It’s that time again. Draft season.
I’ve been laboring these rankings across the entire offseason, spending the time to create the pillars that these rankings will rest upon. 2020 was an unorthodox season and it makes for an even harder assessment for 2021 with smaller samples to analyze and uncertain playing time ahead. So before I begin writing a single blurb on 200 pitchers, I want to outline my philosophy when making these ranks.
These are important and will help you understand the numbers beside the names. The # ranking won’t help you, the fantasy manager, in your drafts unless you understand the why. In many cases, the player you should be drafting will not be the highest-ranked pitcher available. Take the time and you’ll be rewarded, I promise.
Quick note: To access all of my Top 200 rankings, you can navigate between each article in the boxes above. A quick easy way to jump between this behemoth of rankings as I wrote 29,000 words this year.
Let’s start with the basics.
1. This is impossible
Didn’t see that coming, did you? This isn’t me complaining, it’s more of an admission of fault. Trying to grasp human performance over a six-month sample is a task where getting 60% correct is a gift. Trying to do that after 2020’s sample where every pitcher was reacting differently to the pandemic, from ramping up a second time to in-season interruptions, we also had roughly a third of a sample to normally pull from. I’m going from the gut more than usual this season and it’s going to be a wild ride — let me know where you feel differently inside our Discord, Twitter, or in the comments.
2. These rankings are with standard 12-teamers in mind
That means wins, not quality starts. I’ll make a note where higher innings are expected and possible added value in QS leagues.
A 12-teamer also means there is a different weight on chasing upside vs. a stable “innings eater”, i.e. a “Toby”. That’s not to say that volume guys aren’t valuable (see #5), but outside of the dependable arms you know you’ll be holding through the year, you’re going to be surprised with the high number of decent ratio/quality start pitchers on your waiver wire. Past examples include arms like Kwang Hyun Kim, Brad Keller, Dakota Hudson, Marco Gonzales, Dereck Rodriguez, and countless others that were not worth your draft pick but helped when you needed them sporadically through the year.
3. You’re not drafting a best ball team
Drafts are wonderful. They grant all managers hope and excitement for the season ahead. The manager we are in that draft room can look at projections and forget the true nature of them.
You’re likely not going to hold onto players drafted past the 12th round.
Projections make it seem like if we draft a player, that’s what we get for the entire season. It doesn’t take into account the season’s fluctuations that will make you, the often diligent fantasy manager, drop them as they under-perform across the first half or even the first month. Keeping the faith to trust the pre-season projections is not your game. It’s a 12-teamer and it would be foolish to overlook the plethora of options available on the wire, and with this in mind, we should be drafting our teams differently.
4. There are six macro tiers
With #3 in mind, it changes the draft process. My goal is to draft roughly 4-5 starters in the first 10-12 rounds who I believe I can “keep the faith” and not drop through the season. Then the final 3-5 starters are drafted either as an upside stash or as an early streaming option to get early value in April, then drop to take a chance on an exciting unowned pitcher.
It’s the way to win in 12-teamers and it’s important to understand what role your pitchers will have when you draft them. So I’ve made my rankings as such and grouped in those larger macro tiers:
Dependable Starters: These are pitchers you have zero expectations of dropping through the season. This is Tiers 1-4, ending with Sixto Sanchez.
Risky Upside: After having the arms I expect to hold, we now have a crew of pitchers I’m excited for and could become staples by the end of the year. I have to acknowledge that they could fizzle early (Hey Zack Godley, Nick Pivetta, and Matthew Boyd! What brings your past selves here?) and treat them as such.
Injured Value: A small series of pitchers who will not be starting out of the gate, but are in the “Dependable Starters” tier once they hit the mound. You should be drafting them before the other tires. There’s no reason not to — you know they help your team at some point, while the pitchers I rank after don’t have that label.
