I’ve ranked my Top 200 starting pitchers for 2021 fantasy baseball, and we’re on to 81-100, where there’s still plenty of fun names but a lot more question marks. 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 9: I Want To Like Them (cont’d)
81. Dane Dunning (Texas Rangers) – Some of y’all are really into Dunning and I love to see it. What? No, I’m not sharing that admiration, but my favorite part of this is rooting for pitchers outside the limelight and to see many others feeling that same passion, that drive that maybe one day Mike Foltynewicz is really going to blow your socks off, well that’s a cool thing. Speaking of socks, Dunning ran out of his White ones now that he’s in Texas, a situation that is both better and worse. He no longer has the mighty Chicago bats nor Grandal’s elite framing skills, but his playing time is plenty more secure with the Rangers rotation looking more paltry than a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. The man will be fed. But will his slider hold a 22% SwStr rate again? Probably not. I doubt his four-seamer can maintain a near 13% SwStr as well, and it means his attractive 25% strikeout rate is more like honey for the bees. Do you want bees? No, I want A’s. But you’ve ranked that rotation poorly. I DIGRESS. I don’t think the good fortune follows DD to Texas (I so badly want to call him “The Good Friend” as he’s the Designated Driver), which will certainly be hard if he gets the Jays and Padres to kick off the year. Keep an eye to see if that slider is still performing well, but I think he was one and Dunn.
82. Spencer Turnbull (Detroit Tigers) – Look, I think Turnbull has the tools in his repertoire to be a consistent starter. His four-seamer does good work, his slider misses bats, and the curveball has its moments. It’s just that blasted sinker that gets in the way far too often, even when Turnbull has success in the previous start not featuring the sinker. Like me terribly playing an EA football game in the 90s, it’s Maddening. Sadly, I just don’t know when that’ll end and that’s the problem. He gets a dual duel against Cleveland to kick off the season and that may be enough to warrant a draft pick given you should be fine starting him in both, but even if he cuts the sinker in those first two starts, will that stick? I just don’t know. Please do the right thing, Spencer. Cut the sinker like it’s something you cut. I don’t know, construction paper, sure. JUST FIGURE IT OUT.
83. Ryan Yarbrough (Tampa Bay Rays) – Ah, The Fratty Pirate, your season has come. Kinda. The Rays will need innings this year with Rich Hill and Chris Archer as their newly minted #2 and #3 arms and Yarbrough should finally get a full opportunity in Tampa. It may be a bit wonky with a near 20% strikeout rate and ERA hovering 4.00, but there is good news — his WHIP. Did you realize he’s never held a 1.30 WHIP? I’m shook. Yarbrough is oddly replicating Kyle Hendricks from a funkier arm-slot and if the Rays actually let him go 5-6 frames with some consistency, there is a solid Toby to be had here. It may be a bit of a headache along the way with openers and skipped starts and a quick move to the bullpen and whatever ideas the Tampa Bay front office throws at Kevin Cash, but there is a decent starter here for the entirety of 2020. That cutter & changeup are simply too good.
84. Caleb Smith (Arizona Diamondbacks) – Oh hey Caleb, it’s been a while. I have so much sympathy for his 2020 season. First he gets his velocity back in order then has the season’s start delayed. Then he gets COVID and doesn’t get enough time to ramp up, so he walks the entire squad and the mailman in his first start. Then before he can even return to the field for the Marlins, he’s shipped off to Arizona, making his second start of the season on Sept. 11 — nearly 50 days after his July 25 outing. This is as lost of a season as you’ll find. The good news is he has a clear path with the Diamondbacks now and I’m actually pretty excited for what’s ahead. I think we’ll see that velocity around 92/93 mph this season (not 91/92 like 2019) with his excellent slider and changeup missing bats. If he wasn’t slated to face the Padres out of the gate, I’d likely raise him up further as the man we envisioned this time last year is still there. He’s ready to go. Just, maybe after a start or two, first.
