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Fantasy Baseball 2012: Top 30 Starting Pitchers from This Point Forward

Jay ClemonsFantasy Sports Lead WriterJune 29, 2012

Fantasy Baseball 2012: Top 30 Starting Pitchers from This Point Forward

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    The following countdown touts my picks for the top 30 starting pitchers in fantasy—from this point forward.

    To clarify, this listing is not necessarily a celebration of those who posted stellar stats from April 4-June 28 or those who were prominently featured in the preseason rankings.

    It's simply a compilation of the best assets moving forward. It's also a rundown of the 30 most appealing starting pitchers (plus Tim Lincecum) to pursue in trades for the stretch run.

    When originally crafting the list, I was surprised that neither Dan Haren, Ian Kennedy nor Jon Lester made the final cut. But in a season where the real depth at starting pitcher runs almost 65 deep, hard choices had to be made somewhere.

    Do the math: There are 30 MLB teams and only 30 available slots, with no guarantee that every club would garner representation. Ouch.

    Enjoy the show!

30a: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants

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    2012 Stats: 3-8, 5.60 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 99/47 K/BB ratio

    30-Day Stats: 1-3, 4.42 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 41/18 K/BB ratio


    Forget about Lincecum's wretched numbers from a 30-day or seasonal perspective. Forget about how his preseason stock may have lost about 85 percent from its original value back in March.

    As long as Lincecum (lifetime 3.19 ERA/1,226 strikeouts/back-to-back Cy Young awards in 2009-10) is healthy, as long as he demonstrates the ability to go six or seven innings at every turn, as long as he's completely focused on helping the Giants win a highly competitive National League West, I will never turn my back on this extraordinary talent.

    It's as simple as that.

    Therein lies the beauty of acquiring Lincecum for pennies on the trade dollar: Prospective fantasy owners can guarantee the enigmatic veteran a baggage-free, fresh start the next time he takes the mound.

30: Johan Santana, New York Mets

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    2012 Stats: 5-4, 3.00 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 90/31 K/BB ratio

    30-Day Stats: 3-2, 3.48 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 30/15 K/BB ratio


    If Brandon Morrow (DL—oblique injury) was enjoying a healthier status with the Blue Jays, he would have absolutely been ranked higher than Santana.

    But Johan gets a countdown reprieve, based on a long-standing track record of success...and three outings of zero runs allowed since May 26 (including a no-hitter on June 1).

    Here's another factoid in Santana's favor: In his last seven outings, he has 44 strikeouts, with a range of five to eight punch-outs each time.

    In case you're wondering, Santana earned the final countdown slot (Lincecum exemption aside) over Matt Harrison, Dan Haren, Ivan Nova, Shaun Marcum, Max Scherzer, Colby Lewis, Jon Lester, Felix Doubront, Phil Hughes, Matt Moore, Tommy Hanson and Matt Garza.

29: Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers

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    2012 Stats: 10-4, 3.57 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 106/50 K/BB ratio

    30-Day Stats: 3-2, 4.15 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 40/15 K/BB ratio


    It's not in my nature to blindly support pitchers with mediocre walk-to-strikeout ratios.

    But Darvish has three significant factors in his favor, compared to countdown casualties like James Shields or Jordan Zimmermann:

    1. Darvish currently boasts a top-10 ranking in victories and strikeouts.

    2. Darvish has already racked up four games of 10 or more strikeouts, a factoid that obscures six outings of four or more walks.

    3. With 1,024 innings under his belt in the Japanese League (2007-11), Darvish is not your typical MLB rookie. Hence, I doubt the Rangers will keep the 25-year-old hurler on a pitch count during the pennant drive.

28: James McDonald, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    2012 Stats: 7-3, 2.44 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 86/26 K/BB ratio

    30-Day Stats: 3-1, 2.93 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 23/7 K/BB ratio


    From the outside looking in, here's one way to interpret McDonald's underwhelming ranking: I'm simply waiting for the other shoe to drop on an unheralded asset who's clearly pitching over his head.

    And to that, I, maybe.

    To clarify, I would love nothing more than to be proven wrong about any anti-McDonald sentiments from this point forward, but I just don't see a way for him to maintain his rising-star status in fantasy without a noticeable uptick in strikeouts.

    Simply put, it's hard to imagine McDonald holding opposing offenses to three runs or less for nine consecutive starts again.

    The law of averages—especially when dealing with historically average pitchers—demands this to be the case.

