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Fantasy Baseball 2012: Don't Wait on Starting Pitchers in 2012

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The conventional wisdom amongst fantasy writers across the internet is to wait on drafting starting pitchers because the last two years has been the year of the pitcher, and you can usually find a starter in the 10th-12th rounds that can put up ace equivalent stats. I am here today to tell you that you need to draft an ace starting pitcher in the first two or three rounds in 2012.

The reason why I say you can't wait on starting pitchers is two fold:

1. Drafting an ace early in your draft, someone in the top 10-12 starter rankings, sets up your staff with a starter who will provide you with quality starts in around 70% of their starts

2. Drafting an ace early allows your team pitching stats to not be overly impacted by a starter who gives you several terrible starts in a row, or for a starter who has underperformed expectations.

More on this after the jump:

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I suggest drafting one of the Top 10-12 starting pitchers in the first 2-3 rounds, and here is the Top 12 from Robert's early starting pitcher rankings for 2012:

1. Roy Halladay, PHI

2. Clayton Kershaw, LAD

3. Justin Verlander, DET

4. Felix Hernandez, SEA

5. Tim Lincecum, SFG

6. Cliff Lee, PHI

7. CC Sabathia, NYY

8. Cole Hamels, PHI

9. Zack Greinke, MIL

10. Jered Weaver, LAA

11. Dan Haren, LAA

12. David Price, TB

These 12 starters had plenty in common:

  • none had an ERA higher than 3.83 (Greinke, who had an FIP below 3.00) in 2011
  • 8 of the 10 had an ERA of 3.00 or lower
  • 11 of the 12 had an ERA below 3.50
  • 7 of the 12 had an ERA of 2.79 or LOWER
  • 5 of the 12 had an ERA of 2.41 or LOWER
  • All12 starters also had strikeout per nine rates of 7.25 or higher
  • 10 of the 12 had strikeout rates of 8.0 or higher
  • 11 of the 12 had ground ball rates of 40% or higher
  • all 12 had a WHIP of 1.23 or lower
  • 7 of the 12 had a WHIP of 1.04 or LOWER

The popular school of thought is if you draft a starter that strikes out at least 20% of the batters you face, and induces ground balls against 40% of the remaining batters he faces, then more than likely that starter will have a low ERA/FIP, a low WHIP, and solid strikeout totals, which are three of the five pitching categories in 5 x 5 leagues.

I am writing this article because I made the mistake of not drafting an ace starter in the UBA NL-Only 4 x 4 keeper league last season. I went into the draft with Ubaldo Jimenez and Mat Latos as my top starters, both coming off breakout seasons in 2012. Even though I owned closers Craig Kimbrel and Drew Storen heading into the draft, I felt that I needed another closer, as Storen was not the closer for the Nationals on draft day. So, what did I do? I drafted Diamondbacks closer J.J. Putz for $27. Come May, I owned 3 closers, as Storen had won back the closer's job in Washington.

And, if you remember last May, Ubaldo and Latos had both struggled to start the season, so I was lagging in the wins, ERA and WHIP categories. I proceeded to deal for Brewers starter Shaun Marcum in the May-June time frame. I then traded for Brewers starter Zack Greinke, Giants starter Tim Lincecum and Dodgers starter Hiroki Kuroda in the second half of the season as my team continued to lag in the wins, ERA and WHIP categories. I am pretty sure I was in the middle of the pack in wins, last in ERA and near last in WHIP in late July.

All 4 starters I traded for pitched effective enough for me to catch up in the 3 categories to allow me to win the league, but it was the trades for Greinke, Lincecum and Kuroda that made the biggest difference, and in a short period of time. I owned Greinke for just his last 9 starts, and Kuroda and Lincecum for their last 11 starts. In the time between the trades to the end of the season, I moved up 6 points in wins, 8 points in ERA and 7 points in WHIP.

Had I drafted an ace starter or two on draft day, I would have been better off from the start of the season. I won't make that mistake again, in any league. In my NL-Only redraft league, I plan on drafting a starter in the second round this season, where ptichers like Clayton Kershaw, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee will be available.

In the UBA league, I traded a $29 Tim Lincecum this offseason, but recently traded for a $24 Cole Hamels and a $15 Matt Garza. Including Greinke, I now have three starters who I am confident can provide ace like stats in 2012.

Sure, there will be pitchers who have breakout seasons in 2012, or pitchers who have bounce back seasons, but there are only so many of them each year. And to attempt to predict who will break out is a difficult endeavor. Counting on a starter like Ubaldo Jimenez last year, who was coming off a breakout season of his own, can lead to pitchers not meeting expectations, and killing your pitching stats.

So, fantasy owners should let other owners in their league wait on drafting starting pitchers in 2012, and draft a couple established, or ace-like, starters who have more than one year of ace-like stats on draft day. This will allow you to focus on hitters in rounds 4 through 12 and not have to worry about drafting that starter who COULD put up ace-like stats in 2012, as you will already have at least one, possibly two, aces on your roster.