85. Michael Kopech (Chicago White Sox) – Before the White Sox brought Carlos Rodon back, I had Kopech inside the Top 60. Sadly, with his playing time now in question, I wonder if you want to be stashing Kopech out of the gate. The upside is clear — pre-TJS, he was hitting 100 mph in the minors with a solid breaker and changeup — but is he fully recovered? How long could he be in the minors? Will he have good enough command to last when he does get his shot? I heavily favor April roster spots and I’d have a hard time sitting on Kopech when many arms will display something new and exciting early on. However, once Kopech does get his shot, I do believe you’ll want it. I’ll do a GIF Breakdown, Twitter will go mad, and our Discord voice chat will be hot. Just don’t undervalue that early bench spot.
86. AJ Puk (Oakland Athletics) – This ranking is going to be plenty different at the start of the season. Why? Because we just don’t know what condition Puk is in and how the A’s are going to use him. The A’s re-signed Mike Fiers, closing the open #5 spot in the rotation, but it’s possible there’s a sixth spot that could go to Puk, or he could be a major focus of their pen. His slider will miss bats at 90mph, his four-seamer touched 100 mph last year (albeit, out of the pen) and even if it’s mostly two-pitch, he’s still going to dominate often. This is your upside play that’s happening later than the others because we also don’t know how healthy he is but hey, if he doesn’t end up starting, he may be the closer in that pen and you still have value. And maybe he decides to call up R.A. Dickey and throw a Knuckle Puk. These are a lot of maybes, so I understand your hesitation, but for a late round pick, why not, right?
Tier 10: Boring Value
87. Alec Mills (Chicago Cubs) – I kinda love drafting Alec Mills. He gets two starts out of the gate against the Pirates — the Pirates! — and his array of sliders, curveballs, and changeups should keep them off-balance enough to squeak out a pair of strong outings. Who knows, maybe Alec looks strong enough to take on the Braves and Mets after? Okay I know and you don’t want that but who cares! You just secured two starts of production and now have zero emotion tied to dropping a player on your team when you want to pick up some hot hand the following week. It’s the boring value you want (Hey, that’s the tier name!) and the pick you should make.
88. JA Happ (Minnesota Twins) – In the same vein of Mills, Happ should get the Brewers and Mariners to kick off 2021 and I’m fine starting him for both. Sure, Happ’s secondary stuff is as shrug-inducing as they come, but the man has proven his some valuable since 2015 with just one season above a 3.65 ERA and 1.30 WHIP. Just take those two starts — or even one, that’s cool too — and put yourself in a position where you can make the call for a different arm. They’ll be plenty to choose from, I promise.
89. Mike Minor (Kansas City Royals) – You may be getting the message by now. Minor gets the Rangers first off and I’m all for that. The Rangers are rough and Minor has shown he can still get strikeouts will surviving deep into games. You want that against the Rangers, even with Minor’s questionable home run rates. Do I trust that Minor’s slider is actually worth the 21% usage it had last year? Nah. But maybe his fastball/changeup combination gets back into the same groove it found in 2019 and suddenly Minor is the hot quality start stud the league didn’t expect. For the most part, he’ll be a streamer this season and there’s no reason to not start against the Rangers across opening weekend. It’s free real estate.
90. Michael Pineda (Minnesota Twins) – I received many questions last year about Pineda when he returned to the bump and while it was ultimately just five starts, I told you to avoid him for those eight starts. I was wrong. Well, kinda. He only pitched above five frames twice in those games and had just 13.2 in the other three combined. Pineda had the benefit of an easy schedule and a solid team behind him, featured his excellent slider plenty, and had a solid “half season.” I don’t expect him to roll with ease for 2021, but honestly, I don’t have a single problem starting Pineda against the Tigers to start the year and take it from there. Look, that slider will still miss bats and he’ll chuck the heater at 92 mph and likely do well enough to avoid significant damage. That works! Then it’s the Mariners and you’re likely starting him there, too. I don’t have a whole lot of faith for his charade to sustain itself by the time June or even May arrives, but there’s value to be had. Go out there and take it.