    McDonald has been amazing in his last 10 outings, allowing less than two runs nine times; and in that span, he went 10-for-10 in recording two walks or less.

27: Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee Brewers

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    2012 Stats: 6-6, 4.14 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 95/42 K/BB ratio

    30-Day Stats: 3-2, 4.06 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 42/14 K/BB ratio


    Yovani Gallardo's treacherous start to the season has all been forgotten by fantasy owners who chose not to jump ship in mid-April.

    In his last 10 outings, Gallardo has surrendered three or less runs nine times; and in that span, he's yielded three or less walks eight times.

    But the real trust factor moving forward lies with strikeouts. Gallardo has tallied at least seven punch-outs in 46 percent of his appearances this season.

    Of the pitchers in this countdown, I'll wager Gallardo finishes top five in that category, from June 29 to Sept. 30.

26: Mat Latos, Cincinnati Reds

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    2012 Stats: 6-2, 4.77 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 83/28 K/BB ratio

    30-Day Stats: 2-0, 5.16 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 32/6 K/BB ratio


    The seasonal numbers for Mat Latos paint the picture of an over-hyped talent who has been unreliable in his first year with the Reds.

    But since his eight-run, nine-hit implosion against the Cardinals on April 18, the kid (he's only 24) has gone 12-straight outings without a loss (with six victories); and he boasts a sparkling 35/6 strikeout-to-walk ratio since May 27.

    That includes a 13-strikeout, complete-game gem against the Brewers on June 25.

    Bottom line: Latos is certainly not a No. 1 anchor in 12-team leagues (too many wild momentum swings). But he is an attractive trade commodity from this point forward, especially with owners who aren't dependent on ERA for a rise in the standings.

    His ability to carry clubs in strikeouts and wins more than justifies his standing as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter.

25: Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies

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    2012 Stats: 4-5, 3.98 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 56/14 K/BB ratio


    From a pure talent standpoint, Halladay should never garner a No. 25 ranking.

    But being shelved with a shoulder strain and having no effect on the Phillies' pennant drive (until July 20 or so) has hindered Halladay's chances of posting stellar seasonal numbers. And even if he returns to the rotation after just six weeks on the sidelines, it's unlikely Philly will let him go eight innings in every start.

    There's the rub with injured starting pitchers: Upon returning, they only get a chance to impact a fantasy roster once every five days; and for Halladay, that's maybe 11 total starts after the July 20 target date.

    That aside, he's still pitching royalty.

24: Wade Miley, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    2012 Stats: 9-3, 2.19 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 64/18 K/BB ratio

    30-Day Stats: 3-2, 1.89 ERA, 0.68 WHIP, 32/2 K/BB ratio


    OK, so Miley doesn't possess the high-strikeout capacity of a typical fantasy ace.

    But that's a tiny, almost irrelevant point to make when reflecting on Miley's out-of-nowhere fantasy breakout...and No. 1 spot in the Arizona rotation. (Sorry, Ian Kennedy and Trevor Bauer.)

    Of his last nine starts (spanning 63.1 innings), Miley has allowed three or less runs nine times; and in his last 10 outings, he's a perfect 10-for-10 in yielding two or less walks.

    From a short-term perspective, the second-year Miley also boasts a 23/2 K/BB ratio since June 13, while surrendering only three total runs.

    The best part about Miley's first-half greatness? Miley's investment off the waiver wire (back in April or May) likely didn't cost his owners more than one FAAB dollar—if that.

23: Lance Lynn, St. Louis Cardinals

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    2012 Stats: 10-3, 3.23 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 92/30 K/BB ratio

    30-Day Stats: 2-2, 4.76 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 32/10 K/BB ratio


    It wouldn't be a stretch to say that Lynn (MLB's first 10-game winner) was the biggest surprise of the recent fantasy All-Star countdown—ahead of Mark Trumbo and even Jose Altuve.

    And for this countdown, let's hope his recent downturn (11 runs allowed in 11.1 innings) isn't the start of a prolonged slump.

    Lynn's best year in the minors (2009—three different levels) doesn't even compare to his April-June success in the majors.

    In his first 13 starts, Lynn allowed just three runs or less 12 times...and that one "clunker" resulted in four runs and five strikeouts on May 18.

    Bottom line: Lynn's a sketchy future pick, which explains the underwhelming ranking. I hope to be wrong on this assessment.

22: A.J. Burnett, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    2012 Stats: 9-2, 3.31 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 69/29 K/BB ratio

    30-Day Stats: 6-0, 2.33 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 30/17 K/BB ratio


    At the very least, Burnett has already clinched the award for MLB Comeback Player of the Year. That's quite a feat for a guy who didn't even start the season on time due to a fractured orbital bone.

