The top 20 or so pitchers heading into this season all have one thing in common, with one or two exceptions: they all managed to stay healthy in 2005 and posted great numbers as a result. More than at any other position, health is huge among starting pitchers. Today's Cy Young hopeful is tomorrow's candidate for Tommy John surgery. Take it from a guy who pegged his 2005 hopes on Kerry Wood and Oliver Perez, then had to scramble to finish seventh out of 12 teams. Not coincidentally, you won't find either Wood or Perez in our top 50 for 2006.

Perez, the Pirates left-hander, is a great example of how fickle this position can be. He came into 2005 held in the same high esteem as guys like Jake Peavy, Roy Oswalt and Carlos Zambrano after leading the majors with a 10.97 strikeouts per nine innings a year earlier. One lousy, injury-marred season later and he's off the list.

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One noteworthy newcomer to the top 50 - Seattle phenom Felix Hernandez, who's listed at No. 10, right between NL Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter and Cubs studs Mark Prior and Zambrano. Heady competition, but believe the hype - King Felix will be great for years to come. His stuff is dynamite.

Looking at Childs' picks, I'd probably move Zambrano up a few notches. It says a lot that the Cubs were reportedly willing to include Prior but not Zambrano in a trade for Miguel Tejada this winter. Amazing that he's only 24. You just have to hope three straight seasons of more than 200 innings pitched don't catch up with him.

The A's seem to have this pitching thing down to a science. Last year it was out with Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder, in with Danny Haren and Joe Blanton. Neither missed a beat in his first full pro season. Blanton, who had a 2.65 ERA in the second half, is worthy of a higher ranking, but Childs is understandably enamored with strikeouts, so I'll let that slide. Rich Harden, meanwhile, is an ace in the making, and don't sleep on Barry Zito, who shook off an atrocious first month to put up respectable numbers. Even Esteban Loaiza looks like a nice pickup for Oakland after a bounce-back year in Washington. Put it all together and the A's rival the White Sox for the best starting five in baseball.

Doug Davis is a guy I love; he's sneaky good. His 2005 numbers (208 Ks, for starters) stack up pretty favorably against those of Randy Johnson, Prior and John Lackey, save for a few wins. The Brewers should be better in '06, and Davis should win at least 15 games. Washington's John Patterson is another one to watch. He won't get to 15 wins, but he'll help in every other category while pitching at cavernous RFK. His K/9 IP ratio (8.39) indicates he's no fluke. Ditto for Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir, who equaled Johnson in that category a year ago. As Childs points out, Kazmir needs to command his pitches better and cut down on his walks. If he does, and I expect he will, he'll take a giant step forward in '06.

Notable by his absence - my man Zach Duke. The Pirates lefty took the NL by storm in the second half of '05, pitching to an 8-2 record with a minuscule 1.81 ERA and 1.20 WHIP before shutting it down late in the season due to an ankle injury. Duke's strikeout numbers aren't overwhelming, and he won't sniff a sub-2.00 ERA in '06, but he still cracks my top 40.

It's no shock to see just one Oriole in the top 50, but it is surprising that it's Bruce Chen, and not Erik Bedard, who made the list. Bedard got off to such a great start a year ago (5-1 with a 2.44 ERA through May) before a knee injury derailed his season. No one doubts his ability, but his durability and attitude have been questioned. It's one thing to put it together for a couple of months, another thing to do it for an entire season. But with Leo Mazzone on board, I like Bedard's chances. He's a potential steal as a No. 4 or 5 starter in a 12-team mixed league.

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