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Check the Position: SP1

Over the offseason we’ll take a look at each position on the diamond and see how the past season affected the positional rankings and where there might be some potential bounceback value picks going into next year’s drafts. (See shortstops, catchers, second basemen, first basemen, third basemen, right fielders, left fielders and center fielders.)

Of course, when it comes to pitchers, the format suffers. We’re certainly not about to do tiered rankings for the top 75+ pitchers that get drafted every year in mixed leagues – that would be one long post. Instead, I’m going to cover the pitchers by their location on your team. The first group consists of pitchers that could or should be selected to be fantasy aces in 2010. Let’s take a look.

This is where I drop some caveats. Everyone has their preferences, so order this tier as you will. The first tier is meant to be the no-doubt-about-it group. All of these guys won’t give you the strikeouts of Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke, but they’ll come within a strikeout or two per nine innings. They won’t all have the miniscule WHIPs of Dan Haren or Roy Halladay, but none of them should break 1.2 in that category. They won’t all be the horse that CC Sabathia is, but they’ve all (so far) shown the ability to put close to 200 innings together. There are no guarantees when it comes to elbows and shoulders, but these guys look like bonafide studs.

The next group ain’t too shabby themselves. The first three only have question marks because they’re young and haven’t been doing this for ages. Despite my worries about Jon Lester‘s walk rate in the minors, he hasn’t shown any problems since he made his cancer recovery. Felix Hernandez broke out last year, and just needs to show it again. Justin Verlander seems to have fixed his delivery, but will what broke before break again? The next two guys have question marks are about age and health. Chris Carpenter is a walking question mark, and his ongoing health issues make him overvalued after strong years and undervalued after injured years. In other words, I owned him often last year and may not own him once next year. Instead, I may own Johan Santana often this year, who should be next year’s Carpenter, despite his worrisome declining velocity and strikeout rates. Cliff Lee never had great strikeout rates to begin with and is going to the tougher league, but he may get some support for a higher ranking.

Originally, there was a tier between Lee and Adam Wainwright, but that tier was born more of intuition than anything in the numbers. Wainwright made just as big of a leap forward as King Felix in some ways, why should he be in another tier? Perhaps this imaginary tier has a combination of questions. Wainwright broke out – and has durability questions. Josh Johnson can probably repeat his performance, given his history, but he has definite durability questions. He’s put together just 364 innings total from 2007-2009. Josh Beckett is a favorite of mine, but for some reason he keeps putting up ERAs that are much higher than his FIPs, and maybe that’s just how he rolls. Ubaldo Jimenez induces mad ground balls and strikes out plenty, but his stats are still borderline. Aw, heck, put that tier back in.

The “just off” tier gives you a preview of some nice SP2 values that you could pair with a late SP1 for your best strategic approach. Consider that the number one pitcher on this list is projected by Bill James to put up an 2.80 ERA and 1.12 WHIP with 261 strikeouts, while the tenth guy may “only” contribute 3.08 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 224 strikeouts. That, my friends, is why you wait to draft your starting pitchers.