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2021 Fantasy Baseball Primer: Starting Pitcher

by Michael Waterloo | @MichaelWaterloo | Featured Writer
Mar 18, 2021

No matter the draft you’re in, you’re going to see pitching pushed up. With so few true aces out there – and, as you’ll see throughout this primer, innings being at a premium in 2021 – people don’t want to get left out at the position.

You’ll see teams double-dip (pocket aces) at the turn, and as a result, you’ll see great hitters getting pushed down the draft board.

We’ll help you navigate the landscape by looking at our top 100 pitchers based on NFBC ADP, putting them into tiers, grading them in each pitching category, and giving you a little insight on them.

2021 Draft Kit: View printable cheat sheets, sleepers & mistakes to avoid >>

2020 Recap

The hardest thing for any fantasy analyst, projection model, or fan to do when preparing for their upcoming drafts is to know how much stock to put into the shortened 2020 season. Normally, if a player was red hot or cold for part of a 60-game stretch, we’d be preaching not to overreact too much. That’s the approach I’m taking, as it’s such a small sample to go off of overall, and each player needs to be taken on a case-by-case basis – especially pitchers where one start could skew their season-long numbers in a big way.

A few of the biggest standouts from last season at the position were Shane Bieber and Kenta Maeda. Despite having skeptics heading into 2020, Bieber once again showed that he is a true ace with yet another dominating season. When he gets hit, he allows hard contact, but he’s earned your trust as a top 3 pitcher. Meanwhile, Maeda got out of Los Angeles, where he was toyed with too often and turned into a bonafide ace in Minnesota. 

On the flip side, we saw struggles with Chris Paddack, whose fastball drove his value in 2019 but sunk it in 2020. He’s a polarizing pick this year, but he discovered analytics (lol) this offseason and is looking to regain the dominant fastball that made him the sheriff of fantasy baseball. He’s in a nice bounceback spot in ADP.

A few pitchers came from out of nowhere to contribute, but there were a ton of debuts last year. Ian Anderson stands out, as he made a case for himself to be the pitcher to roster in Atlanta over Max Fried and Mike Soroka. Watch one inning of him, and you see why. His stuff is filthy. A trio of Cleveland pitchers – Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale, and Triston McKenzie – all broke out to varying degrees, too, and have subsets of fans and disbelievers, respectively. Count me in on Civale, but out on the other two for 2021.

2021 at a Glance

In the first round of drafts, we have three first-round pitchers with Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole, and Shane Bieber in 12-team leagues and a ton in the second and third rounds. If you have an early pick in the draft, you’re still taking the top 5 hitters without any pause, but you really have to hope that teams don’t double up on pitchers behind you, or it can leave you scrambling on the 2-3 turn. 

We always want to identify potential breakout players at a position, and even with pitchers going crazy early, there are a lot of breakout candidates for 2021. My two favorite breakouts are Marcus Stroman and Elieser Hernández. What I like about Stroman, who is a proven veteran, so having him as a breakout is weird, is that he added a new pitch, which can result in more strikeouts for him. Strikeouts have always suppressed his value in roto leagues. He also can give you the volume that you need this year. As for Hernández, his slider is a pitch that I’m in love with, and I’ve learned to trust Miami when it comes to developing pitchers. Other players who could break out are Jesús Luzardo, Nate Pearson, Dylan Cease, Casey Mize, Freddy Peralta, and Tyler Mahle. 

Grade Legend*

  • A: A no-doubt stud capable of winning you a category
  • B: A solid, consistent contributor
  • C: Won’t lose you the category, but won’t win it, either
  • D: You can do better here
  • F: You’re getting NOTHING

(*Grades listed are relative to the position and take positional depth into consideration.)

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Michael Waterloo is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Michael, check out his archive and follow him @MichaelWaterloo.

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