I woke up the other day in a sweat from a dream where I drafted Dinelson Lamet, Chris Paddack, and Corbin Burnes as my top starters in RazzSlam. I was confused: did I do well? Did I do poorly? Would the internet validate my team or would they mock me in private chats? Could I ever show my avatar online again? I started to second guess everything about my life. “French fries should be eaten with mayo!” a voice in my head shouted. “And Mariners pitchers are smart draft choices!” My moral compass was haywire. Had I crossed the threshold from “Bold” to “Brazen?” Should I not have made sriracha Oreos? Is Zombies and Bridgerton too much for my next spec script? No! Sexy Victorian zombies are avant garde! It is the world that doesn’t understand me. Brazen is only the beginning…

This continues my article last week on my bold predictions for 2021 starting pitchers, where I predicted Trevor Bauer will finish outside the top 10 starting pitchers, and Robbie Ray will finish inside the Top 50 starters. Those predictions were bold, as I explained, because I was at least 50% deviated from the consensus on those players. Heh. Deviated. It makes me sound like the crazy one! To quickly summarize, when we look at player performance projections on a bell curve, we see areas of increased likelihood where they will finish. Sometimes, there are good reasons to believe a player will outperform their consensus projection, like Bauer’s track record of getting hit hard, or Robbie Ray’s seldom-used sinker that could become a bread-and-butter pitch. However, those projections are pretty milquetoast (I know you’re checking the spelling of that now). But! I don’t want to give you absurd click-bait advice. I could just write an article that says, “Sixto Sanchez SP1!” and that would be useless to you. He’s not gonna do that. What I want to do is reveal some unlikely scenarios that have good reason to play out. So! Let’s move on to the brazen tier of predictions for 2021 Starting Pitchers. I’ve got one deep dive and a lightning round ready for you.

 Jack Flaherty Finishes as SP1

October Grey awakes on his camping trip, shakes the dried leaves from his beard, and announces to his audience of birds and spiders: “Jack Flaherty finished 2021 as the best starting pitcher for fantasy baseball. Also he made less than the league average salary after arbitration. Also also, I should have brought a change of underwear.” Is this scene unbelievable because Grey’s communing with nature, or because Flaherty is SP1? Most pundits are talking about the big 3 SP as the most likely to finish at the top of the fantasy class: Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, and Shane Bieber. I’ll add a dark horse candidate to reach the rank of Mound General: Jack Flaherty.

At 25 years old, Flaherty is entering his fifth year of MLB service and his fourth year as a full time starter. After a stunning 2019 when he tossed nearly 11K/9 while cutting his BB/9 to 2.5 with a 2.75 ERA, Grey put Jack Flaherty as his third best player on his starting pitcher rankings for 2020 fantasy baseball. Then, Covid happened, and the Cardinals missed a ton of time as the virus raged through the team clubhouse. The Cardinals missed over two weeks of games — nearly 30% of the season! With the knowledge that the team needed to play a ton of makeup games and pitchers would need to step up, Flaherty seemed stressed. He threw only 1.2 IP in his first game back.  There were days when Flaherty was on track, and days when he — like most of us in the world — just didn’t have his game. He’d throw two games where he was un-hittable, and then get shelled in the next game. He’d chat to reporters that his stuff just wasn’t working. On September 15, 2020 — deep into the Cardinals’ run of makeup games — Flaherty gave up 9 ERs in 3 innings against the weak-hitting Milwaukee Brewers, who had just been no-hit by Alec Mills and his 65 MPH curveball. Flaherty’s 2020 performance was downright boring, if not ugly, and he finished as SP74 on the year, just ahead of Randy Dobnak. Blech.

Yet, among the top 25 best starters as ranked by xFIP in 2020, Jack Flaherty had the largest difference between his ERA (4.91) and his xFIP (3.42). The next closest was Tyler Glasnow. Flaherty’s barrel % remained constant with his career averages, and batters actually hit more of his pitches into the ground than in 2018 or 2019. Flaherty got unlucky with a 1.34 HR/9 and 23.1 HR/FB%, each nearly 25% more than his career average. Flaherty had an average launch angle of 9 degrees, and of the pitchers nearby to Flaherty on the launch angle charts, they all had significantly lower HR/9 rates than Flaherty: Shane Bieber (0.81 HR/9, 15.2% HR/FB%), Hyun-Jin Ryu (0.81 HR/9, 11.8% HR/FB%), and Antonio Senzatela (1.10 HR/9, 12.9% HR/FB%). Of those pitchers, Flaherty trailed only Ryu in hard hit %.

