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Fantasy Baseball: An Early Look at 2013 NL Starting Pitcher Rankings

is it too early to say I love you to 2013 Adam Wainwright?
is it too early to say I love you to 2013 Adam Wainwright?

Ray (with a little help from myself) has been tackling this fun topic since the beginning of last week, covering all of the offensive positions. So, naturally, it was time to move over to the pitching side. For the purposes of both digging a little deeper into the arms you'll be looking for on draft day (and to help our our single-league players), we're going to split up the lists into American League and National League versions. Be sure to check out the ranks for the junior circuit from Ray tomorrow.

Now, the disclaimers. Of course, we at Fake Teams are not so powerful at predicting the future that we can guess where the free agent class of 2012 will end up -- which means that for the NL list, I'm picking only from the NL player pool as of today. On top of that, I am not assuming that any relief pitchers will be transitioned into the starting rotation. So while there may be loud whispers that the Reds will make Aroldis Chapman into a starter for next season, he will not be ranked on this list since it is still only speculation. And remember that these ranks are for the 2013 season ONLY.

Once the season is over, we will begin our annual review of our Preseason Position Rankings. Once those are complete, we will post our Position Rankings with detailed commentary on each player ranked. Yes, the offseason will be busy for us, but it is a long offseason, and it helps us get through the offseason just a little bit quicker.

In addition to our MLB Position Rankings, we will also be ranking our annual Prospect Position Rankings, which will be loads of fun.

So here is my way-too-early look at the Top 25 National League Starting Pitchers in 2013:

1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Stephen Strasburg
3. Cole Hamels
4. Adam Wainwright
5. Cliff Lee
6. Gio Gonzalez
7. R.A. Dickey
8. Matt Cain
9. Madison Bumgarner
10. Roy Halladay
11. Jordan Zimmermann
12. Kris Medlen
13. Johnny Cueto
14. Matt Harvey
15. Josh Johnson
16. Tim Lincecum
17. Yovani Gallardo
18. Mat Latos
19. Jeff Samardzija
20. A.J. Burnett
21. Ian Kennedy
22. Lance Lynn
23. Edwin Jackson
24. Jaime Garcia
25. Wade Miley

I went back and forth a few times as to who I would put in the #1 spot on this list. In fact, I just changed my mind again. I keep coming back to one differentiating point between Kershaw and Strasburg, and it's that I'm not sure if Washington will allow Strasburg to throw more than 200 innings next year. They've been very careful with him and appear to have him on the Jordan Zimmermann plan. Zimmermann is on pace to throw around 195 innings this year, and the Nationals have frequently pulled him after 6 innings, despite low pitch counts, to protect his arm. If you told me that Strasburg would pitch 215 innings in 2013, I'd take him #1, but until that happens, I'll lean towards Kershaw (who, by the way, is an absolute stud). [Editor's Note: This assumes that Kershaw does not require hip surgery, which would potential sideline him until May of 2013.]

As far as the Phillies "Big Three", this year marks the changing of the guard for me. Despite all of his success, I've ranked Hamels behind both Lee and Halladay the last two years, but that's over now. I am concerned about the drop in Halladay's ground ball rate, especially as he pushes into his age-36 season. It's no coincidence that he posted his highest HR rate this year since 2000, without the assistance of an out-of-whack HR/FB rate. Lee will be fine, but this is now two of the last three years he's had oblique injuries. Soft tissue injuries don't get less prevalent with age.

I'm all in on Adam Wainwright in 2013. His underlying numbers are nearly identical to his 2010 season and he'll have thrown 200 innings this year. What's unlikely to repeat are his .320 BABIP (highest of his career) and 67.6% strand rate (lowest of his career) -- these are likely due to a combination of bad luck and working through command issues in his return from Tommy John. Don't sleep on him -- he's a top-10 pitcher.

Among all starting pitchers who made at least 5 starts in 2012, here are the leaders in K/9: Max Scherzer (11.2), Stephen Strasburg (11.1), Matt Harvey (10.8). And with Harvey, it's no fluke. He's got huge stuff and a 12.1% swinging strike rate to boot (5th among starters with at least 5 starts). He's the most likely newcomer to the 200 K club in 2013.

Tim Lincecum since the All-Star Break: 6-4 with a 3.33 ERA, 1.34 WHIP and 73 K's in 73 IP -- including quality starts in 8 or his last 12. He's certainly not all the way back or anything, but he's shown me enough that you'd be hard pressed to find a better upside play outside the top-25 starters.

So lay it on me, what do you guys think?

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