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Sleepers: Pitchers (2021 Fantasy Baseball)

by Michael Waterloo | @MichaelWaterloo | Featured Writer
Mar 26, 2021

Ah, sleepers. What a term that is for fantasy managers.

See, back in the day, the term used to hold true value. You could get a leg up on your league by getting information on a player that no one else had.

Then came the internet and fantasy advice on every corner of it.

Now the term is – to break the 4th wall – used to drive SEO, which is super, super important. It shows that fantasy managers still want that leg up and still want to find those sleepers, despite all of the information out there.

So in a vacuum, sleepers can still exist, but the term we should be using is value players. It’s not as sexy, of course, but it’s what they are.

It’s identifying players who are going at a certain cost in drafts who can return a greater value.

For this article, we will look outside the top 200 of FantasyPros’ Consensus ADP to identify who are value players, I mean sleepers, are.

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Marcus Stroman (SP – NYM) ADP 202
Look who is just outside the top 200 and qualifies! If you’ve read any of my work this offseason, you know how I feel about Stroman. He’s the player I have on more teams than anyone else in the league.


Well, I want innings this year. That’s the key to success when building a pitching staff in 2021, more than any other year. Innings are down across the league, and it’s not just a 2020 thing. It’s been a multi-year trend now.

Stroman, though, has shown that he’s been able to go deep into games and into the season.

Plus, he now has a new pitch – a split-changeup – that gives him a true out-pitch. 

Stroman may be a veteran, but he’s going to have a breakout career year in production. He’s a top 100 player for me this year who you can get outside the top 200.

Tarik Skubal (SP – DET) ADP 307
While the Tigers brought in Julio Teherán and José Ureña, it wasn’t enough for them to keep Skubal off the Opening Day roster and out of the rotation. The Tigers have their big three young arms – Skubal, Casey Mize, and Matt Manning – but if I had to choose one for 2021 and the future, I’m going with Skubal here. 

Mize has the highest upside, but his injury risk should give you some pause. 

While Skubal didn’t exactly light the world on fire during his rookie year last season, he has shown signs during Spring Training (for what it’s worth) of taking a step forward. What has me most excited about him is that he added a brand new splitter to his arsenal, which could be a big-out pitch for him and a much-needed pitch for him to take the next step in his development as he works on refining his fastball command.

Tanner Houck (SP – BOS) ADP 365
Who? I’m trying to give you some deep sleepers here! Let me live.

Houck will be starting the season in Triple-A for the Red Sox, but he’s one injury – or bad start from their terrible staff – away from cracking the rotation.

He pitched 17 innings last year, and he had a 0.53 ERA with a 11.12 K/9. Both are what we should expect going forward from him.

I’m kidding. Please don’t expect that.
What you can expect, though, is an advanced pitcher who put together a good college career, who has a four-pitch arsenal. He doesn’t have ace upside, but there’s a regular SP4 there if things break right.

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Randy Dobnak (SP – MIN) ADP 473
When the Twins brought in J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker, I was pretty bummed. Not because I don’t like them, but because they became hurdles for Dobnak to lock up one of the last rotation spots in Minnesota. But if you’ve followed Happ and/or Shoemaker for the past couple of seasons, you know that A. they haven’t been excellent, and B. Shoemaker can’t stay healthy.

Enter Dobnak, who is fun to watch on the mound in general, but this spring, he’s backing it up with the numbers. 

Dobnak hasn’t allowed an earned run in 8.2 innings, and it’s thanks in part to his newly-refined slider. 

If you haven’t noticed yet, anytime a pitcher shows off a successful new pitch, I’m paying attention.

The Twins optioned Lewis Thorpe, all but locking up a spot on the Opening Day roster for Dobnak. He should take over a rotation spot in due time. 

Daulton Jefferies (SP – OAK) ADP 630
Jefferies couldn’t have had a worse rookie season if he tried. And, to be fair, he only had one start after being called up Oakland, and it came with some hype before he took the mound.

But when he was rocked for five earned runs – including two home runs – and two walks in two innings, he became an afterthought.

You may want to rethink that, as his main competition for a roster spot is the oft-injured A.J. Puk and Mike Fiers.

So far in the spring, he’s struck out 20 batters in 13 innings and has far greater upside than Fiers, at least.

Yusei Kikuchi (SP – SEA) ADP 364
We here at FantasyPros are ALL aboard the Kikuchi train in his third season. We’ve been burned before, sure, but Kikuchi has added velocity to his fastball, added a cutter, and his ERA/FIP differential was the third-lowest in baseball among starters who threw at least 40 innings in 2020.

There’s true SP3 value here that you can have for free. 

Ryan Yarbrough (SP – TB) ADP 255
Do you want a boring pitcher like Stroman who is going even later? Look no further than Yarbrough, who has had the opener tag on him for so long that we forget that he’s graduated to full-time starter for the Rays. He’s nothing too special, but he’s a nice ratio stabilizer who you can draft toward the end of your draft.

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