    Check out Burnett's progress in his last 10 starts: Since May 8—just six days after Burnett imploded against the Cardinals (12 runs and 12 hits)—he has allowed only 16 runs in 66 innings (2.18 ERA). In that span, he collected 52 strikeouts and eight victories (in eight games).

    Now, am I ready to guarantee that Burnett can replicate his two-month success for July, August and September? Absolutely not. But he has certainly earned the right to flourish or fail in a low-risk, high-reward market like Pittsburgh.

21: Ryan Vogelsong, San Francisco Giants

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    2012 Stats: 7-3, 2.23 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 67/33 K/BB ratio

    30-Day Stats: 4-1, 2.02 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 21/7 K/BB ratio


    There may be no greater example of unheralded excellence than Ryan Vogelsong, the third component to fantasy baseball's best pitching trio (along with Matt Cain/Madison Bumgarner).

    The veteran right-hander has claimed victory in seven of his last eight decisions. He hasn't allowed more than three runs in any of his last 11 starts (1.77 ERA in that window). And in that span, Vogelsong pitched seven-plus innings on all 11 occasions.

    However, the casual baseball observer still might think Tim Lincecum or Barry Zito serve as better pitching options for the Giants. They might not realize Vogelsong is steamrolling toward personal bests in wins (13), ERA (2.71), WHIP (1.25) and strikeouts (139).

    The brutal truth: At this moment, there's plenty of separation between Vogelsong and Lincecum/Zito.

20: Chris Capuano, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    2012 Stats: 9-3, 2.69 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 89/31 K/BB ratio

    30-Day Stats: 2-2, 3.62 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 31/10 K/BB ratio


    It's a weird statement to make, but in just 16 starts, Chris Capuano has already become a "sure thing" in fantasy circles, just like Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

    OK, so Capuano may never win a Cy Young or register 200 strikeouts in a single campaign, like Kershaw; but there's no trepidation with how he'll fare every fifth day, either.

    A typical bad day for Capuano entails three runs allowed and maybe four or five strikeouts, and a great day—as witnessed on June 17 against the White Sox—calls for 12 strikeouts and just one measly run.

    On the whole, Capuano is having more good days than bad this season. He's the ideal No. 3 starter and the perfect asset to ring in the top 20.

19: Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies

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    2012 Stats: 0-4, 3.72 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 86/17 K/BB ratio

    30-Day Stats: 0-2, 5.08 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 39/9 K/BB ratio


    For the record, I was neither sleep deprived nor clinically drunk when writing this particular stanza.

    So, before you fire off angry emails, comments or tweets for assigning a plum spot to a winless pitcher with a 5.08 ERA since May 30, hear me out:

    1. There is no defense for Cliff Lee allowing five runs in three of his last seven games, but he also boasts a 52/13 K/BB ratio in that stretch.

    2. In the last four full seasons (2008-11), Lee averaged 16.25 victories and 193.5 strikeouts.

    3. For the month of June 2011, Lee had a 5-0 mark with a 0.21 ERA and 0.69 WHIP. Two months later, Lee "regressed" to a 5-0 mark, with a 0.45 ERA and 0.78 WHIP.

    Bottom line: I don't mind waiting out Lee's inevitable breakout for a few more weeks.

18: Josh Johnson, Miami Marlins

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    2012 Stats: 4-5, 3.96 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 77/29 K-/B ratio

    30-Day Stats: 2-2, 2.41 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 32/11 K/BB ratio


    As a time-saver, please refrain from making definitive judgments about Josh Johnson based on seasonal stats.

    Here's the real scoop: Since May 9, Johnson has allowed three or less runs in nine consecutive outings for an ERA of 2.59 in that span. As icing for the cake, he had a 51/17 K/BB ratio during that window of redemption.

    It's been stated many times in The Fantasy Blog: Johnson has top-10 talent when healthy, and all indications point to another injury-free run of greatness in the season's final three months.

17: CC Sabathia, New York Yankees

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    2012 Stats: 9-3, 3.45 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 105/29 K/BB ratio

    30-Day Stats: 3-1, 3.03 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 36/8 K/BB ratio


    It's tough to slot Sabathia for two reasons:

    1. According to Erik Boland of, Sabathia is expected to miss only two starts (leading into the All-Star break) with a Grade-1 groin strain. That may seem like a fantasy-friendly diagnosis, but pitchers need a healthy groin to pitch effectively (duh!), and I'm worried that Sabathia may be prone to re-injury upon his return—not unlike Dodgers star Matt Kemp with his balky hamstrings.

