I’ve ranked my Top 200 starting pitchers for 2021 fantasy baseball, and we’re on to 21-40, with nearly all of them still in play for the “draft four pitchers you trust in for the season.” Check out all of our rankings in the navigation above and let me know on Twitter, inside our Discord, or in the comments below how you feel.
Tier 3: The Old, Mostly (Continued)
21. Sonny Gray (Cincinnati Reds) – I was down on Gray this time last year, but a month later I bought into Gray’s breakers deserving their success in the back half of 2019 and it carried over into 2020. It was the right call … until, you know, it wasn’t. His final four starts found Gray struggling to get strikes with both his slider and curveball and suddenly his 1.94 ERA became a season-long 3.70. Two month seasons, they’ll get ya. To put Sonny’s outlook in a sentence: A sen-he should be good more often than bad-tence. For real though, I imagine his breakers will be there more often than not and even if he doesn’t have the same lax schedule as in 2020, the NL Central offenses aren’t sweet like a whole lot of Thanksgiving apple pie. He’ll get you innings, strikeouts, and probably strong ratios. That works for me.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 185 IP, 11 Wins, 3.65 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 210 strikeouts
22. Hyun Jin Ryu (Toronto Blue Jays) – We’re about to enter another mini-tier with the ones above as the upside heavy fellas, and now we see the other side of the coin. The Crusty Vets and a friend. The Blue Jays signed Ryu last season, telling us that they had the expectation of “150 innings” for a full 2020 season. Just 150! I’m thrilled that Ryu was able to carve out 180 in 2019 and go injury-free in 2020, but with the Jays adding a good amount of arms this off-season, I have to wonder if they’ll flirt with a six-man rotation at times, and anything above 160 frames given the Blue Jays’ quote + his injury history seems a little too aggressive. As far as the quality, he doesn’t really need to do a whole lot more there. His changeup wasn’t as elite last season, but a new cutter made up the difference and with his elite command, it should stick around. Don’t expect him to sniff at a 30% strikeout rate again, but it still has a chance at 25% while his ERA/WHIP will help your squad. He’s a pick that fits with some of the other volatile strikeout arms or those that simply want to invest in more stable pitchers and hold back on getting the major upside SPs later on.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 165 IP, 12 Wins, 3.50 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 160 strikeouts
23. Charlie Morton (Atlanta) – I know I’m leaving the comfort zone with this mini-tier and in many ways, they betray the Nick of old. See, I would be the one leaning heavily on the youngins, pushing them up my ranks and overlooking the tried and true arms. But not this year, the season we’re going to try to limit as much as risk as possible, pushing down our shoulder and leaning strongly into the wall of anxiety and fear to find the hidden treasure within our grasp. Morton is there for the taking and it may be a product of an odd offseason. We didn’t know if Chuck was headed to retirement, depressing his ADP dramatically and now that he’s with a team, I believe our subconscious is seeing that low number and keeping us more hesitant than we should be. Sure, he had shoulder inflammation and lower velocity, but he recovered and performed well in the playoffs, throwing more than a third of his 2020 season innings. Morton is still throwing his great curveball more often and pitching for Atlanta will let him get wins and throw as many innings as his body can let him. When we talk about value in drafts, it’s a product of taking chances that others won’t. True value comes when there’s general hesitation and you knew when to stare it in the eye and do what’s right. Get Charlie.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 160 IP, 12 Wins, 3.60 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 180 strikeouts
24. Zack Wheeler (Philadelphia Phillies) – I’ve grouped Wheeler with Hendricks on purpose — they are pretty much the same arms at this point, with Hendricks getting a boost in WHIP while Wheeler has higher upside in the strikeout department. They’ll both be workhorses, they’ll both have solid ERAs, and wins, sure that’s a thing. This time last year, I was hypothesizing that Wheeler, moving from the Mets to the Phillies, could unlock a 25-30% strikeout rate if he focused more north-south and used his slider as a whiff offering. What we got was pretty much the same Wheeler from before. Blegh. The good news is that the pair of heaters will continue to get outs efficiently, and I even think last year’s 1.17 WHIP can fall further as well. In short, you’ll like the volume and ratios you get from Wheeler and, hey, maybe those strikeouts show up. That’ll be cool.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 190 IP, 14 Wins, 3.60 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 170 strikeouts
