This is the last of the fantasy rankings series. I'm going to post the rankings and then come back and fill in the write-ups after the Super Bowl as I'm not going to use my time with my nephews to be on the computer!
1. Justin Verlander - Verlander is clearly the #1 pitcher. He is a workhorse with the ability to throw a complete game, shutout every single game out with 10 strikeouts. He'll end his season with 250 K and very good ERA and WHIP.
2. Clayton Kershaw - Kershaw is working his way into the lefty version of Verlander, but he doesn't quite have the same workload. He'll still put up very good strikeout numbers, ERA, and WHIP in one of the better pitcher parks in the league.
3. Felix Hernandez - Felix is not going to get you 20 wins. Okay, now that's out of the way, and we can realize that he basically gives you everything else. He's very consistent on everything but his team results. He's thrown 230+ innings each of the last four years with an 8+ k/9 rate each season. Oh, and he's only 27 this year.
4. David Price - After a tough finish to 2011, Price was available as a 10-15 ranked starter in 2012 drafts. He won't be this season. Price is coming off a Cy Young season, has topped 200 innings each of the last 3 years, and he's averaged over 200 strikeouts the last three years. He's in his last season before arbitration, which could be his last year as a Ray, so if the Rays are out in July, he could be the premium pitcher available.
5. Jered Weaver - Weaver won 20 games in 2012 even though he suffered through some injuries that kept him from topping 200 innings for the first time since 2008. He's in a great park to keep his numbers down, and pitching in a division with the A's, Mariners, and Astros offenses can only help.
6. Cliff Lee - One of the signs of the lack of baseball knowledge many baseball writers possess was the panic over Lee's long drought before his first win of 2012. Lee was still pitching very well, but his team wasn't doing their job. That offense hasn't gotten any younger, and Lee hasn't either. That said, the last 5 seasons, he's averaged a 2.89 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and nearly 200K.
7. Stephen Strasburg - He's unlikely to get 200 IP this year as the Nationals continue to gradually increase his workload, but when he's striking out 11 batters each 9 innings, he'll still provide his owners with 200 K in 175 innings. He's a major injury risk, so he's placed here, but he has the closest talent level to Verlander in the league.
8. Chris Sale - I will be open here. I think Sale will blow up. His motion scares the crap out of me. I won't own him. That said, he put up great numbers in his first season starting, with a 9 k/9 rate, 17 wins, and a 1.14 WHIP. You will have to pick him early to have a chance to own him.
9. Cole Hamels - Outside of a rough 2009, Hamels has been a guy consistently around 200 K, a 3 ERA, and a 1.1 WHIP. He will be the #2 or #3 starter on his own team, which is remarkable to consider.
10. Zack Greinke - Outside of his 2009 Cy Young season, Greinke has had a career strikingly similar to Javy Vazquez. He has a ton of great fantasy numbers, but his ERA has been around 3.5 outside of that one season. I will likely not own Greinke as you'll have to pay him well to get him, and his numbers have only warranted them once.
11. Roy Halladay - Halladay had his first season under 220 innings since 2005, and people are ready to write him off already. I don't see it. He didn't quite have the bite that he normall did, and I think he tried too hard to pitch through things in 2012. With him back to full health to start 2013, we could see the Halladay of old.
12. Adam Wainwright - Wainwright took time coming back from his injury, struggling through his first half. He then posted a 2.75 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 72 innings in July/August before tiring in September. As he works his way back to full health in 2013, he'll be a 200K, ~3 ERA guy.
13. R.A. Dickey - Many people assume Dickey came from nowhere in 2012, but in the last three years, he's averaged a 2.95 ERA, 156 Ks, and over 200 IP. He's simply had the unfortunate experience of pitching for the Mets. He's not pitching for a team that should give him plenty of run support. He may not put up numbers like 2012, but he'll be very solid in 2013.
14. Matt Cain - Cain is only going to be 28 in 2013, and he's averaged a 2.93, 1.10 WHIP, and 180 K in the last four seasons. He's not a new story, he's simply one that most haven't grabbed onto yet. After his perfect game in 2012, he's no longer going to hide from notice. You'll have to pay at least this price to get Cain in 2013.
