I’ve ranked my Top 200 starting pitchers for 2021 fantasy baseball and we’re on to 41-60, where the cliff begins to form as consistent value begins to fall off. 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 5: Yes, Maybe, I Don’t Know (cont’d)
41. Corey Kluber (New York Yankees) – It’s just like with Taillon, with a much higher ceiling and baseline for success, but at an elevated injury risk given 3-4 separate injuries between the start of 2019 and now. Yikes. The fact that the Yankees were willing to drop $10M on him makes me believe he’s showcasing good health at the moment and the biggest note I should give is that Kluber is notoriously bad in April. You’ll see plenty of negativity in the early weeks if Kluber isn’t looking like 2014 yet, but give him time, he’s always good. I really don’t see a year where Kluber pitches and he hurts your team without a strikeout rate at 25% or above. It just doesn’t add up to me. So grab him at the discounted rate and accept that there’s a decent chance you only get 100 innings from him this season. It’s alright, I’ve got your back on the waiver wire.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 130 IP, 8 Wins, 3.50 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 140 strikeouts
42. Framber Valdez (Houston Astros) – I had little faith in Framber pulling off a strong 2020 campaign and boy was I wrong. A 3.57 ERA with a 1.12 WHIP paired with a 26% strikeout rate across 70+ innings won leagues for many and I was dumbfounded. The man wasn’t a whole lot different from his identical 70.2 inning sample from 2019 — curveball usage was the same. Overall SwStr was worse at a flat 10%. Groundball rate matched its mark from 2019 above 60%. The major changes was a whopping eight point drop in walk rate, nearly half the home run allowed rate, and the ability to go over six innings per game. It doesn’t add up. His curveball has been a fantastic pitch (is it actually sub .120 BAA good?) but I don’t believe his sinker to be this decent, even if it came with a touch more behind it this year. It’s all just so weird. That’s it? It’s weird? Well, yeah, kinda. He’ll have starts where his curveball is working and his sinker is good enough + Dusty will let him last as long as he wants, and you’ll feel smart for drafting Valdez. But I imagine plenty of turmoil when the curveball isn’t quite as phenomenal and I can’t help but think it’s going to happen more often in 2021. In short, FV’s FV is worse than 2020 would tell you, and drafting Valdez too soon isn’t the future value you want.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 170 IP, 8 Wins, 3.75 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 165 strikeouts
43. John Means (Baltimore Orioles) – I’ll try to be quick, as I’ve talked about Means aplenty this off-season. His 2020 was a sad tale of interruptions and when he was finally able to string starts in rhythm, it landed on 21 strikeouts against the Rays and Jays in his final two games. His fastball jumped in velocity and I think it’s here to stay, though the bigger question is the secondary stuff. His changeup was the talk of the town in 2019, but it found the zone too frequently last season and there’s a tune-up needed if Means is to firmly take that next step. His slider and curveball have been afterthoughts in the past, but there’s plenty of talk about each taking steps in 2021 and with a harder fastball, a rebounding changeup, and at least one solid breaker, well, you have a potential fantasy stud on your hands. It may be a little tough out of the gate against the Red Sox and Yankees, but if you stick with Means for the long haul, you’re going to be rewarded.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 175 IP, 11 Wins, 3.70 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 175 strikeouts
44. Pablo Lopez (Miami Marlins) – Y’all know I adore Pablo. His changeup is wonderful, fastball command is great, and he’s the coolest dude. The main question I have for this season is if his cutter is going to take shape. I think it can be used as a fantastic tool against left-handers, darting inside to jam them like he does so well with heaters to right-handers. It made an appearance last season and I’m crossing my fingers it becomes a mainstay this year. Without it, his curveball isn’t the breaker we want it to be and it opened the door for games like the 7 ER struggle against Atlanta when his changeup isn’t getting the swings it often gets. Even with that risk, the floor is solid and I’m excited to see if PabLo can take that next step.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 170 IP, 12 Wins, 3.80 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 165 strikeouts