In fact, Flaherty in 2020 had a lower average exit velocity, lower barrel rate, and lower hard hit % than Shane Bieber — by a margin of 15% in the last category. The closest Statcast comp to Flaherty’s 2020 was Hyun-Jin Ryu, but Ryu ended up with a significantly lower barrel rate. Two other pitchers ended up with similar numbers as well: Kyle Hendricks and Kenta Maeda.

There are two factors that indicate Flaherty will outperform his projections in 2020: 1) his swinging strike rate, and 2) the improved Cardinals defense. In 2020, Flaherty achieved the best swinging strike rate of his career, with a 14.3% whiff rate. This resulted in a 68% contact rate — also the best in Flaherty’s career — and a significant decline in hitters making contact with pitches outside the strike zone. Additionally, the Cardinals are projected for one of the best defenses in the history of baseball, and even a performance where the starters achieved only 60% of their projected performance would still be a stunning defense. So, even though Flaherty’s 2020 looked ugly on paper — and indeed, it was ugly for fantasy managers — the numbers under the hood indicate that he’s primed for an effective year. Between his ability to miss bats, his ability to avoid hard contact and keep the ball down, and the seeming stunning defense of the 2021 Cardinals, we can see that small “blip” on the far right side of the bell curve where everything goes right for Jack Flaherty, and he finishes the year as the best starting pitcher in fantasy baseball.

Last year, I asked fantasy managers to draft Shane Bieber as their first pitcher. Bieber was going — on average — in the third round for most league formats, and was actually dropping in ADP (as in, being drafted later) as the Covid-delayed season came to the fore. Fantasy managers who trusted me were rewarded with the best starting pitcher in fantasy baseball for 2020, and a player who came nearly two rounds later than the consensus top choices for starting pitcher (Gerrit Cole who finished as SP6, Jacob deGrom who finished as SP8, and Justin Verlander, who did not play). For 2021, I’m getting brazen on Jack Flaherty as the guy to finish SP1. Grey has Flaherty ranked as his ninth pitcher on his Top 20 Starters for 2021 Fantasy Baseball, and Rudy has Flaherty 11th on his Razzball Steamer Projections.

Let’s head to the lightning round!

Zac Gallen Finishes Outside the Top 50 SP

  • Come on, you know I love Zac Gallen. I even made him the star of one of my weekly pitching highlights last year! But, there’s fear in my eyes when I look at Gallen, and it’s not because he’s chucking a knuckle curve at me. Gallen has never pitched more than 80 MLB innings in a year. His ERA has been over a run below his FIP / xFIP both in 2019 and 2020. He walks a lot of batters (3BB/9 in 2020). He has 6 wins in his career. That’s right, I said career. I mean, let’s phrase it this way: since 2019, Zac Gallen has thrown 150 innings and gone 6-8 with 3.63 BB/9 and a 3.90 xFIP. And he’s being taken as the 14th starter of the board in NFC draft and holds right now. Again: I really am a fan of Zac Gallen, but with Razzball Steamer Projections seeing his WHIP near 1.30 and his ceiling of 10 wins, that’s not thrilling upside for me. Call me brazen, but I don’t think this is Zac Gallen’s year.

Hyun-Jin Ryu Finishes in the Top 10 SP

  • I mean, did you read the Jack Flaherty comps above? Ryu is better at inducing soft contact than Flaherty. The Blue Jays are going to be a wild team this year, and their outlook could be extremely volatile. “I’m afraid of the AL East!” say the people drafting Gerrit Cole first, Tyler Glasnow 17th, and losing their marbles over John Means, Jordan Montgomery, Corey Kluber, Nathan Eovaldi, and Ryan Yarbrough. Ryu is being drafted as the 27th pitcher off the board at the NFC. Ryu had a tough transition to MLB when he was injured a lot when he was younger, but he’s basically made two full years of starts in a row, and since 2019 he has gathered a 19-7 record in 250 IP, and has the 16th best K-BB% rate and 7th best K/BB ratio. With an improved Blue Jays offense bolstering his wins, we can see more positive outcomes for Ryu than his current value has him slated for.

