The 2012 baseball season is a long way off and isn't even on the radar for most sports fans right now.
This is understandable, considering the fact the NBA season is about to kick off, along with the fact that NFL playoff races are in full swing. Many of us are scrambling to get last minute Christmas presents too, with time running out!
The thing is, hardcore fantasy owners know that the early bird gets the worm. In this case, the dedicated fantasy managers are always researching players to draft so they have a leg up on their opponents.
Pitchers are an especially valuable piece to a good fantasy baseball team. Lets take a look at the top 15 pitchers going into 2012.
Jon Lester struggled down the stretch last season, giving up 26 runs in his last 10 games.
This doesn't change the fact that he was successful more often than not. He was still able to win 15 games, as well as post 182 strikeouts. He pitched in 191.7 innings and should at least match that number next season. His ERA was a solid 3.26 on the season.
At 27 years old, he still has a lot of life left in his arm. One bad stretch last season doesn't make him a bad option on your fantasy team.
The Boston Red Sox haven't given up on Lester; why should you?
Los Angeles Angels pitcher Dan Haren had a great season in 2011, but he isn't consistent enough to warrent a high draft pick.
He tends to struggle at times against bad teams and plays great against good teams. While playing to your competition is alright as long as you win in the clutch, terrible performances can kill a fantasy team. He was great against the Yankees and got pounded by the Orioles down the stretch.
Haren won 16 games in 2011, pitching 238.1 innings and posting a 3.40 ERA. Haren struck out 204 batters, looking un-hittable at times.
There is no reason he can't be a full-time starter on even the best fantasy teams in 2012.
The Arizona Diamondbacks found a true gem in young pitcher Ian Kennedy.
At only 26 years of age, Kennedy put together a great season in 2011. He has certainly come a long way since 2007, when he was drafted by the New York Yankees.
His 21 wins were second in baseball, behind only Detroit superstar Justin Verlander's 24 wins. Kennedy pitched 222 innings, striking out 198 batters while posting a 2.88 ERA.
There are games where he looks over matched, but not many. He only lost four games in 2011 and didn't always have much run support from his team. Kennedy is one of the best young pitchers in all of baseball; draft him if you can.
Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Zach Greinke has all of the tools to become an elite pitcher.
He has several pitches and can strike everybody out. Over the course of the 2011 season, Greinke struck out 201 batters. His two weaknesses are big ones, however, as his ERA was close to 4 and he was awful at times in the postseason last season. His 6.17 ERA in the postseason looked even worse than the numbers themselves!
All that being said, he is still an AL Cy Young award winner who has proven his worth to the Brewers. I wouldn't be too worried drafting him.
David Price is one of my favorite pitchers in baseball to watch.
For whatever reason, he struggled in 2011. Price remains a solid option in fantasy baseball even after going 12-13 with 218 strikeouts over 224 1/3 innings with a 3.49 ERA on the year. He is another player who struggles in the postseason, with an ERA at 5.00 and no wins.
He can throw the ball past anybody, and I still trust him to play more up to his potential than he did last season. He's still young at 26 years of age and should get better with added experience.
Price could end up being a true steal, especially if he can improve his game under pressure.
Tampa Bay Rays pitcher James shields has been known for his erratic play.
He's great at times and bad at others, rarely somewhere in between. This was true until the 2011 season, when Shields emerged as one of the best pitchers in the game. He won 16 games and should have won at least 20, but the Rays couldn't score runs.
He posted a 2.82 ERA, struck out 225 batters and pitched nearly 250 innings. All reports suggest he will remain with the Rays, but he should be a valuable fantasy option no matter where he plays.
San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum looks more like a homeless hippy than a professional baseball player. That is, until you see him throw a baseball!
Lincecum barely weighs 160 pounds dripping wet, but he throws the ball with the force of a much bigger man. He finds his spots, too, attacking the strike zone as well as tricking batters into chasing bad pitches.
The 27-year-old has already won two NL Cy Young Awards, and last season, he finished fourth in the NL with a 2.74 ERA. He only won 13 games, but he had very little run support all season. He would have won 20 games with a decent offense behind him. The Giants scored two or less runs for him in 16 out of 32 starts.
Still, he is a top-10 fantasy pitcher in 2012.
It's unbelievable to think Cole Hamels is only the third-best pitcher on his own team.
