Those of you that are regular readers of this space know my opinion on drafting pitchers early: With so many players that impact your team on a daily basis, it is hard for me to draft ones that only take the ball once every five days.

On top of that, it seems that we regularly see too many injuries or bad seasons to take the risk in these early selections. Factor in that controlling for wins is almost impossible—just ask Felix Hernandez—and we often are selecting pitchers that control only four of the five categories in their own section of the world.

This season was no exception.

There were typical success stories that marked the landscape, but there were just as many problems for fantasy owners that could have impacted them over a long season. It is not always the draft pick that you make, but the players that you pass up in exchange that can compound an issue.

Look at the case of Tim Lincecum.

Lincecum was considered by many to be a first-round selection this season and had an ADP in ESPN leagues of 8.7. Drafting him, you received 231 strikeouts, 16 wins, and a 3.41 ERA with a 1.27 WHIP. Those numbers seem strong overall.

What if you were told that, 32 picks later, you would have received three more wins, a lower ERA, a lower WHIP, and only six fewer strikeouts if you drafted Jon Lester?

If you had waited 100 picks, you would have lost 19 strikeouts and three wins, but picked up a half a run in ERA and improved your WHIP by selecting Clayton Kershaw.

Another 35 picks after you could have gotten more strikeouts, a better ERA, and a better WHIP despite three less wins by taking Jered Weaver.

What’s the point?

Even the most sure things at the beginning of the season can turn out to look less than favorable and provide opportunity for late picks to shine.

There were 15 pitchers in 2010 that struck out more than 200 batters. Of those 15, seven were selected after the 90th pick, making them available in 12-team leagues after Round 7. If you were concerned with trying to draft wins, would you necessarily have thought that, of the top 25 in total wins, 11 of them would have gone in the final five rounds?

That’s right: There were 24 pitchers with at least 15 wins and 10 did not crack the top 200 in ADP. That is the exact reason why drafting wins is such a crap shoot from year to year.

The other two categories saw just as many surprising names. ERA is one piece to the puzzle. There were 15 pitchers that had at least 25 starts and posted an ERA under 3.00. Jered Weaver was just outside that mark at 3.01 on the year. Nine of those pitchers were picked after the 110th selection in the draft, with eight going later than 150th and four going later than 200th.

WHIP produces the same story: Baseball produced 15 pitchers with a WHIP of 1.15 or below and eight were selected after pick 140, with five going after pick 200.

This year, we saw fewer disappointments than in the past with regard to the pitchers that were selected early on. The biggest issues were probably with Josh Beckett, Zack Greinke, and Javier Vazquez. All of these pitchers were selected inside the top 75. That does not necessarily make them an anchor, a top-60 player who went in the first five rounds, but it’s certainly close. Dan Haren is a fringe name that could find his way on to this list as well. Despite their draft position, not one of these players ranked in the top 25 of pitchers overall in ESPN rankings.

While I’ll admit to having been off in my comparison to Daisuke Matsuzaka, Vazquez was a name who may have disappointed based on his draft position, as referenced in this post.

The question continues to come up whether players like Roy Halladay are worth drafting in the first round next year. Halladay has been utterly dominant this season and was selected at the end of the first round or early in the second this past season. If selected there again, the pressure on owners will be immense for him to duplicate that type of performance. He has had one of the best seasons for a pitcher in recent memory, and expecting the same may leave owners disappointed.

The volume of turnover among the top-tier pitchers is much greater than in other positions. Halladay may seem safe now, but one injury could cost you not just your ace pitcher but your first-round selection. All the factors above suggest passing on a pitcher even of this caliber.

The greater concern would be pitchers that will be overdrafted as a result of stellar performances this season, as is often times the case. One name that springs to mind is Mat Latos.

Latos came out of nowhere to dominate with the Padres this season to post a 2.92 ERA and 1.08 WHIP, along with 189 strikeouts in 184 innings of work. He threw just 50 major league innings in 2009.

Trevor Cahill and Tim Hudson do not have the same innings changes, but they did produce similarly surprising statistics that will give them a major jump in ADP this season over last. Weaver will see the same type of move.

These are just a few names where fantasy owners will want to be more careful, as each year we see an overachiever fall off just as dramatically. Look at how excited everyone was over David Price at the end of 2008 and what happened to him over the bulk of 2009.

Overall, there was greater stability in the position this season, but it is the first time in several years that a major injury has not taken down a top-tier ace for the bulk of the season. We continued to see pitchers pile up solid statistics seemingly out of nowhere. The key for fantasy owners will be knowing where to look for these same situations in 2011 when they decide not to make the move for an ace early.

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