Tony Gonsolin Starts Over 10 Games 

  • The Los Angeles Dodgers are overloaded at starting pitcher, and the signing of Trevor Bauer pushed Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin to the bench. But, David Price sat out 2020 and was hurt in 2019, and he’s approaching 36, which doesn’t bode well for innings (summarizing from my Corey Kluber Fantasy Outlook, only Rich Hill and Bartolo Colon have had positive value recently after significant time off at that age). Julio Urias? Following anterior capsule surgery in 2017 and missing most of 2018, he’s thrown a total of 130 innings since 2019. And the Dodgers have this guy, Tony Gonsolin, who was tied for 20th in K-BB% in 2020, had a 2.31 ERA and 0.84WHIP, and the 9th best K/BB rate in MLB in 2020. Why is he not starting? Last year, the pitching-rich Dodgers used a combination of Gonsolin, May, and Ross Stripling to fill in for injuries, before trading Stripling away. Dustin May was tied for the status of second youngest pitcher in MLB last year, and he may not be ready for full-time action. Gonsolin — who is four years older than May — is in his prime and MLB-ready, and a lot of teams would be interested in his arm. The Dodgers could have openings in the rotation, or might see Gonsolin as a Stripling-style trade bait. Either way, I think there’s a small chance Gonsolin finds a spot in a rotation — somewhere — and snags fantasy value in 2021.

The Detroit Tigers Rotation Brings Positive Fantasy Value

  • Finishing 2020 as SP82, Spencer Turnbull was the best Tigers starter for fantasy teams in 2020. I’ll wait while you stop laughing. In fact, Turnbull would have been the only Tiger pitcher rostered in most formats, and even he would have been off-the-radar in 12-team leagues. Yet, there’s some upside in Motown, as Turnbull finished 2020 with a FIP around 3.50 and a K/9 above 8.0 while allowing a minuscule 0.32 HR/9. Despite Matthew Boyd being a homer-magnet, he had a nearly 9.0 K/9 and the lowest launch angle of his career. Tarik Skubal had a K/9 over 10 across 7 starts in 2020, and top 10 prospect Casey Mize will probably spend significant time in the majors this year. With the rest of the Tigers rotation being fairly uninteresting, it wouldn’t be surprising to see top 20 prospect Matt Manning play significant time in the majors. With the White Sox looking like the only offensive-minded team in the Midwest, Tigers pitchers could see some easy matchups and finish the year as reasonable fantasy assets for deeper leagues and best ball formats.

All right friends! Drop your brazen predictions down in the comments and let me know what wild ideas you’ve got for 2021 pitchers.

 
  1. Jimmy says:
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    Love me some Tony G. Are you as bullish on Dylan Moore as Grey? 14 team roto 5×5….got Moore at pick 127….Eloy at 42…I waited until pick 99 and grabbed Bundy and 127 for McCullers…those are my first two pitchers still drafting as it’s a slow draft… thoughts? Thanks again for the insight!

    • everywhereblair

      everywhereblair says:
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      What’s up Jimmy?

      I mean, Dylan Moore’s gonna get reps, and when the prospects show up in Seattle, I don’t think they’re taking playing time from him. Moore could have a an average year in terms of stats but the opportunity potential of hitting on top of a lineup and playing everyday is great. So yeah, big value there.

      You know I don’t like SP in early in drafts, but Bundy and McCullers as 1/2 is simply avant garde…as in, you’re about the only one who understands it. ;) But worry not…Marco Gonzales has finished top 50 three years straight, and there’s good upside value in players like Montgomery, the A’s rotation, and so on. Plenty of fish out there, but you might want to grab them sooner than later lest your roster become unbalanced.

      Cheers!

      • Jimmy says:
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        Thanks! Canning, Montgomery, Stroman, pitchers of that ilk are my targets…Ehen do you expect Kelenic, Kiriloff to be up?

        • everywhereblair

          everywhereblair says:
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          I hate to do this, but *I* think it’s extremely hard to predict when the prospects will show up in 2021. Itch and Grey definitely have their opinions, but I think from my perspective, it’s not lost on front offices that the prospects who came up early in 2020 (Spencer Howard, Nate Pearson) fared far worse than those who waited a bit (Sixto, Ian Anderson, Triston McKenzie, Randy Arozarena). Especially with the new format of the minor leagues, we *may* see a delayed start to prospect arrivals. Conversely, front offices may just throw caution to the wind and bring the prospects up because the minors are all in disarray.

          So…I can’t help there! :)

  2. Ryan says:
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    I want to test something on Zac Gallen. When you talk about the limited innings he has seen in the majors, that is strictly about exposure to major league hitting right? Not an innings ceiling. Cause in 2019 Gallen pitched 80 something innings in the majors AND 90 something innings in the minors. Gallen has pitched 143 milb innings in 2017, 137 milb innings in 2018, and 170+ innings in 2019. Sure he didn’t get those game reps in 2020 but neither did anyone else. Gallen is as good a bet as anyone to eat lots and lots of innings this year.