25. Kyle Hendricks (Chicago Cubs) – Here’s an easy one. Hendricks won’t pile up the strikeouts by rate, but he’ll certainly do it through volume as new Cubs manager David Ross tore off the chains secured by Joe Maddon and freed Hendricks to soar into the seventh frame with ease. Expect 190+ frames of a strong ERA and WHIP, with about 180 strikeouts along the way as anything close to a 25% strikeout is way too generous. It’s a balance pick and make sure you know what you want in your draft if you’re considering Hendricks. Need stability with your ratios after taking some high upside starters? Hendricks is your man. Looking for a pick that could turn into a Top 10 starter? Look to the next tier — Kyle doesn’t have those Dricks up his sleeve. That’s probably the worst pun of the lot. Yes. Yes it is.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 190 IP, 14 Wins, 3.50 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 155 strikeouts
26. Max Fried (Atlanta) – Hey, it’s the friend! Fried may look like the odd-man-out here, but his skill set speaks more to the stable vet than the wild and sexy upside play. He doesn’t have that overwhelming whiff pitch, even if his slider has turned into that all-around pitch he can throw at any time for whiffs or called strikes. His fastball command isn’t quite as strong as I want to be if I’m going to believe he can sustain a .268 BABIP and 4.9% HR/FB rate and his curveball goes in-and-out through the year. Still, that overall package works, leading to a strikeout rate that could mingle with 25% at the end of the season or fall closer to 20%. Oh and that WHIP? Yeah, that’s not a 1.09, sorry. More like a 1.20 with a mid-to-high 3.00s ERA, but hey, that plays. I won’t rule out the upside for more as he continues to develop, but be careful in drafts and make sure you’re not grabbing him at a spot where he needs to hit his stride. There’s still a good amount of discovery left to do.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 175 IP, 13 Wins, 3.60 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 170 strikeouts
27. Zack Greinke (Houston Astros) – I can see the future. Greinke will have diminished velocity in March — maybe even the first few weeks of April too! — and many will spell doom. Dooooom! It’s the eternal fate of Greinke, who consistently needs more time to get his velocity up to start the season, very much including 2020 when he began hovering 86-87 mph and ended with a pair of starts at 88. Meanwhile, you’re going to get all the volume you want with Dusty Baker-led Houston, strikeouts will flow like the spice around a strikeout per frame, and your ratios will thank you along the way. His last four seasons have all come with a WHIP below 1.15 and I don’t see a reason why that should change now. The ERA is a different question, but last year’s 4.03 seems more like a small sample issue than a degradation. Like Morton, it’s going to take some guts to make this pick, but like the first line, see the future. See the celebrations in September as Greinke sits as a lock in your roster. Glory will come.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 200 IP, 15 Wins, 3.65 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 195 strikeouts
28. Patrick Corbin (Washington Nationals) – I’ve placed Corbin here because he’s the right on the border of a veteran we should keep the faith in among these fine men and chasing a ceiling like the whippersnappers from the tier below. It’s a weird place we’re in, isn’t it? In early March 2020, we were all in on Corbin, showcasing back-to-back stable seasons with his slider as a premier pitch in baseball and his fastball keeping itself above water. 200 frames. Great ratios. Tons of strikeouts. IT WAS ALL THERE. Then a 60-game sample happened, Corbin was a bit behind on his fastball velocity, and now he’s apparently done. Nah, Patty-C ain’t done. Sure, he was terrible last year, but if you’re going to excuse 2020 for anyone, why not Corbin? His heater did gain a tick back by the end of the year, he clearly wasn’t in rhythm and now that a full season is upon us with clarity, I really don’t see a scenario where Corbin continues his descension. That’s it, that’s the blurb. Corbin isn’t this bad and you have to believe this 11-start sample doesn’t override the 66 that came before it. It’ll be tough to draft him this aggressively — I know —but like all others in this tier, it’s what you have to do.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 190 IP, 13 Wins, 3.75 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 200 strikeouts
Tier 4: The Monorails