91. Sean Manaea (Oakland Athletics) – Like Bassit before, I just don’t see a ceiling worth chasing. It has all that popcorn you see in random suburban homes and let’s be honest, you’d rather not have it. You’re going to get a low strikeout rate as Manaea struggles to be consistent with his slider and changeup, while I’m not sold that he’s destined for good enough ratios to make him 12-teamer worthy. Maybe he is, but that’s what he has to be for him to be worth your draft spot. He’s in this “Boring Value” tier because I can’t deny his solid WHIP each year with the chance of having a sub 4.00 ERA. It’ll come with plenty of aches and pains along the way, though, especially if his spring velocity is still depreciated. Ooof, that would be rough.
Tier 11: There Is Something Here
92. Matthew Boyd (Detroit Tigers) – So here’s the thing. Yes, I believe that Boyd’s 2020 can be thrown away dramatically as he was injured and never had his slider, the pitch that made us enamored in the first place. In 2021, he has a healthy off-season, no delays in his preparation, with his new changeup that was low-key fantastic. There’s only one problem and it’s his early schedule. It’s killing me. If the Tigers go a five-man, then after the first start of the year against Cleveland — which I’d be cautious with given his track record — it’s Minnesota, Houston, and Oakland ahead. Ugh, I just don’t want to sit on my hands that long waiting as it could be a rocky start. However, if it’s a six-man, it’s Cleveland twice + Oakland + Pittsburgh. Now that is much better. Look out for confirmation here and keep an eye on his slider in the spring. I have a good feeling it’ll be impressive once again.
93. Dylan Cease (Chicago White S0x) – Does Cease have legit talent? I think so. It’s just a matter of making the right tweaks to get his command in order before he turns into that 25%+ strikeout monster without a dramatic walk rate. I have zero idea if that will come this year and it would be foolish to anticipate a breakout out of nowhere from Cease. The good news is that we’ll likely know early on how we should perceive Cease — he has Michael Kopech breathing down his neck for his rotation spot and if Cease is still failing to earn whiffs and can’t command his heater, it makes for a simple decision. Feel free to draft Cease as a lottery ticket, but don’t wait too long to make the swap.
94. Carlos Martinez (St. Louis Cardinals) – Are we all forgetting about CarMart on purpose or simply choosing to? I’m conflicted as it seems like he’s set to be a legit starter for the team from April onward for the first time since 2017 and that should excite us. Sure, his 2020 stint was terrifying with a 9.90 ERA and 2.10 WHIP across 20 frames, but it was 2020. That year was bananas. He had COVID and an oblique strain, which explains why his fastball velocity fell to 93.7 mph after showcasing 95/96 for his entire career (or that he’s older and needed to pitch in relief in recent years to keep his velocity up, but I digress). I have to wonder if a proper off-season and a clear role may revive his heater and there’s upside to consider. The slider and changeup are still filthy. I think it’s been so long since we’ve been comfortable slotting Martinez into our SP position that we’ve forgotten how good he was and I don’t blame anyone taking a shot in their drafts. Watch him have a stunning start out of nowhere and ride that high for a good month or two as dozens of articles are written about his resurgence. We forgot about CarMart. Martinez — the new Cardinals ace. Carlost is now Carfound. Fine, I won’t run that last one. All indications are a go at the moment for Martinez and with a possible run of CIN, MIL, PHI, WSH to start off 2021, you could be just fine with Martinez in the backend of your rotation.
95. Griffin Canning (Los Angeles Angels) – Canning, you have so much potential. You have a fastball you elevate, a slider that misses bats, and a curveball that isn’t far behind. It’s what we’re looking for from starters and sadly, injuries have gotten in the way. You can’t expect his elbow to survive 2021 and it’s making it hard for Canning to get into a rhythm we can rely on. I’m not worried about his near 10% walk rate — that was two super weird starts as he went 9 out of 11 starts with two or fewer walks — but I am concerned by a low IPS (just five starts of at least five innings. Five!) and a dip in SwStr from 2019. That low IPS can haunt fantasy managers again this year and an opener against the Astros could easily bring headaches. Still, if you want strikeouts, he’ll likely give you a 25% strikeout rate and hey, he may get the Royals and Rangers after that first start. In most cases, I think you can let him go to the wire, then watch the Astros start and see if he’s worth the gamble after. I’m leaning he’s too much of a Cherry Bomb and you’re better off taking a shot elsewhere.
