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6 Starting Pitchers to Reach For (2021 Fantasy Baseball)

Mar 6, 2021

 
Us fantasy baseballers get all in a tizzy focusing on value picks in the draft. Everybody wants to be the guy to grab the breakout pitcher who ends up getting Cy Young votes in the 19th round. And while it’s true that most of the time, the manager that wins your league will have hit the jackpot on a few late-round draft picks, sometimes where players get drafted can be really overrated.

Making sure you lock in the players that are most likely to perform really well is super beneficial. Sometimes that means getting reachy. Here are five starting pitchers that I’m reaching above their ADP to get on my team this year.

Average Draft Position referenced using FantasyPros consensus ADP

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Gerrit Cole (SP – NYY): ADP 7 / Jacob deGrom (SP – NYM): ADP 6
I know that it’s pretty lame to write-up the top names at a position in fantasy advice articles, but it needs to be said here. The only thing we can be certain of in 2021 is uncertainty. With no pitchers even reaching 100 total innings pitched last year, it is anybody’s guess which pitchers will lead the league in innings pitched and what exact number that will be.

That makes it worthwhile to spend a first-round pick on the pitchers that separate themselves from the pack, that being Cole and deGrom this year. These two have proven to be elite workhorses capable of throwing 200+ innings and winning Cy Young awards. There are simply no other pitchers that are as safe as these two. I don’t think you reach too far for these two names, and while it wouldn’t be my preference, I would not blame anybody for grabbing one of these two, even with the first overall pick.

Brandon Woodruff (SP – MIL): ADP 41
There are three things I focus most on when evaluating starting pitchers.

  1. Strikeout rate
  2. Walk rate
  3. Ground ball rate

These three stats have proven to be the three best predictors of ERA and WHIP performance. You can restrict yourself to just these three categories and still have an excellent feel for the SP player pool.

Woodruff checks all three boxes. Using 2019 and 2020 data collectively, Woodruff has amassed a 29.8% strikeout rate, a 6.1% walk rate, and a 47.7% ground-ball rate. Of all pitchers that have faced at least 500 batters over this sample, Woodruff is in the 89th percentile in strikeout rate and the 75th percentile in both walk and ground-ball rate. Only two other pitchers find themselves above the 75th percentile in each of those categories (Clayton Kershaw and Stephen Strasburg).

That gives Woodruff a really high floor to go with a high ceiling. The field has made notice of Woodruff, as shown by his average ADP of 40.6. That makes him the 13th starting pitcher off the board on average. To me, even that is a bit too cheap. I have Woodruff in my top ten pitchers, and he is a priority for me. I am more than willing to reach for him in the third round and make him the SP1 of my staff.

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Carlos Carrasco (SP – NYM): ADP 68
For a reason that I do not fully understand, Carrasco is the 22nd starter off the board in drafts right now.  That is despite him proving his health and abilities in 2020 with a great 2.91 ERA and 29.3% strikeout rate in 68 innings last year. Over the last two years, he has a 28.7% strikeout rate, a 6.8% walk rate, and a 44.4% ground-ball rate. He also now joins a solid Mets team that should prove to be a much better than average offensive unit this year, raising his wins projection significantly.

Carrasco is behind at least seven pitchers that I like him better than. I think the age questions are weighing much too heavily here, and that provides a great opportunity. While it’s great to wait and just get him at his current ADP, I’m all for reaching a bit to make sure you get him over another league member who might also have noticed this discount.

Zack Greinke (SP – HOU): ADP 99
I believe this will be the first time in my FantasyPros career that I recommend drafting Zack Greinke. However, this 2021 setup just plays very nicely for what he offers. Greinke does not offer anything thrilling with his 23.6% strikeout rate, low velocity, and a less than elite offensive unit behind him now. Despite that, he has stood the test of time and has continued to be a valuable fantasy commodity in recent years. In 2019 he threw 208.2 innings with a 2.93 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP. Those are amazing numbers, and now you’re getting this guy after pick 100 in drafts.

The biggest reason to take Greinke is the innings. He is one of the few pitchers in the league that has thrown 200+ innings multiple times in the last five seasons, and as a proven veteran, the Astros are very unlikely to do anything to limit his innings. His 4.03 ERA in 67 innings last year is a little bit concerning, but all of the numbers underneath the hood look almost identical to 2019, so I don’t see a reason to expect another ERA above 4 this year.

Getting a reliable innings-eater capable of posting elite ratios as your SP3 or SP4 is a super enticing proposition, and Greinke offers you just that opportunity. I would reach as high as the 80s to grab Greinke this year.

Sixto Sanchez (SP – MIA): ADP 128
I took a shortcut putting deGrom and Cole together, so I’m adding on a sixth name for you fine people here. The much-hyped Marlins prospect was effective in 39 innings last year, posting a 3.46 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP with a 20.9% strikeout rate and a 7% walk rate. Those are certainly not numbers that knock your socks off or took fantasy teams to the promised land last year, but the stuff this guy has looks nearly unmatched.

Sanchez can touch triple-digits with his fastball, which he has two variations of (a four-seamer and a sinker that generates a ton of ground-balls). In addition to that nice foundation, he has an awesome changeup that generated an 18.1% swinging-strike rate and a -10 degree average launch angle with last year. He also has a slider and curveball that admittedly need some refining, but it’s inspiring to see those pitches in the arsenal.

The pitch arsenal here is just so, so interesting that I think it justifies a reach. Unlike the other names we talked about here, Sanchez is almost surely not going to be near the league leaders in innings pitched, but the upside is through the roof while he’s on the hill. His ADP is currently 129, but I’m willing to reach into the top 110 to put him on my staff.

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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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