29. Zach Plesac (Cleveland) – What do you know, another starter I’m completely conflicted about. I really think Plesac can be yet another Cleveland starter that makes us wonder why they can’t get a strong lineup surrounding them with consistency. Despite throwing a little cross-body, Plesac displayed elite ability to command his slider and changeup, though he separated the two nearly exclusively based on handedness — right-handers saw the slider, lefties the changeup. There was also a curveball mixed in there, but that was on Morpheus levels of “show me.” Because he’s in Cleveland, his fastball isn’t great. At all. 156 wRC+ and .321 BAA last year, but despite that, his secondary stuff carried him to that glistening 2.28 ERA and 0.80 WHIP. Sure, he’s not going to sparkle like last year’s diamond in the rough, but he’s a better pitcher than in 2019, which returned a 3.81 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. Yes, I’m willing to say that after just eight starts from the man. I’m willing to wager Cleveland doesn’t put a heavy limit to his innings, which means we could see 6-7 IPS again for 30 starts as Terry nods his head with an encouraging wave after six frames constantly. There’s still a case of “hey, we haven’t seen a whole lot quite yet” that makes me push this down to #29 — listen to my podcast with Fast for the full back-and-forth — but I get a sense Plesac will more than likely work out this year.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 180 IP, 11 Wins, 3.65 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 195 strikeouts
30. Corbin Burnes (Milwaukee Brewers) – You’re not happy with this, I know, but I’m struggling here. Like a lot. I want to believe heavily in the changes Burnes made because on paper, they look real. That four-seamer that allowed so many longballs in 2019? Well, he leaned into its cut action and made it a full cutter, and it was stupid good — 58% Zone rate, 59 wRC+, 15% SwStr. He threw it in the zone and batters couldn’t handle it, like my bars that are straight fire. I’m so sorry. Meanwhile, he turned to a sinker to jam right-handers and it kinda worked … ? It didn’t get enough strikes, with a sub-50% zone rate and only 23% O-Swing, but a .242 BAA was solid. Then there’s a slider that has a near 30% SwStr, that he threw just over 10% of the time. So the whole thing is weird. In a way, he’s like Glasnow where his fastballs are doing excellent work but I question its overall command, while he has a breaker that could be devastating but we just don’t know what we’re going to get out of it. Add on the fact that the Brewers are going to limit him to around 160 frames, and I’m “out” on Burnes. There’s rabbit quotes because it’s based on me expecting the consensus to differ from these ranks and I’d be happy rostering Burnes, just not for the limited volume and raised eyebrow it comes with. It’s sad, really. He’s part of the reason I do this — to cheer for players you want to succeed and grow — it just doesn’t seem like the place to put my chips.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 160 IP, 11 Wins, 3.70 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 185 strikeouts
31. Dinelson Lamet (San Diego Padres) – Oh hey Dinelson, didn’t see you there through the giant veil of darkness and confusion. Can you please tell me what 2021 holds for Lamet? His elbow injury at the end of last season has many believing sub-100 frames are in order (fueled by the Padres’ aggressive dealings for more starters) while the fact that the Padres didn’t cut their losses like they did with Clevinger could suggest he’s equipped to go 150 innings or even more. Then there’s the whole “I’m throwing over a full tick harder on my fastball while throwing it less to make way for over 50% usage of my slider, known as the #1 pitch in baseball” thing. (I was going to put that on a shirt, but then Justin Paradis gave me a hypothetical look through his purple-tinted webcam and I thought better.) Obviously we don’t think Lamet is going to repeat 2020, but how much could stick? That breaker should still be great, maybe that fastball velocity sticks, and hey, maybe it’s high times at championship high. Just don’t reach where you need him to get 150+ innings for it to work.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 130 IP, 10 Wins, 3.60 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 170 strikeouts
32. Jose Berrios (Minnesota Twins) – Another year, another ranking of Berrios in the early 30s, but this time I feel like we’re all on the same page. Sure, Berrios hasn’t had a season below a 3.65 ERA and he’s had just one year with a sub-1.20 WHIP, but he’s in a weak division still, that offense is still great (Nelson Cruz is back!), and you’re getting a known quantity in his innings. I don’t think he’s on the verge of a breakout as that curveball undulates like the flags at Wrigley, but that’s okay. You’re getting good enough ratios with a 23-25% strikeout rate and 190 frames. You should want that.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 190 IP, 13 Wins, 3.70 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 190 strikeouts
