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2021 Starting Pitcher Ranking Tiers (Fantasy Baseball)

Feb 22, 2021

 
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.

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Tier 1

Player Info
Projection
Player Rank ADP IP W ERA WHIP K K/9
Jacob deGrom 1 7.0 198 15 2.89 1.03 255 11.59
Gerrit Cole 2 6.5 200 16 3.27 1.06 265 12.0
Shane Bieber 3 7.8 200 14 3.24 1.08 241 11.0

 

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

Tier 2

Player Info
Projection
Player Rank ADP IP W ERA WHIP K K/9
Yu Darvish 4 17.5 183 13 3.51 1.14 219 10.2
Trevor Bauer 5 14.5 195 14 3.70 1.19 227 10.5
Walker Buehler 6 18.3 173 13 3.48 1.12 198 10.3
Aaron Nola 7 23.3 194 13 3.68 1.21 220 10.2
Lucas Giolito 8 20.3 183 13 3.73 1.18 220 10.8

 

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

Tier 3

Player Info
Projection
Player Rank ADP IP W ERA WHIP K K/9
Max Scherzer 9 25.5 180 13 3.43 1.11 2321 11.6
Clayton Kershaw 10 30 170 13 3.51 1.13 176 9.4
Jack Flaherty 11 28.5 178 12 3.63 1.16 207 10.5
Luis Castillo 12 30.8 185 13 3.64 1.24 213 10.4
Brandon Woodruff 13 41.5 170 11 3.63 1.18 189 10.1

 

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

Tier 4

Player Info
Projection
Player Rank ADP IP W ERA WHIP K K/9
Blake Snell 14 45.3 158 12 3.49 1.21 192 10.9
Zac Gallen 15 40.5 171 11 3.90 1.26 187 9.9
Tyler Glasnow 16 50.5 156 11 3.54 1.18 204 11.8
Kenta Maeda 17 52.8 168 12 3.96 1.20 183 9.7

 

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

Tier 5

Player Info
Projection
Player Rank ADP IP W ERA WHIP K K/9
Lance Lynn 18 56.5 187 12 4.01 1.25 199 9.6
Stephen Strasburg 19 66.8 160 11 3.82 1.21 172 9.7
Sonny Gray 20 66.8 171 11 3.94 1.30 188 9.9
Carlos Carrasco 21 77.3 168 12 3.64 1.19 193 10.3
Dinelson Lamet 22 82.3 140 10 3.56 1.18 180 11.6
Corbin Burnes 23 59.8 147 9 3.80 1.26 177 10.8
Hyun Jin Ryu 24 67.5 172 12 3.81 1.21 160 8.4
Max Fried 25 63.3 169 12 3.95 1.33 162 8.6

 

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

Tier 7

Player Info
Projection
Player Rank ADP IP W ERA WHIP K K/9
Kyle Hendricks 26 80.3 186 12 4.05 1.22 152 7.4
Zack Greinke 27 98.0 184 12 3.94 1.18 169 8.3
Jose Berrios 28 85.3 188 13 4.04 1.25 189 9.1
Zack Wheeler 29 89.8 183 12 4.06 1.27 169 8.3
Zach Plesac 30 67.0 160 10 4.39 1.25 144 8.1
Chris Paddack 31 103.3 138 10 3.94 1.17 140 9.1
Jesus Luzardo 32 100.3 145 9 3.75 1.23 148 9.2
Ian Anderson 33 92.5 140 9 4.16 1.35 152 9.8
Charlie Morton 34 118.8 160 12 3.78 1.24 173 9.7
Framber Valdez 35 97.0 155 11 3.76 1.32 159 9.2

 

