2021 Starting Pitcher Ranking Tiers (Fantasy Baseball)
Fantasy baseball drafters can improve by shifting their focus away from straight-ordered rankings and into tiered rankings. This helps you identify spots in the draft where you need to prioritize a certain position and other times when you can wait.
The difference between the No. 3 and No. 4 starting pitcher is often much different than the difference between the No. 4 and No. 5, and it’s important to know that. If you come across a “tier” of seven similar pitchers who are all undrafted, it makes sense to wait a round or two to take one.
Starting pitcher is a crucial position to lock down tiers for, so we’ll do our best to help you do that here. Using our consensus rankings, I have tiered off starters based on my own opinions and ADP. Here’s how I tier my top-80 starters.
Cole and deGrom are the only tier-one starters remaining from last year, with Bieber entering the fold after his Cy Young 2020 season. Safety separates this tier from the next one. Cole and deGrom have long track records of dominance, and Bieber’s pitch mix, control, and age also distinguish him from the names below.
The ceilings of Tiers 1 and 2 are pretty close, but these three aces seem much less likely to bust for you this year.
Best Pitcher: deGrom
Best Value: deGrom
Safest Bet: deGrom
Biggest Risk: Bieber
Highest Upside: Cole
As I said above, these five names all have similar ceilings to the three in Tier 1. However, there are some slight issues with each one. We have seen each of Darvish, Bauer, Nola, and Giolito have uninspiring seasons. There are lingering questions about how many innings the Dodgers will let Buehler throw. Any of these are perfectly fine SP1’s for your fantasy roster, but the bust risk is slightly higher than for the top three.
Best Pitcher: Darvish
Best Value: Giolito
Safest Bet: Buehler
Biggest Risk: Bauer
Highest Upside: Bauer
We still have a ton of ceiling in this tier, but the risk grows even more. Scherzer and Kershaw have the age questions. Flaherty and Castillo have struggled with consistency in their young careers, and Woodruff has a somewhat limited arsenal — he throws a ton of fastballs — on a bad team in a tough ballpark for pitchers. We are still in the territory where all five have the talent to be elite fantasy starters, but the odds of them hitting are lower than the names in the tiers above.
Best Pitcher: Kershaw
Best Value: Woodruff
Safest Bet: Kershaw
Biggest Risk: Flaherty
Highest Upside: Castillo
Seventeen starting pitchers ranked, and we’re still busting at the seams with upside. Snell and Glasnow are two of the best strikeout pitchers in baseball, while Gallen and Maeda were incredible last year and feel very safe moving forward. There are sizeable question marks with each pitcher here, but any of them can easily be an SP1 if things work out.
Best Pitcher: Snell
Best Value: Maeda
Safest Bet: Gallen
Biggest Risk: Glasnow
Highest Upside: Snell
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The tiers widen at this point, with the ceiling dropping considerably. You really don’t want to take your SP1 from this group, but you’re doing great if getting an SP3 here. There is a big mix of safety and upside here, so who you take will depend on your philosophy.
Best Pitcher: Strasburg
Best Value: Carrasco
Safest Bet: Lynn
Biggest Risk: Strasburg
Highest Upside: Burnes
Another large tier here with a wide variety of “types.” There are a handful of high-floor, low-ceiling options, as well as some high-ceiling, low-floor pitchers. The ADP range is also quite wide, and you can see any of them falling in your draft. That makes this a pretty nice tier from which to take a pitcher or two.
Best Pitcher: Luzardo
Best Value: Greinke
Safest Bet: Hendricks
Biggest Risk: Plesac
Highest Upside: Luzardo
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We have quite a bit of upside here, but every single one of these guys could be considered droppable by May. You really need to have a solid SP foundation before taking pitching from this tier, but all of them could handily smash their draft cost.
Best Pitcher: Sanchez
Best Value: Montas
Safest Bet: Lopez
Biggest Risk: Corbin
Highest Upside: Montas
There are some high-upside names here and some safe ones, but so much risk. The pitchers reliable for innings are low-ceiling options, and the guys with some potential could struggle to even reach 100 innings in 2021. I always favor upside at this stage, so I would focus on the names with K/9’s above nine (Price, Ohtani, Heaney, McKenzie, Rodriguez).
That doesn’t mean you can’t take one of the safer choices as well (Soroka, Gonzales, Bassitt, Means), but you can replace those guys during the season with some key waiver additions and streams. League-winning SPs are the guys that get drafted outside of the top 50 and end up in the top 10, so try to cash in one or two of those candidates late in the draft.
Best Pitcher: Marquez (outside of Coors)
Best Value: Heaney
Safest Bet: Alcantara
Biggest Risk: Kluber
Highest Upside: Kluber
I’m stopping here at pitcher 80. That should cover standard leagues, but of course, many more names must be considered in deeper leagues. This is another mixed bag of starters. Some guys could smash this value if they can just stay healthy (Paxton, Pineda, Taillon), and some talented arms just have innings questions (Javier, Canning, Hernandez).
Best Pitcher: Paxton (when healthy, which may be never again)
Best Value: Taillon
Safest Bet: Urquidy
Biggest Risk: Paxton
Highest Upside: Pearson
These three studs are all set to miss a significant chunk of the season. You can see our innings projections are most bullish on Sale, but the most recent news suggests that Syndergaard will be the first one back. Severino has the bleakest outlook.
I would be most interested in Syndergaard with a late-round pick, but that’s assuming I have a good amount of IL spots on my roster. A pitcher missing two months is a big deal, so you don’t want to cost yourself a roster opportunity while you wait.
Although all three of these guys are fine at their current ADP’s, I wouldn’t prioritize any of them just because of how capped their upside is given how much time they’re already sure to miss.
If you want to dive deeper into fantasy baseball, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Baseball Tools as you prepare for your draft this season. From our Cheat Sheet Creator – which allows you to combine rankings from 100+ experts into one cheat sheet – to our Draft Assistant – that optimizes your picks with expert advice – we’ve got you covered this fantasy baseball draft season.