33. Sandy Alcantara (Miami Marlins) – There will be plenty of debate about which Marlins starter you want in fantasy (I’d say all three, but then I get tomatoes thrown at me) and I believe Alcantara is the one you’ll live the happiest life with. Sixto has the fun, but it’ll come with volatility. PabLo could be there, but there’s still some polish left to add. Sandy? I’d say he’s great as he is and could even get better. Pitching in the Marlins’ opener last year against the Phillies, Alcantara was slinging 97 mph sinkers with 91 mph changeups inside to right-handers and it was unreal. 6.2 frames, seven strikeouts, four baserunners and just one run. The era of Alcantara had arrived … but it didn’t last when the Marlins got COVID and prevented Alcantara from pitching until, get this, 37 days later, you know, the zombie movie they elected not to put out because it was just so devastating to everyone. When he returned, it wasn’t quite the same explosiveness, but after one outing to warm up the ole soup bone, Alcantara finished with five starts of six innings each and two starts of at least eight strikeouts. His slider didn’t develop into the major breaker we wanted, but that changeup is still so good and his four-seamer/sinker combo is as good as you’ll find. It’s a stable floor with upside for more and it’s true because it rhymes. Draft Sandy, he’s the one that you want.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 180 IP, 10 Wins, 3.65 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 165 strikeouts
34. Chris Paddack (San Diego Padres) – Paddack could have been in the tier above, but he just doesn’t have the track record yet to make me fully convinced he’s headed for a rebound. After we (read: I) spoke so highly of his heater last off-season as a strong foundation, it gave way like a protein shake in 2020, rating as the fourth-worst fastball by pitch value. Yikes. With just a Vulcan-changeup (read: splitter. Sorry, I should have more faith in your reading comprehension) backing up the heater, there wasn’t enough there to consistently keep Paddack’s ERA afloat — he still put up a solid 1.22 WHIP and 24% strikeout rate, you know. Thing is, you know, 2020. That pitch was plenty better in 2019 and I’m not going to instantly say that it can’t be great again — he’s just 25 years old, after all. If it does get back in its groove, then Paddack becomes a steal, providing quality innings with a 25%+ strikeout rate. The choice is yours and yours
is the choice alone. If I already have three arms I’m confident in, Paddack would be a great fit to see it works out as I think I’d wager Paddack isn’t droppable through the season. It can’t be that bad at the end of the day, right?
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 160 IP, 10 Wins, 3.75 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 170 strikeouts
35. Ian Anderson (Atlanta) – I make the same mistake every August/September. There I am, ole innocent Nick, seeing a young pitcher perform well and say inside my daily SP Roundup “Wow, Ian Anderson is going to be such a steal next year when he goes around pick 150.” Oh past child, the days of young arms getting swept under the rug are over, especially when this young arm allowed just two runs in 18.2 innings of playoff baseball. It’s wild — I legit thought I’d be the high man on Anderson and I’m told he’s a top #100 ADP play at the moment. Crazy! I mean, maybe not, but it’s not worth it to take the risk. He’s not a 30% strikeout guy, more like 25%. His WHIP will likely hover around 1.20. His ERA is likely to be closer to 4.00 than 3.00. And his innings are simply not going to contest those inside the Top 25. Normally, I’d expect a 10% walk rate (13% in the playoffs!) to scare people away, allowing me to swoop in and say “Aha! That walk rate will come down, fear not!” because I actually talk like that. I genuinely do believe his fastball/changeup/curveball mix to speak to a lower walk rate, especially with his solid north-south mechanics, though it may take a moment to go from “not giving in” to “not giving in & hitting the edges often.” I believe in Ian Anderson for 2022, but don’t Bungle this and think it’s a Sweet Dream. You’ll be Living In The Past thinking about who else you could have drafted instead.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 165 IP, 10 Wins, 3.80 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 165 strikeouts
36. Frankie Montas (Oakland Athletics) – The story of Montas seems reasonable. He came out throwing gas and looking like he was set for a 75 inning season until a back injury set him back a few days … and then cataclysm. He recovered in time for a fantastic 13 strikeout game against the Mariners across six frames in his final start, but the damage had been done, with a demonstrative 5.60 ERA and 1.51 WHIP on his resume. I believe he’s fine. Sure, not the 2.63 ERA and 1.10 WHIP of 2019, but a low 3s and 1.15 WHIP? Why not? His splitter should be a bit better with his back not bothering him, the Athletics need someone to get innings in Oakland, and he’s shown plenty of ability to get outs with his fastball and slider. I’m not as confident as I was last year for Montas, but let’s be real. That disaster of a season was a product of his back, not an innate flaw in his skill set. You’ll want to start Montas each time out through the year.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 175 IP, 10 Wins, 3.70 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 170 strikeouts
