Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Though there are always a few pitchers each season who come out of nowhere to produce career years (think Ian Kennedy's progression from 9-10 in 2010 to 21-4 last season) and be huge fantasy bargains, those at the top of this list year-in, year-out produce solid fantasy statistics.
For that reason you pay top dollar or a high draft choice, but almost always get value for your investment.
Your best fantasy strategy should revolve around drafting one or two top pitchers only and then identify those pitchers whom you think will make that giant leap forward to fill out your rotation.
We will help you identify those guys later. Today we deal with the anchors to your staff. The innings eaters who post excellent fantasy statistics in the four categories available to starters.
1) Roy Halladay, Philadelphia (2011 SSRD360* 2.871) - Not much to be said that hasn't been said before. He has averaged 17 wins per season over the past 10 years, throwing 200-plus innings with a sterling ERA of 2.97 and an equally stellar WHIP of 1.111. Seven times in the past 10 seasons, he's finished in the top five for the Cy Young Award. Consistent excellence, that's what you want from your "ace."
2) Justin Verlander, Detroit (2.579) - Verlander is coming off an incredible season (24-5, ERA 2.40, WHIP 0.920, 250 strikeouts), the best in the majors as he led his Tigers into the playoffs and likely your fantasy team as well. Verlander has averaged 18 wins over his six full years in the big leagues, but his ERA and WHIP have fluctuated more than Halladay's. You can't expect a repeat of 2011, but anything close should still be good enough to put him in the top three.
3) Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers (2.665) - The Dodgers franchise might have struggled last year, but Kershaw didn't. The potential that scouts and fantasy owners had seen over the past three years finally cane to fruition. He led the National League in wins (21), ERA (2.28), WHIP (0.977) and strikeouts (248). In 2012 he and the rest of the National League pitchers won't have to face Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder as often, which should make it easier to reproduce another season like 2011.
4) C.C. Sabathia, New York Yankees (3.094) - It goes to how high the standards for Sabathia that his 2011 season of 19-8, 3.00 ERA, 1.226 WHIP, 230 strikeouts didn't impress fantasy owners. The good news is that he started the year much better than he traditional does. Unfortunately, he didn't finish the year strongly. All we pray for is about four more wins and a WHIP under 1.20 this year. Our prayers will be answered.
5) Jered Weaver, Anaheim (2.943) - Weaver finished the 2011 season with career bests in wins (18), ERA (2.41) and WHIP (1.010). His only "failure" was in strikeouts, where he fell 35 short of last season to 198. In 2011, he either lost or had a no-decision in nine games in which he gave up three runs or less. Given the additional firepower in the Angels' offense (read Pujols), Weaver's win total should increase.
6) Cliff Lee, Philadelphia (2.875) - Despite pitching half his games in a "hitter's park," Lee has had great success in his one-and-a-half seasons with the Phillies. Lee is 24-12 with an ERA of 2.65 and a WHIP of 1.053. Last season, he threw a league-leading six shutouts with an ERA of 2.40. His stellar WHIP of 1.027 included 42 walks - from a guy who had only walked 12 and 18 the previous two seasons, so he should be even better in 2012.
7) Felix Hernandez, Seattle (3.447) - Although Hernandez made the All-Star team, his numbers say he had a subpar season in 2011 and they are right (14-14, 3.47 ERA, 1.220 WHIP). We're expecting a bounce-back campaign for "King Felix," although similar to 2010 his win total may not show it.
8) Tim Lincecum, San Francisco (3.341) - As unthinkable as it might be, the two-time NL Cy Young Award winner had a losing record in 2011. However, a closer inspection shows a solid 2.74 ERA and a 1.207 WHIP with 220 strikeouts. Fantasy owners should sue his hitters for lack of support as Lincecum lost nine games when he yielded three runs or less. The Giants offense should be slightly improved in 2012 and so should Lincecum's record.
9) David Price, Tampa Bay (3.546) - Price stuck out more batters than ever (218), but also gave up almost three-quarters of a run more in 2011 (2.72 to 3.49). His 12-13 record was a crushing blow to fantasy owners who drafted him off his 19-6 previous season. He faced a lot of opposing team "aces" and that won't change in 2012, so he needs to pitch better. It's tough to have an extremely low ERA in the AL East when you have to face both the Boston and New York offenses on multiple occasions. Still, we're expecting at least 18 wins from the young left-hander.
10) Cole Hamels, Philadelphia (3.174) - Hamels has improved his ERA, WHIP and won/loss record in each of the past two seasons. His 14-9 record with a stunning ERA of 2.79 and WHIP of 0.986 would make him the "ace" of most staffs, but in Philadelphia he's "only" No. 3. That's actually a bonus as he faces the No. 3 pitcher for the opposing team, not their ace (see David Price). A repeat of last season is probable, but you can't expect much more.
Remainder of the Top 25:
11) Dan Haren, Anaheim (3.339)
12) Ian Kennedy, Arizona (3.054)
13) Zack Greinke, Milwaukee (3.238)
14) James Shields, Tampa Bay (3.089)
15) Jon Lester, Boston(3.372)
16) Michael Pineda, New York Yankees (3.648)
17) Matt Cain, San Francisco (3.562)
18) Josh Beckett, Boston (3.180)
19) Stephen Strasburg, Washington (3.508)
20) C.J. Wilson, Anaheim (3.233)
21) Josh Johnson, Miami (3.111)
22) Tommy Hanson, Atlanta (3.292)
23) Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee (3.355)
24) Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco (3.538)
25) Ricky Romero, Toronto (3.333)
For a complete list of last year's SSRD360 statistics, click the following link:SSRD360
* - The Sports Network's SSRD360 Starting Pitcher Evaluator measures a starter's performance based on four factors (wins, ERA, WHIP and strikeouts) by comparing them to the league average.