    Notwithstanding, exposure to major league hitters might be a problem…I think that is what you are saying

    • everywhereblair

      everywhereblair says:
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      Hey Ryan!

      Absolutely. I mean, we’re all manipulating data for a narrative in one way or another. When we look just at Gallen’s MLB stats, I get nervous. But! He made a significant improvement in year two. His run of quality starts can’t be ignored. But his upside is capped on a bad Diamondbacks team. Just in terms of stats, I can see him being a nice pitcher…in a video game. But in the real word, he’s got an uphill battle, especially compared to some pitchers at his ADP like Snell, Lamet, Lynn, etc.

      Thanks for checking in!

      • Ryan says:
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        Yeah I agree with everything you said. Mashing our thoughts together, I am expecting Gallen to be an innings eater leader, 175 innings minimum, with a 3.5 to 3.75 ERA… making him NOT an ace. However he will still be crazy valuable for the season s immediately after a shortened one as not a lot of guys will have his innings pitched floor.

        It’s a weird year cause some of the names that you mentioned, Lamet, Paddack, Burnes, I am expecting them to be better than Gallen on a per inning basis, but I can’t see any of those guys breaking 130 innings this season. That means Gallen might pitch 50 innings more than any of them this season.

        Innings pitched will be a major issue this year.

        Thanks again!

        • everywhereblair

          everywhereblair says:
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          Yeah, I think we’re back in the same pre-season boat as 2020, when teams were chattering about using 6-man rotations and innings limits and such. Flaherty was one topic of innings limits last year, before the Cardinals fell behind in the schedule. IP and opportunity are absolutely important to fantasy production, and when it comes to my final rankings, I’ll probably have Gallen in the 20s. Cheers!

  3. Lower the Jolly Roger says:
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    This is good stuff! 12 team 5×5 roto… keep 10 + 10 farm/stash…

    Are you keeping Teoscar ,Laureano , J Urias over Lamet??

    I’m down on Lamet this year but feel I can make a nice trade with him .. I have Tucker coming up for context.. I also have Flaherty as my ace … Thank you !

      • Lower the Jolly Roger says:
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        Tucker already on my farm .. doesn’t count against my keepers until I bring him up

    • everywhereblair

      everywhereblair says:
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      Thanks for the compliment!

      Personally, Teoscar is the only one I get excited about over Lamet, and it sounds like Teoscar is in a tough spot this year. Lamet’s got some shoulder stuff going on, which is a bit nerve-wracking. If it sounds like Lamet’s shoulder is doing well, then I keep him without question.

  4. Dave says:
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    I love your content!

    I have a SP dilemma. 11 team keeper where we can keep 10 (points league too).

    So far, my hitters are: Trout, Story, Arenado, Abreu, Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, Pete Alonso and Wander Franco (I want to keep him for the potential future payoff).

    That leaves two roster spots for SP. I have Strasburg, Glasnow, Burnes, Plesac, Wheeler, and E.Rod.

    Lots of risk (I get it). I want to balance winning now, with future potential. Which 2 would ya’ll keep?

    • everywhereblair

      everywhereblair says:
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      If trades are a possibility, see if you can unload Plesac. There’s a contingent out there that thinks he’s the next Bieber. I’m not in that contingent.

      Strasburg had/has carpal tunnel. Other players who had/have carpal tunnel and its accompanying relief procedures include David Price and Jerad Eickoff. So, I don’t think we’re seeing anything great for fantasy purposes from Strasburg. He may come back to prominence, of course, but it’s not likely compared to other players.

      Glasnow leads the rest of that group, and I like Burnes over Wheeler. Plesac is fine but I think he’s overvalued this year. Eduardo is coming off a year-ending myocarditis caused by Covid-19 that some believed was career ending, and I wouldn’t keep him over any of those players.

      Thanks for checking in!

  5. BBHHI says:
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    Chris Bassitt top 12 in AL-Only. Although several of his years were low IP years, year in, year out his stats were good. He just doesn’t get his due, given the overall body of work.

    • everywhereblair

      everywhereblair says:
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      Loved Bassitt last year, and I think he makes a step forward this year. Athletics were quietly one of the best hitting teams last year, but they’ve definitely lost some pop. Bassitt is an absolute grab late in drafts, as most people aren’t thinking about him at all. Thanks for checking in!

  6. speill says:
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    What’s up. Quick keeper question. Keep Bauer or Nola each has $16 salary. Thanks

    • speill says:
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      Add Flaherty to that list at $8. Pick 2 to keep. Thanks

      • everywhereblair

        everywhereblair says:
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        What’s up?