45. Dylan Bundy (Los Angeles Angels) – Bundy had a wonderful year. We rejoiced. We sang. We were so glad the legends of leaving Baltimore was true. Bundy reduced his fastball usage, upped his sliders, threw first-pitch curveballs, and left Maryland to grab a 3.29 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 27% strikeout rate. I wish I could tell you this was here to stick, but I simply can’t. It’s too small of a sample to believe such success will be repeated and even by the end, the warning signs were there. His final two starts came with both diminished fastball velocity and shockingly high fastball usage with 47% and 55% clips earning the highest marks of the season. It’s not what you want. I do believe that if Bundy can keep these approach changes he is better than his 4.79 ERA and 1.35 WHIP from 2019, but a 8.2% HR/FB? I’m more inclined to believe the 3.80 SIERA is the best interpretation and there’s a chance Bundy turns into a pumpkin before May hits. Sorry Dylan, I want you to flourish, I really do.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 165 IP, 10 Wins, 3.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 165 strikeouts
46. Aaron Civale (Cleveland) – I love what Civale did last year. He saw a sinker that performed plenty worse than his cutter and curveball, so he threw it less. At times, a lot less. It eventually settled a little above 30%, pushing a fantastic cutter near the same mark and his huge curveball up 10 points over the 20% hump. All great things — his curveball bumped five points to a 20% SwStr and nearly 20 points to a 47% zone rate (This is really good), his cutter was able to get strikes without allowing damage in the field, and he was able to surprise batters with that sinker at two-strikes often as well. There’s still room to grow with a slider didn’t take the shape we wanted to see and a changeup that hasn’t finished developing and with Cleveland allowing their starters to go deep, it makes me think Civale can easily be a Toby and at best a 25%+ strikeout arm with Top 20 ratios. Hey, that’s value! Sure the floor is something like a mid-4s ERA and 1.30 WHIP, but let’s be honest. If the season continued, Civale would have recovered from that final 8 ER outing that brought down his ERA .75 points.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 170 IP, 11 Wins, 3.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 150 strikeouts
47. Joe Musgrove (San Diego Padres) – It was Aug. 26, 2019. Musgrove had just gone six frames of two earned run ball with a strikeout per inning. Fastball velocity was up and he had a decent looking schedule ahead. We bought in, were rewarded with just 7 ER in his final four games, and it made us wonder what was to come the following year. Well, he had shoulder inflammation in the spring, returned in time for the start of the year, then missed a few games, but then, guess what, he had another exciting spring that has us anxious to see a full year of Musgrove. It’s the same story, but this time he has the Padres team at his back and that only helps him. His curveball was the #1 CSW deuce in September with a 48.3% clip, while his slider was #5 at a 43% rate. Yeah, that’s really good. Their usage combined for just under half of all pitches he threw and I wouldn’t be shocked if he went majority breakers in 2021. They’re just that good. He held a 39% strikeout rate in those five starts and obviously that won’t stick, but a 25-30% rate isn’t out of the question. His heater would be the hurdle to jump over as it isn’t quite the dominant pitch we want it to be. Still, he could learn from Dinelson Lamet and pull back the four-seamer and great things will happen. The only reason I don’t have him higher is the volume — he’s had injury problems and I have to imagine the Padres will take it a little easy this year. Still, if we get 160 frames, I think you’ll be thrilled with Musgrove.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 160 IP, 9 Wins, 3.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 160 strikeouts
48. Mike Soroka (Atlanta) – I don’t like the fact we have no idea when Soroka will return to play, not to mention that he has a storied injury history already. I also don’t love that he’s not a strikeout-heavy arm, either, rooted in his affection for sinkers that end at-bats early. It’s what makes us believe his ratios will sing a soothing melody through the heat of August, yet we swear it under our breath as we stoop under the short ceiling of Soroka’s studio. There is a chance his slider and/or changeup form into a major SwStr pitch — Soroka is a veteran trapped in a yute’s body — essentially creating Kyle Hendricks with higher strikeout upside, but the innings, man. You need a cloudlifter for his lack of volume and it forces him down this far. Still very much worth your time, though.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 140 IP, 9 Wins, 3.60 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 130 strikeouts