Early Streamers: In past seasons, I’d be ranking the players past the injured tier in order of who I think over the course of the season could be the most valuable. This was wrong. As I mentioned, the idea that you’ll be holding onto a lottery ticket for months hoping they still breakout is simply a poor fantasy strategy. Instead, I’ve looked at the early schedules and outlined who could perform well early, making these pitchers targets for your draft to get ahead of the league. Then you can scour the wire and improve your team past April.
It Could Happen: With the early value out of the way, now it’s onto the deep upside plays. I just think of the kid from Angels in the Outfield.
Probably Not: And this is the rest of the league. Look, some of you are in AL/NL-only leagues or 20-teamers and need to know which pitchers who actually start games are worthwhile. I got you. Seriously, this goes to 200 this year.
5. Volume is more important than ever
2020 swept the carpet of comfort out from under us, thrusting us into the unknown. Sadly, its impact reaches into 2021 as teams are aware of the sizeable workload jump from the heavily limited 60-game season. Fewer starters are going to sniff at 180 innings, which means those that can comfortably do so while not hurting your ratios will get a lift.
That last part is important. While not hurting your ratios. This doesn’t mean that any “Toby” is your man — you’ll still be able to find innings on your wire. However, having a roster spot that can produce quality innings at a high volume will be a premium.
6. Injury-prone players have more value than before
This plays off #5 as with fewer arms easily hitting above 150 frames, it means those arms who we normally shy away from for their questionable workload get pushed up as well. For example, we normally dinged Clayton Kershaw for an expected injury through the season. This year, a lower workload is expected league-wide, thus the volume gap is smaller. Other guys like Jameson Taillon, Corey Kluber, James Paxton, Tyler Glasnow, Stephen Strasburg, and Lance McCullers all benefit in this way, though the ones outside the Top 25 see the largest impact.
Let’s get to it already. I’ve written over 20,000 words this year — more than any other year by far — and it’s time to let it loose. I’ve also taken the time to add my reluctant projections as well — I dislike projections as a whole, but I recognize they help y’all get a sense of what I’m expecting, at least for the first 60 starters or so. Yes, they go away later in the rankings because the blurb tells a much more important story than a rough average of outcomes.
As always, let me know how you feel in the comments, or better yet, support what I and the rest of the PL team do by signing up for PL+, where you can debate me and the entire staff on our private Discord.
Tier 1. The Chimera
1. Jacob deGrom (New York Mets) – Some are going to put Cole or Bieber ahead of deGrom and go ahead, that’s fine. You do you. I still can’t quite fathom how deGrom has steadily increased his fastball velocity since 2016, added 1.5 ticks to a 98.6 mph average last season, and hit 102.7 mph. It’s truly incredible. deGrom was SP #1 for many entering 2020 and he was dramatically better than expected. He even recognized that his slider is untouchable (26.5% SwStr last year!) so he pulled back on fastballs five points in favor of the breaker. He’s everything you want, he’s everything you need. Well, you likely need a stud hitter at the cost of his draft pick, but honestly, I don’t blame you if you feel differently. You’re going to get a sub 3.00 ERA, elite strikeouts, a high IPS, a WHIP comfortably under 1.00, and, get this, he actually has an elite offense behind now so … do I dare say it … plenty of wins too. This is it. This is the peak. Side note: I’m looking at how long this deGrom blurb was and realizing I’m gonna go a bit long on these blurbs (there’s much more to say about others!). I hope you’re okay with that.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 200 IP, 16 Wins, 2.70 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 270 strikeouts