This should scare every team in baseball, especially those in the National League who have to face the loaded Philadelphia Phillies multiple times a season. My main worry with Hamels is that although he is only 28, he has had two surgeries that could impact his play.
He had both performed back in October and is expected to be ready for spring training, but will he be as effective? One surgery was to remove loose bodies from his left elbow, and the other was to repair a sports hernia.
Despite these setbacks, Hamels is coming off a 14-win season and posted a career-best 2.79 ERA over 31 starts. He also racked up 194 strikeouts over his 216 innings. Keep an eye on how his rehab progresses leading up to your fantasy draft.
Felix Hernandez is another great pitcher who is hindered by a bad team, especially offensively.
His ERA wasn't great at 3.47, but he has some of the best action on his pitches in all of baseball. He won 14 games despite the Seattle Mariners' struggles and showed no signs of slowing down all season.
He struck out 222 batters, good enough for sixth best in baseball. His 233.7 innings pitched is also in the top 10, and he is young enough to be able to pitch just as often next season.
He should approach the top five if Seattle can give him any help at all, but that is a big if.
Los Angeles Angels ace Jered Weaver is one of the best pitchers in the game.
It's should come as no surprise that he finished his 2011 season with an 18-8 record and a 2.41 ERA over 33 starts and 235 2/3 innings. Weaver struck out 198 over that time frame and could easily take that over 200 in 2012.
Unlike some of the other teams, I expect the Angels offense to pick it up next season. They have rallied around Weaver in the past, and his play should cause that to happen more often. The rest of the team and coaching staff expect wins with him on the field, and he brings his best effort most of the time.
He shows his stuff no matter what time of the year it is; this guy is a winner.
C.C. Sabathia's game is as big as he is, which makes the New York Yankees the perfect team for him.
As lazy and out of hape this man appears to be, he always seems to be available and plays well. He has proven to be one of the most durable pitchers in major league baseball, pitching at least 230 innings in each of the last five seasons. With the Yankees explosive offense behind him, the sky is the limit.
The big man won 19 games last season with 237 innings pitched and struck out 230 batters. He has an ERA over 4, but that doesn't matter when the Yankees score in bunches.
Sabathia will once again be a top-five fantasy pitcher, possibly top three.
While Cliff Lee is getting up there in age at 33, he remains one of the best pitchers in the big leagues.
The veteran once again put up huge numbers. He won 17 games, struck out 238 batters and kept his ERA well under 3 in 2011. I can only imagine the kind of numbers Lee would put up if he was the Phillies only ace! We would probably be talking about 25 to 30 wins as loaded as this team is offensively.
It wouldn't surprise me one bit if Cliff Lee was the first pitcher off of the board in several leagues around the world. He's a proven winner who seems to get better every season.
At just 23 years old, Clayton Kershaw has established himself as a top-three pitcher in the National League.
The Los Angeles Dodgers star won the National League Cy Young award in 2011 and looks to win several more before his career is over. Kershaw’s ERA of 2.28 led all starting pitchers in baseball, and his 248 strikeouts ranked second behind the Detroit Tigers ace, Justin Verlander.
It's no wonder he won 21 games in 2011, and even if his game dipped a little in 2012, he should be one of the best pitchers on the board.
At 34 years old, one can't help but wonder how much Roy Halladay has left in the tank.
The Philadelphia Phillies hope his game lasts forever. Last season marked Halladay’s sixth straight with at least 220 innings pitched and his second in a row with an ERA below 2.50 at 2.35. He won 19 games for the Phillies too.
Halladay also set career highs with 220 strikeouts and 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings, making fantasy owners plenty happy. There is no reason for anything to change until he struggles, so draft him if you get the chance.
Did you think I forgot about Justin Verlander?
The Detroit Tigers superstar is still only 28 and has gotten better every season. Less than one week after winning the American League's Cy Young award, he was voted as the winner of his league's Most Valuable Player award too. I'm sure he expected a lot going into the 2011 season, but not this much!
He led the Tigers to a MLB-best 24 wins and also led all pitchers with 250 strikeouts and innings pitched with 251. He's both durable and dependable in all phases of the game. His ERA was great too, coming in at 2.40.
Verlander is the best pitcher in the game, folks; you shouldn't need anybody to tell you that!