49. Marcus Stroman (New York Mets) – Here we have a guy who opted out of 2020, and I really really hope he rebounds. That’ll be cool. Stroman has a few things going for him. Volume should be there, as he’s gone at least 180 frames in three of last four seasons and the Mets need all the quality frames they can get. The skills have been in question for fantasy, though. Stroman hasn’t posted a WHIP under 1.29 since 2015, while his ERA has twice been featured above 4.30. It does preach caution as it sets him up to be a Toby, but I feel like this is the year. In September 2019, his cutter began to take shape and led to positive results, and the best news I have for you today is that his team defense is plenty better entering 2021. With grounders as his mainstay, expect his WHIP to improve while we can hope that his approach and secondary offerings can take leaps with it. I feel a touch aggressive with this sub #50 slot, but my gut is saying those gains will come, turning him from a Toby to a 23%+ strikeout rate to go with beneficial ratios across that lovely volume.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 185 IP, 12 Wins, 3.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 165 strikeouts
50. Julio Urias (Los Angeles Dodgers) – I recall his debut against the Mets in 2016 and thinking “the Dodgers are going to take it slow, he’ll likely not get his real opportunity until 2018 if we’re lucky.” It’s 2021 now and we’re still waiting. I originally had Urias ranked inside the Top 40, but with Bauer’s signing, his volume will get scrutinized even more in the #5 SP slot. #Dodgeritis is still a thing and if David Price is pitching from Opening Day, no one will be shocked to see Urias’ innings get manipulated once again. How many can you really expect after just over 80 in 2019 and 78 in 2020? The ability itself is also in question. Ratios? Urias will perform well to a mid-to-high 3s ERA (with upside for better) and a solid WHIP, but I do wonder if he’s more of a 23% strikeout guy than a 25%+, as his breakers haven’t taken off quite as much as I would have liked. His changeup will keep them around, though, and overall Urias will help your squad. It just may come with a headache each week and less volume than you like.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 140 IP, 8 Wins, 3.75 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 145 strikeouts
51. David Price (Los Angeles Dodgers) – Okay it looks like Price is on track to not opt-out for this year. And hey, even if he does, he can opt-in any time during the season so a full goose egg of innings just isn’t in the cards for 2021. There’s also the question of, you know, how good is he going to be? It’s easy to be swayed by reports that he feels excellent given that he’s received enough rest to fully heal from his wrist surgery at the end of 2019, but he’s also not pitched since, well, 2019. It was a fantastic year, holding a 3.16 ERA and 1.15 WHIP across his first 17 starts until his wrist acted up and tanked the whole year, and maybe that’s enough for me to believe he can do it all again. Hopefully his velocity bounces back, the Dodgers don’t prevent him for going over 150 innings with Dodgeritis and having seven capable starters (he still has another year on his contract), and he becomes a staple for your rotation through the season. I’m teetering between “Price is obviously going to help through the full year” and “Price could be a Toby without a clear schedule ahead,” so I’ve elected to put him right here at #51. I’d love this as an SP #5 where I don’t need him to be that rock through the full year, but David could turn into that goliath that carries you to the promised land.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 150 IP, 10 Wins, 3.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 150 strikeouts
Tier 6: Dangling Off The Edge
