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Starting Pitchers with Relief Pitcher Eligibility (2021 Fantasy Baseball)

by Josh Shepardson | @BChad50 | Featured Writer
Feb 16, 2021

Kenta Maeda’s monster 2021 campaign makes him a highly valued fantasy player in leagues where he has RP eligibility.

The ability to slot a starting pitcher in a relief pitcher spot can be advantageous in numerous fantasy formats. Yahoo! has opted not to remove eligibility players earned in 2019 for 2021. The result is a handful of starting pitchers with reliever eligibility despite failing to log even a single relief appearance in their 2020 campaign. I’ve whittled an extensive list of RP-eligible starters down to my five top targets.

Average Draft Position (ADP) referenced is using FantasyPros consensus ADP

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Kenta Maeda (SP – MIN) Overall ADP: 52
Maeda’s first season with the Twins was an unmitigated success. He started all 11 of his appearances for the Twins after the Dodgers jostled him between the rotation and bullpen.

The veteran righty shoved to the tune of a 2.70 ERA, 2.92 SIERA, 0.75 WHIP, 4.0 BB%, 32.3 K%, and 17.2 SwStr% in 66.2 innings, according to FanGraphs. It was a career year, which also featured excellent batted-ball data. He set a new high with a 49.0 GB%, and his 85.3 mph average exit velocity was the fourth-lowest mark out of 101 qualified pitchers, per Baseball Savant.

Maeda finished as the fourth-most valuable starting pitcher last season, according to our Value-Based Rankings. The five-year MLB vet ranks as SP17 in ADP despite last year’s top-five finish, and I’m a pinch more bullish on his outlook than his consensus ADP, making him a superb RP-eligible starting pitcher target.

Carlos Carrasco (CLE): Overall ADP: 71
Carrasco outpaced his advanced metrics (3.59 FIP, 3.65 xFIP, and 3.91 SIERA) with a 2.91 ERA in a dozen starts stretching across 68 innings. However, the season is best viewed through the lens of being a successful bounce-back following his victory over cancer in 2019.

He’ll get a value boost for 2021 by being traded from the Indians to the Mets. A superior offense supports him, and he calls MLB’s most challenging park to score runs at home, per our MLB Park Factors.

Carrasco’s poised to thrive in his new park after demonstrating a big home/away split throughout his career, which favored pitching on the road. He’s SP25 in ADP, but I view him as a top-20 starting pitcher.

Framber Valdez (HOU): Overall ADP: 97
Valdez is coming off of a breakout 2020 campaign, finishing as SP24. The 27-year-old southpaw was a workhorse — relatively speaking with a pandemic-shortened season — with 70.2 innings in the regular season and 24.0 in the postseason. 

He led qualified pitchers with a 60.0 GB%, but he wasn’t a pitch-to-contact ground-baller. Valdez also struck out 26.4% of batters before bumping that up to 28.9% in the playoffs. The lefty’s 10.0 SwStr% might seem light for a pitcher with his gaudy strikeout rate, but his curve is a full-blown put-away pitch. It generated an 18.0 SwStr% while also earning takes with just a 58.8 Z-Swing%. 

Valdez’s sinker offers him a pitch to throw for strikes and earn quick outs to complement his curve. He’s SP31 in ADP, and my ranking is within the same range, making him a stellar RP-eligible starting pitcher target.

Kevin Gausman (SF): Overall ADP: 138
Gausman was excruciatingly unlucky in 2019, and the Giants reaped the rewards of buying into his advanced metrics. He rebounded with a 3.62 ERA, 3.24 SIERA, 1.11 WHIP, 6.5 BB%, 32.2 K%, and career-high 15.2 SwStr% in a dozen appearances (10 starts) spanning 59.2 innings. 

Gausman’s turnaround started the year before, finishing his gruesome 2019 season with a 4.03 ERA, 2.89 SIERA, 1.16 WHIP, 5.5 BB%, 31.9 K%, and 19.8 SwStr% in 22.1 innings working as a reliever — save for one two-inning opener appearance. Add it all up, and he has a 3.73 ERA, 3.15 SIERA, 1.12 WHIP, 6.3 BB%, 32.1 K%, and 16.5 SwStr% in his last 82.0 innings.

Being selected as SP44 in the consensus ADP, he’s undervalued. Draft him among the SP3s.

Tejay Antone (CIN): Overall ADP: 369
I’ve twice previously featured Antone in a piece after highlighting him as one of 10 Must-Have Pitchers as well as one of 15 Breakout Player to Target. Antone’s draft position isn’t moving. He’d be a steal drafted three rounds earlier than his ADP, making him an extreme value at an ADP north of pick 300. Don’t leave drafts without him.

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Josh Shepardson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Josh, check out his archive and follow him @BChad50.

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