96. Anthony DeSclafani (San Francisco Giants) – After 2019, Tony Disco looked like the ole Jerad Eickhoff — the pitcher we were shocked had a productive season with a 1.20 WHIP. His success was rooted in a four-seamer that went from a 195 wRC+ all the way to a pedestrian 112 mark, allowing his slider to do its work. Sadly, DeSclafani was hurt for most of 2020, never got back in rhythm, and it fell apart. So now he has a new start with the Giants and I don’t think you should ignore him. He’s essentially a borderline waiver wire arm who gives you more strikeouts than a standard Toby. That’s a cool thing. What’s also cool is hosting the Mariners and Rockies (no Arenado on the road?!) for his first two starts of the year, followed by the Marlins and Phillies. It’s a prime opportunity for value if DeSclafani can find an inkling of his 2019 self. It’s unclear if he can — otherwise he’d be in Tier 8 — but don’t rule it out.
97. Yusei Kikuchi (Seattle Mariners) – Y’all know the upside, right? Kikuchi demonstrated a massive velocity boost last year (over two ticks!) + a new cutter that returned a 5.2 pVAL. When it worked, it was glorious. The problem was consistency. It came and went as it pleased and it drove us up the wall. I have a feeling that Kikuchi will continue to take steps forward in 2021, but the issue here is that it may take a little while before then. Kikuchi’s early schedule is not pretty — Giants, Twins, Astros, Red Sox — and I think I’d rather take chances elsewhere and hope that when Kikuchi figures it out, I can scoop him off the wire. So yeah, I’m willing to bet on Kikuchi’s second half a bit more than many of the names around him, but it’s just not the play I’d make to kick off the season.
98. Nathan Eovaldi (Boston Red Sox) – I think there’s still more in the tank for Eovaldi. Sure, injuries have gotten in the way but he hasn’t lost a tick off that 97 mph heater, plus his splitter and cutter each saw whiff gains in 2020. That’s exciting! I can’t say I fully trust his splitter to keep a 19% SwStr across a full-season sample, but the fact that Eovaldi is still doing things akin to his 2018 season should make you consider him as a very late option — maybe even in his first start of the year against the Orioles. I’d still dance around his starts like a sea of jacks, but you better note Eovaldi on your watch list. This could be the year.
99. Adrian Houser (Milwaukee Brewers) – We had a whole lot of hype surrounding Houser entering 2020, didn’t we? 111.1 IP of a 1.24 WHIP, 25% strikeout rate, and 3.72 ERA is a remarkable track record of success and it fell apart fast. His four-seamer kept its 12% SwStr rates — yay! — but it allowed a .381 average instead of its .207 mark the previous year. And that’s a huge issue when there isn’t anything else in his repertoire to effectively get batters out. In the end, 2020 was weird and I can imagine a scenario where Houser’s slight drop in velocity and overall ineffectiveness was a product of it. Or this could be more disappointment once again. With the Cubs first, I think I’d prefer to wait-and-see, but be ready for his third start against the Pirates. If he’s showing positive signs, that could be the start we start talking about it.
100. Tanner Houck (Boston Red Sox) – I went back-and-forth here. A lot. On one hand, Houck has a fantastic slider and a good enough pair of heaters that a 25%+ strikeout campaign without season-crushing ratios could be ahead. On the other, more ghastly hand, is his early season schedule: Rays, Twins, White Sox. I’m staring at that with a rough inhale as I wonder if it’s worth it to draft Houck and endure those offenses. Probably not … ? But I still want to rank Houck here because I think his full season upside is worth noting for your squads. Kremer has the same feel at ranking #101, but he’ll have a rougher time full season pitching for Baltimore, so tough noogies, Dean. Get drafted on a better team next time … oh, he was drafted by the Dodgers and then traded for Machado? Then be a less desirable asset next time, yeesh.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)