2. Shane Bieber (Cleveland) – To make this quick, I think Bieber has arrived and isn’t going anywhere. Sure, it won’t be a 1.63 ERA and 0.87 WHIP, but those that think “he hasn’t done it for long” aren’t taking into account how he took an already fantastic 2019 campaign and made strides across the board. Fastball? Raised it a tick and lowered its usage to just 37.5%, recognizing it as his “worst” pitch. I say “worst” since it still performs well with his excellent command, but it doesn’t come with the same glisten as the rest of his signature options. His elite curveball kept its SwStr and went from a 63 wRC+ to a -11 mark, while throwing it the same amount. His slider split into two separate pitches — a heavy breaker with a 28% SwStr and 54% strikeout rate & a new cutter that found the zone above 60% of the time while holding a ridiculous 17% SwStr. It’s a dream repertoire. Two breakers for whiffs, two pitches to confidently earn strikes. His ability is fantastic and he’s in Cleveland, where Terry Francona treats the seventh inning like the fourth. Bieber had only two of his twelve starts end before six full frames and you can bet he’ll be among the IP leaders again in 2021. Akin to Cleveland, he’s a rock and that rocks.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 205 IP, 15 Wins, 2.80 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 260 strikeouts
3. Gerrit Cole (New York Yankees) – I know, the track record is better for Cole vs. Bieber, and if you want to be slightly more conservative, go with Cole. I’m a little worried that Cole’s fastball took a bit of time to get going last year, plus his overall repertoire isn’t as deep as the two above him — he’s essentially four-seamer + slider with a decent curveball. On the plus side, once the weirdness of ramping up for 2020 faded, Cole and his unreal fastball returned, with all the strikeouts and dominance you came for. His slider still misses bats well over 20% of the time and, yeah, you’re not going to have regret rostering Cole. There’s an argument to be made about how the Yankees are more receptive to turning to the pen earlier in games, but with the rest of their rotation coming with a much lower volume expectation, I’m willing to say Cole gets a bit of a pass despite the pinstripes. They’ll frequently need him to do more than your standard six and that’s the sweet nothings you’ve been looking for. “An IPS over 6.5,” you hear, delicately floating in the wind. You’re welcome.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 200 IP, 16 Wins, 2.90 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 270 strikeouts
Tier 2: This Is Cool, Too
4. Yu Darvish (San Diego Padres) – I feel like we’re still at that high from his second half of 2019, where he made a mechanical change, improved his fastball, and gave fantasy managers a 2.76 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, and 38% K rate across his final 13 starts. 2020 was mostly the same — 2.01 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 31% strikeout rate — while going exactly six or seven frames in all but his first start of the season. Now out of Chicago and with the Padres, I don’t really see why Darvish doesn’t continue the same trend through 2021. If he does, he belongs in the top tier, but he carries a bit more skepticism with his injury history and shorter track record. Proper knocks against Darvish and maybe this #4 ranking isn’t as conservative as it should be. I get to do what I want, though, and I genuinely believe Darvish has turned that corner with two separate years of samples to pull from. His three cutter/sliders — yes, three as he has a “hard and soft” cutter — are phenomenal to earn strikes, fastballs blow past batters, and then there’s a filthy curveball, splitter, and whatever else pitch exists that will make him unpredictable and strikeout heavy. He’s an ace, no doubt about it; let’s just hope he’s able to get the volume.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 180 IP, 15 Wins, 3.10 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 220 strikeouts
5. Lucas Giolito (Chicago White Sox) – I bet you didn’t expect Giolito this high, but the more I talked about him, the more I loved his floor. The ERA upside hasn’t shown itself quite yet, but there’s a sub-3.00 ERA season in there at some point with the way he attacks with an elevated four-seamer that carries an impressive 12% SwStr. His changeup has been one of the more underrated slow balls out there with its 22-24% SwStr rates and sub .200 BAA despite 30%+ usage, propelling his overall SwStr to second highest in the league last season (just, you know, over four ticks lower than deGrom’s 21.6% mark). His massive curveball is a project in-the-works for as long as we’ve known about him, but there is hope for his slider to develop further in 2021 and beyond. I should note, holding a sub-7.00 H/9 is not easy to do and Giolito has lived there in both 2019 and 2020. There’s something to that. As far as innings go, Gio has yet to hit the 180 mark inside a season (barely) but the White Sox are known for letting their starters fly deep into games. Dependable volume through the year is a wonderful thing. Sorry Ness, I think I’m a Lucas main now.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 195 IP, 15 Wins, 3.30 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 240 strikeouts