52. Tyler Mahle (Cincinnati Reds) – Mahle is a fun one. His fastball has always been the staple of his repertoire, but it surged forward last season with an 11.6% SwStr despite a sub 9% career clip. A touch more velocity helped, but its propensity for elevation paired with an improved breaker allowed it to shine. That improved breaker was a slider (or cutter, according to Pitchf/x) and it’s the real story here. Mahle was able to keep it down decently well, throw it in the zone for strikes, and get close to a 20% SwStr rate. I’m not totally sold he can do this for a full season, though, and the heater will suffer if he can’t. He’s tried curveballs, changeups, splitters, etc. and this slider is the Obi-Wan Kenobi — his only hope. If it does work, we could see something similar to the 3.59 ERA and 1.15 WHIP from last season as he flirts with a 30% strikeout rate, but there is a sizeable floor that returns a new addition to the waiver wire. The good news? He’ll likely get the Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Cleveland, and Diamondbacks to kick off the season. Sure, the Cardinals are better now with Nolan Arenado, but I think Mahle can perform well enough early to capitalize on his schedule, then we’ll have a good enough assessment to figure out what to do.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 175 IP, 10 Wins, 4.00 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 185 strikeouts
53. Kevin Gausman (San Francisco Giants) – We’re past #50 and you’re going to see me ramble more. STRAP IN. If you rostered Gausman in 2020, it was excruciating trying to figure out when to start him. Keep in mind, we have this luxurious view of 2020 in our rear-view mirrors. “Oh a 3.62 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 32% strikeout rate? Of course you’re starting him every time!” He was coming off a 5.72 ERA and 1.42 WHIP, y’all. We had no idea if Gausman was going to burn us or not from the start and sadly, his schedule was a minefield. Sure, his increased velocity and improved fastball command is ultimately what mattered, but it was tough to say it was enough when he was heading to Coors and facing the Dodgers/Padres. In actuality, managers were only able to get value in his final three starts — 24 Ks and just 4 ER was wonderful — but that’s it. Now for 2021, I’m hoping he can sustain the gains. His heater grew an extra tick in velocity, while confidently finding the zone over 70% of the time and boasting an extra tick in SwStr. That’s lovely — likely not sustainable, but lovely. His splitter is the #2 offering and that usually brings concern, but to Gausman’s credit, it’s the most consistent splitter in the game. We’re starting to enter the point where early schedules matter and fortunately, Gausman is a comfortable start against the Mariners, with his only early hesitation coming against the Padres after. I think you’re fine and should have early success with Gausman, but if that velocity isn’t quite there in the spring, I may elect to swing elsewhere early. Without that fastball performing as well as it did last year, we could see a steep fall.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 180 IP, 10 Wins, 3.90 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 185 strikeouts
54. Jordan Montgomery (New York Yankees) – I feel like it’s been a decade since I’ve been bullish on The Bear, but here I am like Bernie Sanders as I ask you once again to draft JorMont. His fastball velocity went up last season, he’ll settle around a 25% strikeout rate, and his nearly identical 3.87/3.84 FIP/SIERA should raise your eyebrow. He won’t have a .320 BABIP, 1.43 HR/9, and 65% LOB rate. Just won’t be the case. Meanwhile, he has three secondary pitches that can miss bats — his changeup was nearly 25% last year! — and his fastball velocity has improved. Throw in a winning ballclub and a likely injured crew that’ll call on Montgomery starting for plenty of the season and you’ve got a stew of value cooking. If you needed anything else to help, he gets the Orioles to kick off the year. Feel free to draft him, start him then, and make up your mind after.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 170 IP, 11 Wins, 3.85 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 180 strikeouts
55. Triston McKenzie (Cleveland) – Look, it’s a Cleveland starter who isn’t destined to be a Toby. This can’t go wrong, right? McKenzie actually follows a different formula that his peers with his fastball dictating at-bats more often than Plesac, Kluber, or whoever else succeeded in the Cleveland rotation. And despite that I believe there’s still some polish left on the heater as it doesn’t have quite the command I want to come with, I think it’s going to help more than hurt. Meanwhile, his slider earned a 21% SwStr and can be a major secondary offering and his curveball — the proper #2 pitch when he was going through the minors — can be the breaker he throws for strikes with confidence. It’s the three pitch-mix you want. Changeup Schmangeup. There’s going to be some turmoil along the way with plenty of days making you wonder if you should stick with it, but if you’re looking at the full season, I imagine you won’t see McKenzie on waiver wires come summertime. This should work.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 160 IP, 10 Wins, 3.90 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 165 strikeouts