    2. Even when healthy, Sabathia still gives up too many hits or too many walks per outing. Sure, he has a nice track record of streaky play in August/September (below); but that historical success can only be duplicated again if Sabathia has a healthy groin.

    As a compromise, a ranking outside the top 15 seems proper.

    Sabathia Track Record

    July: 25-25, 3.99 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 349/145 K/BB

    August: 41-12, 3.29 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 418/114 K/BB

    September/October: 2.82 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 360/122 K/BB

16: Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals

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    2012 Stats: 10-3, 2.78 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 108/35 K/BB ratio

    30-Day Stats: 3-2, 4.34 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 29/10 K/BB ratio


    I find it a bit troubling that Gonzalez hasn't gone more than 6.2 innings in his last five starts.

    But let's not be too damning in this assessment.

    Before June 26, Gio owned a streak of 13 consecutive starts with three runs or less; and of his 15 seasonal outings, he has recorded six-plus strikeouts 12 times.

    Can Gonzalez sustain the success of this season, or are the last 30 days a precursor to a slump that might carry on past the All-Star break?

    Historically speaking, Gio has cumulative winning records for July and September. On the flip side, he has an ERA of 4.43 or higher for July and August.

15: C.J. Wilson, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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    2012 Stats: 9-4, 2.36 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 81/41 K/BB ratio

    30-Day Stats: 3-0, 1.57 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 22/12 K-BB ratio


    Here's all you need to know about C.J. Wilson:

    In his last nine starts (covering 57.2 innings), Wilson has surrendered a meager 10 runs, for a scintillating ERA of 1.57.

    Yes, the seasonal strikeouts and WHIP look good. Yes, his opponents' batting average (.204) only trails that of Jered Weaver among Angels pitchers. And yes, Wilson has gone seven outings without a loss (and five victories).

    But in the final analysis, your primary objectives for targeting Wilson involve a rock-solid track record (3.35 or lower ERA for 2008-11) and the memory of his most recent nine-outing tear.

14: Jake Peavy, Chicago White Sox

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    2012 Stats: 6-4, 2.84 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 90/24 K/BB ratio

    30-Day Stats: 0-3, 2.36 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 26/12 K/BB ratio


    Thank goodness we don't track losses in fantasy baseball; otherwise, Peavy might be in danger of losing his top-15 status.

    In his last three outings—all losses—Peavy has surrendered only five runs. Think about that for a second. You have to be extremely unlucky to allow four walks and five runs over 22 innings and still come away with the dreaded "L" each time.

    Anomalies aside, Peavy has been magical for the White Sox, racking up 13 outings of three runs or less, 14 appearances of three walks or less and six games of seven-plus strikeouts.

    Wow, that's a lot of stats culled together in one graph. The point is, Peavy remains an elite fantasy pitcher even during his down time.

13: Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds

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    2012 Stats: 9-4, 2.26 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 79/25 K/BB ratio

    30-Day Stats: 4-2, 1.85 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 38/11 K/BB ratio


    In the last four years, I've been reluctant to endorse Johnny Cueto as a certifiable fantasy ace, given his lack of dominance in two prized pitching categories: strikeouts (per-season average: 133) and K/9 (6.9).

    But who am I to argue with Cueto's seasonal output in all four main categories, along with his across-the-board damage from a 30-day perspective?

    A 38/11 strikeout-to-walk ratio? If Cueto can maintain that proficiency for a sustained period, you'll never hear a dissenting word from me again.

    Speaking of which, Cueto should remain a top-15 asset throughout July, August and September.

12: Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants

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    2012 Stats: 10-4, 2.85 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 92/22 K/BB ratio

    30-Day Stats: 5-0, 2.42 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 45/8 K/BB ratio


    It's difficult to give Madison Bumgarner a top-10 ranking at this time based on five outings of four runs allowed since May 11.

    But given his recent tear of five-straight victories and three double-digit efforts in strikeouts, the memories of a sluggish May are dissipating with each passing hour.

    Did you catch the highlights of Bumgarner out-dueling Cincy's Johnny Cueto on Thursday night (June 28)? He threw a one-hit, two-walk, complete-game gem against one of baseball's hottest-hitting clubs.

    It was Bumgarner's third outing of zero or one run allowed since June 12. It may have been his finest performance of the season as well, and something that clinched his spot on the National League All-Star team.