6. Aaron Nola (Philadelphia Phillies) – Nola had the #1 CSW pitch last season with his curveball, which returned a 21.6% SwStr rate, .189 BAA, and a 58% O-Swing. NOLA! Hot dang! The pitch was more successful as he relied on it less, dropping it to a 37% usage as he evened out with his changeup. The result was that #1 CSW pitch & and a changeup that improved along the way. It was the antithesis of an Orioles doubleheader: A win-win situation. I’m inclined to believe that most of his season can be repeated, though we have seen times where Nola doesn’t quite have the fastball command he needs and the wheels come off a bit more than we like. Still, I think he starts on opening day through the full year and you can once again live every day like it’s Nola day.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 200 IP, 14 Wins, 3.40 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 230 strikeouts
7. Walker Buehler (Los Angeles Dodgers) – I originally had Kershaw above Buehler, but I just can’t do it anymore. The case for Kershaw is “he hasn’t been bad and that’s great” but Buehler hasn’t either … ? Sure, he’s had his moments of turmoil and the Dodgers didn’t use him as that IPS monster in 2020, but with his deep four-pitch mix, Buehler isn’t hyper reliant on one part of his game to get by. It creates the floor we’re looking for, even if it just misses that same strikeout ceiling we want. Essentially, think Kershaw but without the injury risk and a touch more upside to continue growing. That’s WB’s production.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 180 IP, 14 Wins, 3.20 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 200 strikeouts
8. Max Scherzer (Washington Nationals) – It’s very easy to look at 2020’s 3.74 ERA + 1.38 WHIP and get terrified. Maybe recoil from even considering drafting Scherzer so high. But are you really going to take a 67 inning sample and write off years of dominance? When he held a career-high .355 BABIP and 1.34 HR/9, while still maintaining a 31% strikeout rate and 6+ IPS? I understand that Scherzer is going to fall off the cliff soon and his fastball sits in the heart of the plate a little too often for my liking, but that slider is one of the best pitches in baseball and I don’t believe his changeup is suddenly a disaster pitch. You’re going to get an ERA flirting with 3.00, a WHIP that you enjoy, strikeouts galore, and while a few missed starts are expected, with an IPS above six, 30 starts = 180+ frames. That’s
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 180 IP, 14 Wins, 3.20 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 220 strikeouts
9. Trevor Bauer (Los Angeles Dodgers) – Volume? Yeah, Bauer will give you that and you may think this ranking is contrary to the pillars I established at the top. The reason he’s down here is all of the confusion about its quality. Look, we all know Bauer’s encouragement to expose the usage of foreign substances applied by pitchers and it caused Bauer’s fastball spin to fly off the charts. You have to wonder — will that, ahem, stick in 2021? Will the Dodgers allow him to so overtly gain RPM on his pitches? It’s an important question to answer as I firmly believe it’s a reason why he performed so well in 2020. Well, that and pitching in the NL Central against horrific lineups, which meant that holding a 12.8% SwStr rate somehow translated to a 36% strikeout rate. I think Bauer is better than the 4.48 ERA from 2019 (duh), but he’s not the 2.94 SIERA from last year, either (His 1.73 ERA needed a .215 BABIP & 90.9% LOB rate. That ain’t it). Did you realize he actually lost a tick of velocity last year? Or that none of his pitches hold a SwStr above 18%? With the arms above him displaying clear, concise quality among sizeable workloads, I don’t find it necessary to chase the El Dorado of 2020 for a full year. It’s just a Disney movie, y’all.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 200 IP, 14 Wins, 3.50 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 235 strikeouts
10. Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles Dodgers) – I’ve wrestled with Kershaw over the offseason and boy are my arms tired. I’ve been going back-and-forth between him and Buehler and it’s close. The Dodgers are weird and if any team is going to manipulate their rotation spread out the innings, it’s the Dodgers. That means a summer of bliss from Buehler touching 200 frames isn’t quite there, while the injury concerns from Kershaw are slightly lower as he could get a touch more rest. So I am expecting fewer innings from Kersh vs. Buehler, and in the end, the floor for both is pretty much the same while Buehler wins on the volume. Regardless, Kershaw has not hurt your fantasy team since his 2008 rookie season. The cautionary tales we heard after 2019’s “decline” dissipated with a 2020 season that saw an uptick in fastball velocity and glorious, glorious ratios — 2.16 ERA and 0.84 WHIP. I’m not saying he can do that for a full year, but Kershaw is going to be an asset for your rotation + his lowest IP season was 149 frames in 2016. 149! That’s at his worst! It’s been mostly 170 or so as of late and that’s what you’re hoping for from everyone outside of the Top 5 or so. Don’t overthink this, be happy you know you secured an arm that will be supporting you all year.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 170 IP, 13 Wins, 3.10 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 185 strikeouts
11. Kenta Maeda (Minnesota Twins) – There is a mini-tier drop here outside the Top 10. Do you like Maeda? Why not? Did you just assume I didn’t like Maeda. I sure did, because he’s constantly behind Luis Castillo, Jack Flaherty, and Brandon Woodruff over a round later AND I’M TIRED OF IT. Maeda has so much going for him — Twins offense in a weak AL Central division, a strong 6.0 IPS at his back with a good workload in 2019 (153 frames, but 26 starts and another 11 in relief!), two of the deadliest secondary pitches in the league that powered a 17.2% overall SwStr, and a large reduction in heaters that looks to stick around. There were clear indicators of regression from the last two years — .243 BABIP & .208 from last year’s small sample — but his low walk rate should stick and his heavy reliance on sliders and changeups proved fruitful and will continue to make batters suffer. His H/9 will still be under 8.00, leading to a strong ERA/WHIP with a strikeout rate hovering 30% once again. That’s shockingly close to the elites and coming a round later. I just Kenta get enough.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 190 IP, 14 Wins, 3.45 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 220 strikeouts
12. Zac Gallen (Arizona Diamondbacks) – This may come as a shock. I am a Gallen Gal. He’s armed with a four-pitch mix that can each show up in any count, a changeup to miss bats, fastball to confidently throw for strikes, and a pair of breakers that can each evolve into strikeout machines. It’s the total package. I’m not too worried about the walk rate — and 8.6% isn’t detrimental and it can improve as he continues to develop — and I believe his approach of not giving in allows Gallen to limit hits. Volume-wise, Gallen had pitched over 170 innings in 2019, had a solid 6 IPS last season, and I don’t see a huge reason why the Diamondbacks won’t let him settle for 180 this year. A quick note about innings estimates: We really don’t know what throwing programs everyone has been on. The “extra workload” from 72 IP last season is only what we were exposed to — it’s not like Gallen was watching The Good Place on repeat for the other 10 months of 2020. Anyway, Gallen also showcased talent to succeed regardless of opponent, exhibited by a wonderful four-game stretch against the Dodgers, Padres, Astros, and Coors to kick off 2020. The man’s got it and I’m ready to jump in for real.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 180 IP, 14 Wins, 3.50 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 200 strikeouts