15. Josh Johnson - Johnson is the classic injury-prone pitcher. He's got one season EVER of 200 IP. Johnson is such an elite talent that he'll be picked this high, especially after being traded to the Blue Jays this offseason and getting plenty of attention. Pick with care at this rank, but if you can get him 10 pitchers behind this rank, he'd be a great pickup.
16. Jordan Zimmermann - If you're wondering what Strasburg will do for innings in 2013, look at Zimmermann, who is one year ahead of him on the innings progression. This year, he should have no restrictions, and he's put up ~3 ERA, ~1.15 WHIP, and 7 k/9. Those rates would give you a 175 K pitcher with over 200 innings.
17. James Shields - Shields is a true staff ace, even if he is not a fantasy one. He'll pitch a load of innings, and he puts up very solid, if not spectacular, numbers. He's cleared 200 IP every season since 2006 and he is a 200K pitcher every season. He isn't a low-ERA guy generally, but he keeps his team in every game and pitches a load of innings.
18. Gio Gonzalez - Gio's name has been drug through the mud (pun intented), but he had a very good first season in the National League. He won 21 games, struck out 200, and he brought his walk rate down significantly. He has a great skillset to continue these numbers going forward as well.
19. Yovani Gallardo - He's only in his age 27 season, and he's not a low-ERA guy. He has struck out 200 each of the last four seasons. YoGa has received nowhere near the attention he should for his production, but as a fantasy #2, he's excellent.
20. Jon Lester - For 4 straight seasons from 2008-2011, Lester had at least 15 wins, a sub-3.50 ERA, averaged over a strikeout per inning, and averaged over 200 innings. Then 2012 happened. Lester from 2008-2011 was an elite pitcher. His 2012 was unownable. This is a risky spot, but his elite production possibility warrants ranking here.
Unlisted, underrated: Doug Fister - No, I honestly don't think Fister has a chance of breaking into this top 20.. That doesn't mean he isn't underrated. He's put up a sub-3.50 and sub-1.20 WHIP the last three years. He had some injuries last season, but he's a classic pitcher that doesn't strike a ton out (likely 125-150 K's per season to be expected). In the modern area of pitching, he is an undervalued asset, a guy who is very consistent, game-in, game-out.
Unlisted, overrated: Anibal Sanchez - Interesting that both of my overrated/underrated pitchers are on the same staff. Sanchez interestingly went from teaming with Ricky Nolasco and now is with Max Scherzer. All three are guys who put up numbers that make someone think "this guy could be elite", but then will ruin your fantasy squad with weeks of bad outings all in a row. I've seen Sanchez ranked in the top 30 this year, and I just don't see it. The guy has the ability to strike out 200, but he also has very consistently ended up with a ~3.75 ERA and ~1.3 WHIP. In today's modern pitching era, that's not a guy that's a top 30 or even a "must own".
Position strategy - As you can see, the position is extremely deep, with a clear #1, but then a mess of guys from 2-14 that I feel could make a legit claim on the #2 spot. There's guys all the way down to #25 that could legitimately ace a fantasy staff, with the right roster creation, of course. When I put together my rankings, I had over 50 guys that I would consider on my draft list, depending on where I was at in the draft/auction. The position has a ton of depth, but it is also one of the more volatile in fantasy. One bit of warning/fantasy advice - we're in a new era. If you've been playing fantasy for years, you remember a time when a guy who struck out 150 with a 4.00 ERA and 1.30 WHIP was a #2-#3 fantasy starter. That guy now should be a streaming pitcher or on the waiver wire. Don't hold onto a pitcher that's blowing up your team. There were leagues lost because a guy refused to drop a Ricky Romero or Tim Lincecum last year as they had rough seasons and conversely won because the Lincecum or Romero owner quickly picked up a guy like Jake Peavy or Johnny Cueto, both of whom on average were undrafted in 2012. outside of the top 15 or so, don't hold onto anyone for sentimental reasons. Tommy Hanson was my Achilles heel last season in a number of leagues, so I'm not perfect at it either.
That wraps it up. I hope you all enjoyed as much as i enjoyed writing.