56. Dallas Keuchel (Chicago White Sox) – Look, I know I say “I don’t draft Tobys,” but I can’t deny that Keuchel, with all of his sub-20% strikeout ability, is very likely to give you good ratios again in Chicago with Grandal as his backstop and a powerful offense in his sails. It’ll be boring and frustrating at times, but he’ll get plenty of innings with LaRussa nodding along and it’ll come with ratios that will help. His stuff hasn’t degraded and that 50-60% groundball rate will continue to keep runs off the board effectively. This is the pick you need to make if you’re all McCullers + Burnes + Glasnow + Kluber. If you’re strikeout heavy already, get yourself a healthy DK wrap.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 190 IP, 14 Wins, 3.70 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 145 strikeouts
57. German Marquez (Colorado Rockies) – This is simple. Marquez is not worth your time at home against anyone but the bottom tier of offenses. On the road? Sure, throw him out there save for the Dodgers and Padres, or maybe them too. The splits are startling — understandably so — and if you’re one that is okay with getting 50%-60% production of an ace from your bench spot for the entire season, then you go with that. And to be completely fair, he’s not always going to perform at that level, but I digress. This is the pick for those that like platooning. I don’t, but you might. But Nick! If you remove that one start with 10 ER in Coors against Houston last year, he has a 2.82 ERA for the entire year! Good luck figuring out when he’s going to blow up like that. It’s going to happen, you won’t be ready for it, but it will.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 190 IP, 12 Wins, 3.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 180 strikeouts
58. Jose Urquidy (Houston Astros) – I understand those who are out on Urquidy. We haven’t seen much of him and 2020 gave us a sub-10% SwStr across the small 30 frame sample. Yikes. Fortunately, I don’t trust that both his slider and curveball are sub 10% SwStr pitches after they flashed 20% rates in 2019 and given a proper season, Urquidy can be an all-around asset. Not ace-like ratios, not a 30% strikeout rate, but a 3.70 ERA with a 1.17 WHIP and 23% strikeout over 150 innings? Sure, why not? Maybe even some more volume as Dusty pushes him further than others, while the wins could be decent as the Astros only lost Springer this off-season, for the most part. He gets the Athletics twice to kick off the year and I think I’m okay with that from Urquidy. If you are too, then let loose.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 150 IP, 12 Wins, 3.75 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 145 strikeouts
59. Shohei Ohtani (Los Angeles Angels) – I’ve been guilty of forgetting about Ohtani through this season after he was pulled from his second start post-TJS with a clear arm injury this past season. I even assumed he wouldn’t be a starter again, but here we are, with the Angels saying they expect him to be a part of their six-man rotation to begin the year. The skill set equates to an 30% strikeout ace, the only question is if he’s actually healthy. At this point, sure, why not. You’ll know early on if this ain’t working but if it is, man that slider and splitter will miss so many bats. That fastball? It’s a mid-to-high 90s heater that underperformed in 2018. The dude is legit and we’ll know early if the Angels will quit. Side note: This projection is all kinds of weird as Ohtani has one of the largest ranges of outcomes of anyone. Don’t take it to heart, please.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 90 IP, 6 Wins, 3.50 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 110 strikeouts
60. James Paxton (Seattle Mariners) – You know what’s wild? Before 2020 with its cyst in Paxton’s back and forearm tightness, Paxton never had an ERA above 4.00. He also had three consecutive seasons above a 28% strikeout rate and sub 1.30 WHIP. With his recent signing, the man is pitching for a team in April, so he’ll help your fantasy squad. I had originally put Paxton inside the injured squad and changing it once we got more clarity on his health, but I pushed him up because I’m willing to bet he’s performing early. Still, I’ll put him at the very end as we simply can’t expect the volume (six-man in Seattle as well!) while there’s a sizeable amount of volatility at play.
Nick’s reluctant 2021 projection: 100 IP, 6 Wins, 3.90 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 110 strikeouts