13. Luis Castillo (Cincinnati Reds) – It’s been wonderful watching the ascension of Castillo after his 2017 exposé made me go wild. And here we are today where this ranking outside of the Top 10 will have many believe that I, a Luis fanboy who wakes his neighbors whenever his changeup shows up on my screen past midnight, don’t appreciate what he does. That changeup is glorious but the rest … well, it isn’t quite what I want it to be. His slider has improved and when the breaker ends at-bats, batters held a 41 wRC+ last year. That’s fantastic. It’s still trying to figure itself out, though. Is it really a 47%+ zone pitch to steal strikes? Or is it going to pull back and struggled to rise to the coveted 40% O-Swing? It’s a great third pitch, but on a day when Castillo isn’t slinging changes like a rapid-fire coin dispenser, I’m not confident it can enough. His fastballs are an interesting case. On one hand, both his four-seamer and sinker improved in 2020 — four-seamer jumped to a 16% SwStr (!) while his sinker dropped to an excellent 89 wRC+ — as he added a full tick of velocity, but despite that they were still too hittable. Castillo’s 1.23 WHIP is a product of their hit-ability and while I think that drops with the elevated .329 BABIP, Castillo just doesn’t have the ceiling of a WHIP hovering 1.05. It makes him less efficient, thus lowering his IPS, and ultimately his overall numbers. So while I think more strikeouts will come from Castillo, he’s below Maeda and Gallen due to that capped ceiling.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 190 IP, 13 Wins, 3.50 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 220 strikeouts
14. Jack Flaherty (St. Louis Cardinals) – We talked about it incessantly this time last year — “Flaherty was in rhythm at the end of 2019, but will it continue in 2020?” — and much to my chagrin, we have to ask the same question again. The 2020 season for the Cardinals was a wreck. They missed countless games on the COVID list and it forced Flaherty to get limited innings and struggle to get into that aforementioned and idolized rhythm. He had the most perfect schedule to take advantage of, too, but his limited time on the bump made him pitch just two games of six frames and even allow for a disastrous 9 ER game against the Brewers. There’s a very compelling case that Flaherty should be the perfect bounce-back candidate, as that 4.91 ERA/1.21 WHIP falls to just 3.13/1.04 if you remove that horrible day and I could be heavily in the wrong here, but there’s a haze. I don’t like haze unless it’s purple and Jimi is singing about it. I’d rather have those ahead of him who don’t come with this discomfort than take a risk I feel like I don’t have to take. Now that you’ve read this blurb, it’s a good reminder that the below projection doesn’t tell the whole story. Who knows, maybe another sub 3.00 ERA season is ahead, maybe it’s another undulating season of hot-and-cold. The fact it could be way better than the above line is why Flaherty is here and Lynn is down there.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 190 IP, 14 Wins, 3.60 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 215 strikeouts
15. Brandon Woodruff (Milwaukee Brewers) – I used to think Woodruff just dominates with a fastball, but that would be wrong. He dominates with two fastballs — a four-seamer that held a stupid good 17.5% SwStr last season and a sinker that allowed just three extra-base hits across 370 thrown. Like a great pair of mittens, those are some good heaters. They set the table for a better-than-expected slider that earned plenty more strikeouts in 2020, while bumping its SwStr a full five points to almost 18%. That works! His changeup is still inconsistent and not something to bank on, but hey, with the other 2.5 pitches, Woodruff can carve up 6+ starts on any given night. In a normal year, we’d expect Woody as a 200-frame contender, but with the Brewers saying they’re likely implementing a flat 100-inning jump across their staff, I have to bring it down to roughly 175 innings. If it were 200? He’d be hinting at the #10 spot. Maybe next year.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 175 IP, 12 Wins, 3.50 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 195 strikeouts
16. Blake Snell (San Diego Padres) – I wish I had a better grasp of Snell. His volume? Sadly it seems like the Padres are going to be stretching their starters across more than just a standard five-man plan, reducing Blake’s chances of joining the elites who feel the warm breeze of 200 innings, sauntering across 2021. Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for his breaking stuff to get back into their 2018 rhythm — well, save for Game 6 of the World Series where he finally could throw his slider in the zone with confidence (look at those yellow and blue in the box!). Fewer pitches into the zone result in more hittable fastballs, jacking up his HR/9 to 1.18 in 2019 and *gasp* 1.80 last year. Still, I have to believe the Padres will give me breathing room for Snell to find his groove and it makes me inclined to think he can limit the baserunners a bit better than the previous two seasons. It should be a strong season, but the innings cap has him clearly behind the others.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 180 IP, 13 Wins, 3.50 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 205 strikeouts
