-year decline in strikeout rate. Cueto's also good for an injury or two during the season as well.
  36. Chris Carpenter, STL - Carpenter threw a career high 237.1 IP last season at age 36, the last 30 or so with a barking elbow. There's some serious risk here.
  37. Brandon Beachy, ATL - An oblique injury sabotaged Beachy's first full season, but he still showed big time strikeout stuff and a miniscule walk rate in his 25 starts. He might be too well known to qualify as a sleeper.
  38. Max Scherzer, DET - Scherzer cut his walk rate a bit last season but gave up a ton more homers, way more than his career average. I doubt that will happen again in Comerica Park.
  39. Jaime Garcia, STL - Garcia maintained his strikeout and ground ball rates last year while cutting down on his walks, but his ERA rose nearly a full run. I expect him to finish with an ERA closer to 3.00 than 4.00.
  40. Cory Luebke, SD - Luebke's gaudy strikeout rate (9.9 K/9) was the same as both a starter (17 starts) and reliever (29 appearances) last year. He keeps the walks down and will benefit from Petco, giving him serious sleeper potential.
  41. Ervin Santana, LAA - The fourth wheel in the Halos' rotation, Santana's strikeout rate has never matched his stuff. He did improve his ground ball rate, but I can't see another sub-3.40 ERA in 2012.
  42. Ubaldo Jimenez, CLE - Ubaldo's strikeout, walk, and ground ball rates didn't budge from 2010 to 2011, but his ERA shot up nearly two full runs. He's very enigmatic, but another 4.00+ ERA would surprise me.
  43. Matt Moore, TB - The potential is drool worthy, and Moore's new contract means there is no reason for Tampa not to have him in the Opening Day rotation.
  44. Josh Johnson, FLA - It's all about health. When he's on the mound, Johnson is one of the ten best pitchers in baseball. Unfortunately he's only make 37 starts over the last two seasons.
  45. Justin Masterson, CLE - Masterson's success last year had to do with his newfound ability to neutralize lefties. He won't give you strikeouts or a great WHIP, but he's rock solid overall.
  46. Brandon Morrow, TOR - The peripherals say the ERA should be better, but we're going on close to 350 IP as a starter now. The strikeouts will be great, but Morrow can be frustrating.
  47. Scott Baker, MIN - Baker is better than he gets credit for, but he's a lock to miss time with injury each year. I could see Ian Kennedy-type numbers if he manages 33 starts.
  48. Hiroki Kuroda, NYY - I doubt he maintains a near-3.00 ERA after the move to New York, but the Yankees will help boost Kuroda's win total north of his career-high 13.
  49. Wandy Rodriguez, HOU - Wandy's performance took a bit of a hit last year, but if his strikeout rate keeps falling it's going to be hard to get value out of him. A mid-3.00 ERAs with few wins and strikeouts isn't all that great.
  50. Derek Holland, TEX - A definite breakout candidate, Holland improved his walk rate as last season progressed, his biggest bugaboo. Now the strikeout rate has to follow suit.
  51. John Danks, CHW - Now the top lefty in Chicaco, Danks has improved both his strikeout and walk rates every year since 2009. There's no reason he shouldn't get to being a 3.70 ERA guy.
  52. Jhoulys Chacin, COL - Chacin became sinker-heavy last season, leading to an increased ground ball rate but a below average strikeout rate. A balance between the two would be best.
  53. Doug Fister, DET - Don't count on a repeat of his late-season dominant following the trade. Fister allows a lot of balls to be put in play and doesn't get a ton of ground balls. Expect an ERA closer to 4.00 than 3.00.
  54. Trevor Cahill, ARI - Moving to the NL should help Cahill's strikout rate, but Chase Field will not be as kind as the Colisseum. He needs to miss more bats to boost his fantasy value.
  55. Clay Buchholz, BOS - Buchholz hasn't racked up the strikeout totals his stuff suggests he should, but the real issue in health. Back trouble limited him to just 14 starts last season.
  56. Chad Billingsley, LAD - The three-year decline in strikeout rate is scary, and control has never been Billingsley's forte. He's another guy that will leave you wanting more.
  57. Brandon McCarthy, OAK - McCarthy has gained notoriety for his use of sabermetrics to revive his career, though his strikeout and win totals won't be of much benefit to fantasy owners. Neither does his history of shoulder problems.
  58. Jonathon Niese, NYM - Niese has shown the ability to miss bats, limit walks, and get ground balls, but he's also good at getting hurt. He could really take off with good health.
  59. Gavin Floyd, CHW - Safe, reliable, and predictable. Floyd isn't great at anything but he'll do a swell job in four of the five pitching categories.
  60. Edwin Jackson, WAS - Jackson is in his prime years and has developed into a rock solid workhorse starter, but his strikeout totals don't match his stuff. Another safe option like Floyd.

Honorable Mention: Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison & Alexi Ogando, TEX; Tim Hudson, Mike Minor & Jair Jurrjens, ATL; Bud Norris, HOU; Ricky Nolasco, FLA; Homer Bailey, CIN; Ryan Vogelsong, SF; Vance Worley, PHI; Francisco Liriano, MIN; A.J. Burnett, PIT; Ivan Nova, NYY; Chris Capuano, LAD

Other Positions: Catcher, First Base, Second Base, Shortstop, Third Base, Outfield


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