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

Tier 9

Player Info
Projection
Player Rank ADP IP W ERA WHIP K K/9
Lance McCullers Jr. 36 124.5 150 10 3.79 1.27 156 9.4
Patrick Corbin 37 125.0 186 12 4.10 1.31 189 9.1
Dylan Bundy 38 104.3 173 11 4.42 1.28 175 9.1
Joe Musgrove 39 139.0 159 11 3.99 1.24 156 8.8
Pablo Lopez 40 131.8 160 9 4.07 1.28 146 8.2
Sixto Sanchez 41 120.5 138 8 3.97 1.29 119 7.8
Julio Urias 42 113 129 9 4.03 1.27 126 8.8
Frankie Montas 43 158 142 9 4.12 1.30 141 8.9

 

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

Tier 10

Player Info
Projection
Player Rank ADP IP W ERA WHIP K K/9
German Marquez 44 164.3 192 12 4.29 1.30 189 8.9
Kevin Gausman 45 139.5 166 10 4.01 1.26 175 9.5
Sandy Alcantara 46 137.5 177 9 4.48 1.39 148 7.5
David Price 47 166.8 120 8 4.12 1.27 122 9.2
Mike Soroka 48 159.3 139 9 4.09 1.30 111 7.2
Marco Gonzales 49 149.0 178 10 4.28 1.27 143 7.3
Aaron Civale 50 177.8 152 9 4.50 1.31 128 7.6
Dustin May 51 151.3 111 7 3.94 1.25 99 8.0
Shohei Ohtani 52 199.8 81 5 4.34 1.39 89 9.9
Andrew Heaney 53 200.8 166 10 4.25 1.24 176 9.5
Chris Bassitt 54 169.0 154 9 4.28 1.30 137 8.0
Triston McKenzie 55 174.0 123 7 4.44 1.28 127 9.3
Corey Kluber 56 179.8 145 10 4.06 1.21 146 9.1
Eduardo Rodriguez 57 208.3 153 10 4.16 1.33 157 9.3
Tyler Mahle 58 189.3 147 9 4.54 1.34 152 9.3
Dallas Keuchel 59 176.0 175 11 4.31 1.37 129 6.6
John Means 60 224.5 159 8 4.71 1.29 134 7.6
Marcus Stroman 61 206.3 163 10 4.02 1.35 135 7.5

 

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

Tier 10

Player Info
Projection
Player Rank ADP IP W ERA WHIP K K/9
Jose Urquidy 63 194.5 142 9 4.44 1.27 126 8.0
James Paxton 64 237.7 133 9 3.99 1.23 152 10.3
Zach Eflin 65 211.3 160 10 4.47 1.32 148 8.3
Cristian Javier 66 195.8 127 7 4.72 1.38 138 9.6
Michael Pineda 67 233.8 140 9 4.46 1.27 127 8.2
Brady Singer 68 250.0 146 8 4.48 1.36 122 7.6
Jameson Taillon 69 205.8 128 8 4.33 1.29 114 8.0
Sean Manaea 70 253.0 146 9 4.13 1.24 125 7.7
Nathan Eovaldi 71 251.8 137 9 4.30 1.30 137 9.0
Ryan Yarbrough 72 275.5 153 9 4.73 1.26 126 7.4
Zach Davies 73 216.0 161 9 4.27 1.40 117 6.6
Jordan Montgomery 74 240.3 125 8 4.46 1.30 122 8.8
Griffin Canning 75 293.3 138 8 4.58 1.32 138 9.0
Nate Pearson 76 235.3 114 7 4.51 1.35 109 8.7
Elieser Hernandez 77 241.3 136 7 4.53 1.28 140 9.3
Matthew Boyd 78 308.0 171 9 4.59 1.28 179 9.4
Drew Smyly 79 262.3 120 7 4.40 1.35 135 10.1
Justus Sheffield 80 271.3 148 8 4.44 1.43 131 8.0

 

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

Injured Tier

Player Info
Projection
Player Rank ADP IP W ERA WHIP K K/9
Chris Sale 62 225.3 90 7 3.34 1.08 116 11.7
Noah Syndergaard 87 269.3 88 6 3.89 1.23 86 8.8
Luis Severino 90 321.0 76 6 3.70 1.18 83 9.9

 

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.

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Jon Anderson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jon, check out his archive and follow him @JonPgh.

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