17. Lance Lynn (Chicago White Sox) – Think Woodruff, but more innings and slightly worse ratios. Remember when I said read the blurb? Know what you want when you make your draft and the decision is all yours. His four-seamer has been crazy good, holding above a 12% SwStr the last two years despite finding the zone over 60% of the time — that’s just unheard of — while the man goes deeeeep into games. I’m talking at 100 pitches through five frames and returning to complete the six. One of the true workhorses left out there and the great news here is that he’s now starting for the White Sox, a team with old school manager Tony LaRussa at the helm and one of the top offenses in the American League. His opponent strength is as weak as it’s ever been and you’ll laugh as a fantasy manager, easily setting Lynn inside your rotation while others are trying to get the latest news about their injured or young starter. Cackle away, Lynn fans. Cackle with soul.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 200 IP, 15 Wins, 3.60 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 215 strikeouts
Tier 3: The Old, Mostly
18. Tyler Glasnow (Tampa Bay Rays) – To truly understand Glasnow, all you need to do is look at his 2019 and 2020 back-to-back. Both seasons had roughly 60 frames and in these two distant samples, he had a 1.78 ERA and 4.08 ERA. Ta-da! Pure expression of Glasnow’s volatility. You’ll be thrilled if you get a 6 IPS for the year and while his WHIP will be low given how dang hard it is to hit Glasnow’s fastball and curveball flinging out of his spaghetti monster arms (like me!) at a distance that makes us wonder how Carter Capps wasn’t suspended — I’m so sorry that was one sentence and I’M STILL GOING *Breathes in* — that ERA still has a chance to start with a crooked four. Probably not, though.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 160 IP, 13 Wins, 3.70 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 220 strikeouts
19. Carlos Carrasco (New York Mets) – After going through the horrors of having leukemia, Carrasco came back roaring in 2020, with a 2.91 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 29% strikeout rate. I just realized I haven’t really been giving you the hard stats much, but I think you understand how much they matter less than in any other year. They’re more like guidelines. Annnnyway, I’m still super happy for him and I think many are still wary of 2021 even with direct proof that the man is back to his old self. For this year, he has a solid defense & offense at his back and likely a return to his 192/200 IP ways, but I’ll be conservative and say 180 frames. It’ll come with its bumps and bruises — every Carrasco season has a three or four-game stretch after which he overcorrects in the best way and makes you forget about it — but his slider and changeup are just too good to prevent Cookie from crumbling. Here’s to the new CC in New York.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 180 IP, 13 Wins, 3.50 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 200 strikeouts
20. Stephen Strasburg (Washington Nationals) – You’re concerned about his carpal tunnel surgery and I get it. We have no understanding of how pitchers recover from it and it could spell another inning-limited season for a pitcher who has just two 175+ inning campaigns since 2015. He could also have a proper recovery and be the regular #2 through the season, producing a Top 15 SP year as Strasburg had not hurt your fantasy team in a single season before 2020’s calamity. He’s as steady as it comes for a low 3s ERA, solid 1.10 WHIP, and a near 30% strikeout rate. I’d expect his upped curveball usage to return and while his heater isn’t quite the 100 mph of 2010’s explosive debut, it’s still good enough to maintain the levels of production. I have a feeling Strasburg will look healthy in the spring and suddenly his stock will rise with it. I’ll place him here at #20 expecting that outcome, but keep in mind, if there are whispers and concerns about Strasburg, you’re better off just getting someone like Sonny instead.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 150 IP, 11 Wins, 3.40 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 165 strikeouts