11: David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

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    2012 Stats: 10-3, 2.95 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 90/34 K/BB ratio

    30-Day Stats: 4-1, 3.45 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 33/13 K/BB ratio


    David Price might have a mental block against teams with "New York" inscribed on their uniforms.

    In four outings against the Yankees or Mets this season, Price has surrendered 15 runs in 23.1 innings.

    Against the other clubs, Price has the following marks through 74.1 innings: 8-2, 2.31 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 65/23 K/BB ratio.

    Here's where things get tricky now: Price is slated to face the Tigers, Yankees, Red Sox, Indians and Angels—perhaps the five most prodigious offenses in the American League in the next few weeks.

    Let's hope he can maintain his season-long track record against non-New York squads. Four out of five great starts would be appreciated.

10: Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

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    2012 Stats: 9-2, 2.27 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 94/24 K/BB ratio

    30-Day Stats: 3-0, 2.15 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 33/8 K/BB ratio


    As great as Chris Sale has been in his second MLB season, the kid deserves a little extra credit for the journey that proffered this lofty ranking.

    From April 9-May 1, Sale was happily cruising along as a starting pitcher, holding the opposition to three or less runs in all five starts.

    One week later, Sale abruptly debuted as the White Sox closer, blowing a save in his only relief appearance for the year.

    On May 12, Sale resumed his role as a fixture in the Chicago rotation. What happened after that is the stuff of legend...or Screenwriting 101 in Hollywood:

    From May 12-June 9 (six starts and 62.1 innings), Sale had a 5-0 mark, 0.98 ERA, 0.71 WHIP and 43/7 K/BB ratio. In that span, he also ranked second in wins, third in ERA, fourth in K/BB ratio, second in opponents' batting average (.150) and second in WHIP among starting pitchers.

    His only peer during that stretch: Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey.

9: Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies

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    2012 Stats: 10-3, 3.03 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 106/25 K/BB ratio

    30-Day Stats: 2-2, 4.28 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 34/11 K/BB ratio


    This is a perfect example of conveniently looking the other way when a superstar asset experiences a performance lull.

    Hamels's 30-day numbers (above) haven't been so great, but there are no sustained worries about a short-term dip in production.

    In the trade market, Hamels should be viewed as a top-end ace in 12-team leagues, a rare difference-maker down the stretch.

    And if his price should come down a bit, compared to his sky-high value back in be it.

    Bottom line: This is an optimum time to acquire Hamels via trade.

    By any reasonable means necessary.

8: Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

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    2012 Stats: 6-5, 3.09 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 114/32 K/BB ratio

    30-Day Stats: 2-1, 2.91 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 39/10 K/BB ratio


    In my book, King Felix has earned the right to leapfrog the huddled mass of Tier II pitchers after a simple three-start audition.

    Since June 17 (spanning 23 innings), Hernandez has two wins, a 0.78 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and a 30/3 K/BB ratio.

    Granted, it's a short run of dominance; but given Felix's sterling record over the last five-plus seasons, it's also enough to supersede a rocky start or two in May.

    And now, prospective owners must find a way to navigate through Felix's newly adjusted market value. They'll have to move heaven and earth to acquire one of the few pitching prospects who can, figuratively speaking, move heaven and earth.

7: Zack Greinke, Milwaukee Brewers

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    2012 Stats: 9-2, 2.82 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 102/22 K/BB ratio

    30-Day Stats: 4-0, 1.67 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 40/7 K/BB ratio


    While Zack Greinke certainly deserves this ranking, it could get tricky for him and his fantasy owners from this point forward.

    With the Brewers mired in fourth place in the National League Central and Greinke headed for unrestricted free agency this winter, he's a prime candidate to be moved before the July 31 trade deadline if Greinke and Milwaukee don't strike a long-term contract extension soon.

    And just like the case of Cliff Lee getting traded from Seattle to Texas two summers ago, it's hard to predict how Greinke might fare during August and September, especially if he cannot control his destination for the final two months.

6: R.A. Dickey, New York Mets

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    2012 Stats: 11-1, 2.31 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 106/24 K/BB ratio

    30-Day Stats: 4-0, 1.12 ERA, 0.62 WHIP, 45/7 K/BB ratio


    Since R.A. Dickey has no more scheduled encounters with the Yankees, we'll just block out the five-run hiccup from June 24.

