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Ranking Reaction: NL SP

Our contribution to FantasyPros’ consensus rankings was filed today, and while my own tiers are still forthcoming, now is as good a time as any to take a look at my colleagues’ rankings. Having pitching as deep as it is this year is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it affords players the luxury of waiting until the middle or late rounds to build their staffs and means that an error in the first couple rounds — losing someone like Clayton Kershaw to injury for example, not that I think Kershaw is terribly risky — isn’t likely to be a fatal blow.

On the other hand, it makes doing these rankings virtually impossible. Who is the fifth best pitcher in the NL? Matt Cain? Zack Greinke? Cole Hamels? Solid candidates all, but picking The One is a tough ask. Generally speaking, I’m in line right with Eno, Jeff, Mike, and Zach, but here are a few things I wanted to highlight ahead of my own contribution.

*You can make a strong case for at least three pitchers to be the best pitcher in the NL, but I was surprised to see not one of the four panelists picked Kershaw to repeat his success from last year.

*I’m glad to see most of the rest of the crew sharing my enthusiasm for Greinke this year. His issues last year stemmed largely from one bad inning — namely, the 4th inning, where opponents posted a .981 OPS off of him and hit seven of the 19 home runs he allowed all year — and I just don’t see that happening again this year. He may struggle to keep his K/9 in double digits all year, but he has plenty of value even if he’s only in the 9.0-9.5 range, especially since he doesn’t have a rib injury to restrict the number of starts he’ll get this year.

*The voting split on Mat Latos is pretty indicative of my own feelings on him. He’s a really good pitcher, that’s a given, but it’s also a given that his move out of the NL West in general and PETCO in particular is going to hurt him. The Steamer projections have him down for a 1.30 WHIP and while that strikes me as too high, I think it’s equally unlikely he has anything lower than 1.10. Latos went in the 9th round of our latest mock draft, and that’s solid value for him, I’m just not sure how much earlier I’d be willing to go to grab him with some of my personal favorites — Jordan Zimmermann and Brandon Beachy — available consistently in the 10th round or later.

*Speaking of Zimmermann, the ranking team has him landing back-to-back with Anibal Sanchez, and which one you like more comes down to a question of whose atypical strikeout rate in 2011 is going to persist into 2012. Zimermann is tough to pin down because he has just one full MLB season under his belt, but with the leash off this season, I find it hard to believe that he’ll be anything lower than 7.5 K/9. He was certainly effective in the first half of last year without the strikeouts, but his fantasy value does take a hit if that’s no longer part of his arsenal.

Sanchez had the opposite trend: Prior to 2011, his K/9 was a workable-if-unspectacular 6.9, but he struck out better than a batter per inning during the season. I’m fine with his peripherals supporting his ERA and WHIP, it’s just that huge spike in strikeouts that has me wondering. His swinging strike rate is on a three-year climb, which would give some credence to the position that he’s going to be able to maintain that higher rate. Both the Marlins and Nationals should win Sanchez and Zimmermann more games than they did last year, so the choice between the two really comes down to strikeouts. Gun to my head, I think Sanchez is more likely to keep his high strikeout rate than Zimmermann is to get back into the 9.0 range this year, but I’m definitely interested in either of them now that Zimmermann is pitching without restriction.

*Because of how uncommon his season-ending injury was, Juan Nicasio wasn’t really on my draft radar. I expected him to be out for at least the first part of the season. He still may miss time, but if he does, it won’t be much. He’s already appeared in a pair of games this spring, but isn’t even getting drafted in most leagues. If he’s healthy, 73 is too low for him, and my money is on him getting at least 25 starts this season.

*I haven’t heard too much more about Edwin Jackson tipping pitches since this report came out. If they can fix his issues, I like him a lot this year. If that doesn’t solve his issues when he’s not in the stretch, it will probably another season like the last two. If that’s the case, he’s not bad, but he’s markedly less interesting as he doesn’t strike out nearly enough hitters to make up for his high WHIP.

I’ll be putting out tiered NL rankings at least once a month during the season, but if you’re looking for a more holistic or a mixed ranking, you’ll be in good hands with these four guys.