37. Jesus Luzardo (Oakland Athletics) – Many are in on Luzardo being their savior and I really hope he gets there. His slider and changeup give Luzardo 25-30% strikeout potential, each likely to eclipse a 20% SwStr in 2021, though they were both more hittable than you normally see from whiff-heavy pitches, while his heaters also leave a bit to be desired. His sinker command isn’t in a place that justifies its heavy usage, while his four-seamer isn’t a clear dominant offering either, despite its beneficial results in 2020 (.034 BABIP, how you doin’). The result in 2020 was a 1.27 WHIP and near 9.00 H/9, which shouldn’t stick around, but it does make for an unfinished product. There’s also the question of how much Oakland will let him experiment on the hill as Luzardo does not have a season with a massive workload on his resume (about 110 frames in 2018 is his peak). It doesn’t add up to a pitcher you should rely on as your #2/#3, but one you will feel good about as your #4. That won’t likely happen in your leagues, so sadly, I’ll be rooting for Jesús from afar.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 160 IP, 10 Wins, 3.85 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 165 strikeouts
38. Lance McCullers Jr. (Houston Astros) – Are we finally there? Have we reached the moment in history where Lance goes over 130 frames in the majors and dominates? I’m not ruling it out, but I do want to start this by hammering in that point — it’s unlikely we see more than 160 frames from McCullers this year. We certainly could in the last year of his contract + good ole Dusty Baker chompin’ at a piece of wood, but there are few heavier injury risks and paired with the lack of track record, we simply can’t expect it. And even if he does get 170 innings somehow, it’s no
Jeff lock they’ll be ace-like quality. I’m encouraged by his developing changeup, new cutter, and ability to adjust approach mid-season, but his heater has always been questionable (never a sub 115 wRC+) and his success is frequently over-reliant on his curveball. Maybe that changes in 2021 and that’s why McCullers is here in the middle of the thirties, but to throw him further would be taking too much of a leap.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 150 IP, 9 Wins, 3.85 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 165 strikeouts
39. Sixto Sanchez (Miami Marlins) – Few MLB debuts excited me like Sixto’s did, and you can read the whole experience here. The problem with these articles, however, is that it’s a limited sample. Pitchers can perform one way on any given day and the promise of sliders diving into left-handed ankles + consistent four-seamers over sinkers wasn’t meant to be. The ceiling of Sanchez is tantalizing and will have many gravitating toward the youngster in drafts (I can’t blame you, he’s as fun as they come!), but the fact that he put up just a 21% strikeout rate with a 1.21 WHIP despite that phenomenal stuff makes me skeptical he’s worth chasing about proven guys. And yeah, I have to mention innings. Again. He didn’t throw many last year and you have to imagine the Marlins prevent him from pushing too far, likely in the 140-150 range. If you’re taking Sanchez in the Top 30, he better showcase that 30% strikeout ceiling paired with stud ratios — i.e. performing 25% better than the other pitchers around him — and you shouldn’t take that chance. But seriously, please stop throwing those sinkers, Sixto, your changeup/slider/four-seamer combo will carve this league.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 150 IP, 8 Wins, 3.75 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 140 strikeouts
Tier 5: Yes, Maybe, I Don’t Know
40. Jameson Taillon (New York Yankees) – Hi, my name is Nick Pollack and I’m addicted to Jameson. I know many are skeptical of the workload ahead for Taillon after his second bout of TJS, but after Top 30s were filled with pitchers we only expect for roughly 150-160 innings, why can’t we expect the same for Taillon in 2021? The general idea is about 150 frames when returning the season after, and with his skill set, I’m all in. He learned a new slider in 2019 that propelled his success. His curveball gets strikes and whiffs. He’s moving toward four-seamers up in the zone to amplify his breakers. He re-learned his mechanics for a smoother, healthier arm-circle. He now plays for a winning team in New York. IT ALL ADDS UP. In short, you won’t regret drafting Taillon as I think very few believe his ratios will actually hurt (strikeouts? That’s a very good question and I’d say it’ll be somewhere from 20-25%). It’s just cloudier than people like coming back from TJS and it makes for hesitation. I get that. A lot. Power through it and you’ll be smiling with clarity as soon as April.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 150 IP, 10 Wins, 3.60 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 140 strikeouts