    From May 22-June 18 (covering six starts and 45.2 innings), Dickey had a 5-0 mark, 0.79 ERA, 0.64 WHIP and otherworldly ratio with walks and strikeouts (58/4). In that span, Dickey also cruised through five straight starts without surrendering one earned run.

    Since May 30, Dickey ranks third in wins, first in ERA, second in K/BB ratio, first in opponents' batting average (.134) and first in WHIP among top-30 starting pitchers.

    And in his last 10 starts, Dickey has yielded two or less runs eight times with just 12 total runs in that span (1.46 ERA).

    The only thing missing from Dickey's 2012 resume? A no-hitter.

5: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    2012 Stats: 5-4, 2.74 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 103/27 K/BB ratio

    30-Day Stats: 1-2, 4.08 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 46/12 K/BB ratio


    Kershaw can hang his hat on the following distinction: Of the 31 pitchers listed here, he holds the highest ranking among those who've fallen short of expectations after three months.

    That isn't to say Kershaw has been a disappointment. The game logs reveal very few clunkers on Kershaw's docket with just two outings of five runs allowed.

    But that's also the point. Kershaw has stealthily raised his bar of expectations to the point where elite pitchers, whether fair or not, are expected to provide elite stats approximately 75 percent of the time.

    As a result, Kershaw can also cling to this: Of the top 10 pitchers, he has the highest ceiling for July, August and September.

4: Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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    2012 Stats: 8-1, 2.31 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 66/18 K/BB ratio

    30-Day Stats: 2-0, 0.71 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 9/3 K/BB ratio


    If Jered Weaver hadn't gone 28 days between quality starts (thanks to a stint on the disabled list)or his recent strikeout rate hadn't been so sluggish, he'd be a prime candidate for the No. 1 ranking.

    As a consolation, though, he'll simply have to settle for being in position to capture his first Cy Young (American League), while leading the Angels to a playoff spot that might have seemed unthinkable back in late April.

    In his last 10 outings, Weaver has allowed two or less runs nine times; and in that span, he has also yielded three or less walks nine times.

    From what I gather, Weaver also leads the majors in starts with three hits or less surrendered (six) accounting for the microscopic WHIP from a 30-day and seasonal standpoint.

3: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

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    2012 Stats: 8-4, 2.52 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 113/28 K/BB ratio

    30-Day Stats: 3-1, 2.48 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 31/12 K/BB ratio


    At first blush, Verlander's game-by-game numbers really don't stand out from his fellow pitchers.

    But that progress deserves a second look.

    Verlander was denied victories in his first two starts, despite owning a 2-0 lead in the ninth inning twice. He has racked up eight or more strikeouts in back-to-back outings three times. And on May 18, he was a measly ninth-inning single from his third career no-hitter.

    And yet, fans of Verlander are still waiting for a big-time breakout that may confirm his endorsement as fantasy baseball's top ace.

    That's what I'm banking on from this point forward. Verlander is a good bet to post top-five numbers in wins, ERA, WHIP and strikeouts from June 29-Sept. 30.

2: Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

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    2012 Stats: 9-2, 2.60 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 118/23 K/BB ratio

    30-Day Stats: 4-1, 2.53 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 48/6 K/BB ratio


    This countdown has officially been published, but I'm still not entirely sold on the order of the elite six.

    R.A. Dickey has enjoyed the longest stretch of domination this season (five consecutive scoreless outings).

    Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw are the reigning Cy Young winners.

    Matt Cain has the eight-game winning streak and perfect game, and Jered Weaver has probably been the American League's best pitcher—minus one notable clunker against the Rangers (eight runs, 10 hits on May 13).

    For Strasburg, though, it simply comes down to this: Every fifth day, I have the confidence that he'll provide the greatest cluster of fantasy stats of any pitcher in the marketplace.

    That is, until his pitch counts or inning limits become restricted in August or September, as a means of preserving Strasburg for future campaigns.

1: Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants

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    2012 Stats: 9-2, 2.27 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 107/22 K/BB ratio

    30-Day Stats: 4-0, 1.25 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 41/9 K/BB ratio


    I've already taken a bow for assigning Cain the highest preseason ranking of any national fantasy guru, but is that enough of a reward?

    After all, we're talking about a certifiable stud with three 10-strikeout efforts, eight outings of zero or one run allowed and eight victories in his last eight decisions.

    He's also a lock to shatter previous career highs in wins (14), ERA (2.88), complete games (four), WHIP (1.09) and strikeouts (186).

    Put it all together, and the best pitcher from fantasy baseball's best staff has done plenty to warrant the No. 1 ranking.

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