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Lucky 2020 Pitchers To Avoid in 2021 (Fantasy Baseball)

by Mike Maher | @mikeMaher | Featured Writer
Feb 5, 2021

Preparing for the 2021 fantasy baseball season is going to be unlike anything else fantasy managers have ever experienced. We have a bizarre and extremely abbreviated 2020 season to use as our most recent point of reference and approximately 60-80 innings to evaluate for most pitchers. That’s a very small sample size, and we’ll have to attempt to determine the outliers from the trends.

Specifically for pitchers, one of the first places to look is the difference between the pitcher’s ERA (earned run average) and their FIP (fielding independent pitching). FIP estimates a pitcher’s performance without considering their defense, and it’s useful in determining success vs. luck. By taking a look at ERA-FIP numbers, we can get an idea who which pitchers may have been luckier than they were good.

While this isn’t a perfect science, especially with a small sample size, it will help us identify players who will likely be over-drafted in 2021. If you look at the list below, Trevor Bauer has the second-highest ERA minus FIP at -1.15. No one is going to argue that Bauer isn’t an excellent pitcher, but a -1.15 ERA-FIP and .215 BABIP that his excellent numbers were at least somewhat boosted by some good luck. That being said, Bauer himself would probably argue that his 25.% Hard-hit %, 12.33 K/9, and generally elite Statcast numbers back up his performance and that he created much of his own luck.

So, there are exceptions, especially with smaller sample sizes. Below is a chart that includes every pitcher with a negative ERA minus FIP in 2020. We’ll highlight a number of them and take a look at what we can expect in 2021.

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2020 Negative ERA-FIP Leaders

Name Team ERA FIP ERA-FIP
Athletics 2.29 3.59 -1.30
Zach Davies Padres 2.73 3.88 -1.16
Trevor Bauer Reds 1.73 2.88 -1.15
Rockies 3.44 4.57 -1.13
White Sox 1.99 3.08 -1.09
Yankees 2.84 3.89 -1.05
Cardinals 3.15 4.11 -0.96
Cubs 4.48 5.44 -0.96
Diamondbacks 2.75 3.66 -0.91
Rangers 3.32 4.19 -0.87
Indians 2.91 3.59 -0.68
Cubs 2.88 3.55 -0.67
Indians 1.63 2.07 -0.44
Padres 2.09 2.48 -0.39
Red Sox 4.50 4.88 -0.38
Rockies 4.33 4.65 -0.32
Blue Jays 2.69 3.01 -0.32
Phillies 2.92 3.22 -0.30
Twins 2.70 3.00 -0.30
Cubs 2.01 2.23 -0.22
Mariners 3.1 3.32 -0.22
Brewers 3.05 3.20 -0.15
Twins 4.00 4.06 -0.06
Rangers 5.35 5.39 -0.04
Royals 4.06 4.08 -0.02

 
Average Draft Position (ADP) referenced is FantasyPros consensus ADP

Chris Bassitt (OAK): -1.30 ERA-FIP, ADP: 168

Chris Bassitt has the honor of leading the league in negative ERA minus FIP in 2020 with a -1.30 mark. His 2.29 ERA was easily the best mark of his career, and his 3.59 points to some good luck. His 3.78 xERA backs up that claim. Bassitt is the kind of pitcher who pitches to contact, and as we know, pitchers who rely on their defense are punished by FIP. So, perhaps it isn’t a surprise that Bassitt, who aims to keep the ball in the park and on the ground as much as possible, had the worst ERA-FIP. Still, he isn’t a 2.29 ERA pitcher, and his below-average strikeout numbers won’t appeal to fantasy managers either. Most projections peg him for an ERA above 4.00, and his consensus ADP is currently at 168. I have him outside of my Top 200.

Zach Davies (SDP): -1.16 ERA-FIP, ADP: 207

If there was a pitcher who out-pitched his metrics in 2020, it was Zach Davies. After a solid 2019 with the Brewers, Davies was excellent for the Padres in 2020, pitching to a 2.73 ERA and a 7-4 record while posting a 8.18 K/9 that was easily the best mark of his career. His -1.16 ERA-FIP and .249 BABIP both point to some regression in 2021, and his xwOBA, xERA, xBA, xSLG, Barrel %, Fastball Velocity, and Fastball Spin were all well below league average. Davies is on the Cubs now, and Chicago seems to be headed for a full rebuild sooner rather than later. Don’t buy his 2020, and let someone else roll the dice.

Alec Mills (CHC): -0.96 ERA-FIP, ADP: 372

Alec Mills was a streamer’s darling in 2019 with a 2.75 ERA, but this 4.19 FIP pointed to darker times ahead. And right on cue, he pitched to a 4.48 in 11 starts in 2020 with a 5.44 FIP that indicated he had, in fact, turned back into a pumpkin. I include Mills here not because fantasy managers are going to be tripping over themselves to draft him in 2021 (as evidenced by his 372 ADP) but because his 2019 numbers (his -1.44 ERA-FIP in 2019 would make him our leader for 2020) are exactly the kind of red flags were are looking for here. Consider Mills a cautionary tale.

Zac Gallen (ARZ): -0.91, ERA-FIP, ADP: 43

When it comes to comps, Zac Gallen is about as far from Alec Mills as it gets. Yes, he has a negative ERA-FIP of -0.91 (and a -0.95 ERA-xERA to boot), but that doesn’t tell the whole story. He is still just 25 years old and has been good-to-excellent at every level on his way to the big leagues, including 27 starts in the show over the last two seasons. His FIP is likely punished by his 45.6% groundball % because the numbers are expecting more bad luck in the future, and his 15.3% HR/FB was the highest mark of his career. But his numbers are solid across the board, and he has outperformed his FIP at every level. He has regularly struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings, and he limited hard contact last season. Even if he is due for some general regression in 2021, he is still going to be a Top 50 player.

Lance Lynn (CHW): -0.87 ERA-FIP, ADP: 55

Lance Lynn is one of those interesting cases in that he has a significant ERA minus FIP of -0.87  but actually has an ERA minus xERA number that is slightly positive at 0.06. After underperforming his metrics for two straight seasons in 2018 and 2019 due in part by BABIPs that were well above league average, Lynn finally got some good luck in 2020. His 1.39 HR/9 was easily the worst of his career, but he reduced his hard contact en route to a .242 BABIP. His advanced metrics have been solid in both 2020 and 2019, but Lynn will turn 34 during the 2021 season. Will he be able to maintain his 2020 momentum over a full season with a new team in 2021? I’m not betting on it. His consensus ADP right now is 55, but I have him outside of my Top 100.

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Mike Maher is an editor and featured writer at FantasyPros and BettingPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive, follow him on Twitter @MikeMaherand visit his Philadelphia Eagles blogThe Birds Blitz.

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