        The safe move is Bauer and Nola, but *I* would keep the upside of Flaherty and Nola. Bauer gets hit hard and it’s going to catch up with him eventually.

  7. C says:
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    What are your feelings on Clarke Schmidt? Does he pitch this year. Thinking of taking a flyer. Thanks!

    • everywhereblair

      everywhereblair says:
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      I think he’s absolutely a dart throw, but there’s a 95% chance he doesn’t start in the majors in April. So, he’ll be available on the waiver wire in non-dynasty formats when he’s closer to debut. When he does come up, I’d consider him a streamer in 12-team or deeper leagues only for this year.

      Thanks for checking in!

  8. bbhhi says:
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    Two quick opinions please: Heaney and Fulmer?

    • everywhereblair

      everywhereblair says:
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      Heaney is definitely a top-30/top-40 starting option, and I’d be happy to have him on any team.

      Fulmer is a total dart throw and beyond my top 100. I wouldn’t roster him except in the deepest of leagues.

      Thanks for checking in!

  9. Danny says:
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    Last keeper berrios 14th round, or Bundy 19th? Thanks

    • everywhereblair

      everywhereblair says:
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      I think Bundy at 19 is a fine value. 14th round can still be an upside outfielder or such. I like Berrios, but there’s a good chance you can grab him again fairly “late” in drafts due to his lackluster 2020.

      Thanks for checking in!

  10. 183414 says:
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    Enjoyed your analysis and takes on starters. Just don’t understand whether these predictions were “brazen” , “bold”, or just your outright opinions. Sounds like you’d be thrilled with a starting rotation of Flaherty or Nola/Ryu/ Bundy/ McCullers/ Heaney/ Bassitt. Which is it ?

    • everywhereblair

      everywhereblair says:
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      Part of my ability to be “bold” — which I’m defining as seeing a likely positive outcome that’s 50% above or below consensus projections — is that I don’t have anybody ranking my outcomes, like Grey or Rudy have. I’m free to show some wild possibilities. When my full rankings come out, undoubtedly Flaherty won’t be SP1, but more likely SP 7-10.

      So I’m seeing these outcomes as possible, but still unlikely. Thanks for checking in!

  11. Harley Earl says:
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    Man, this is great stuff. Love the insight on Flaherty.

    Whether he ends up #1 or #5, I think you’ve made some very valid points. And the conclusion is he’s being underdrafted at his current ADP. So, if there is one point that really stands out in your piece about Flaherty that convinces you he’ll make this leap forward, what is it? What one thing do you believe makes Jack Flaherty a difference maker?

    • everywhereblair

      everywhereblair says:
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      One thing: significant swinging strike rate increase in 2020.

      His fastball was significantly less effective in 2020 compared to 2018 and 2019, so he managed to increase his swinging strikes even while struggling with his main pitch. When his fastball comes around, watch out!

      • Harley Earl says:
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        Yeah, that’s a good point. When the fastball begins hummin’, he’s going to really be throwing smoke!

        Good stuff EWB!

  12. 183414 says:
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    If Nola and Flaherty were available in the 2nd/3d rounds , depending on whether you were in a 12 or 15 teamer, who do you take ?

    • everywhereblair

      everywhereblair says:
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      I think the consensus would agree Nola in all formats. Higher floor, pretty high ceiling. Nola has more wins and starts and similar Ks to Trevor Bauer over the past few years, with a lower hard hit rate.

      Thanks for checking in!

      • 183414 says:
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        Thanks dude, but I know the consensus. Based on your article, I was wondering who YOU would draft. I love that Flaherty now has Arenado and Goldy at the corners. Prefer their defense by a lot over Bohm/ Hoskins. I’m really torn before Nola/Flaherty. Flaherty pitching in a much weaker division that Nola.

        • Harley Earl says:
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          183414,

          Something you might want to consider here. Flaherty is looking to get out of St. Louis in the next year or two. He won his arbitration case and is still crying over his pay and he’s mad because the STL lawyers hurt his feelings arguing against him during arbitration. They pointed out his flaws, and poor little titty baby got all upset!

          But, I believe this works to our advantage. Flaherty is an angry fellow. He’s going to be determined to prove his worth and earn higher pay. He’s also going to do his darndest to get as much as he can and get out of St. Louis as fast as he can. He’s a California boy with a love for the Dodgers, Giants and anything that doesn’t resemble a cowtown or an Arch.

          Don’t be surprised if Flaherty throws up a Cy Young season. He’s determined to improve his pay and get the Hell out of STL. And remember you heard it here first.

        • everywhereblair

          everywhereblair says:
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          I’d still draft Nola over Flaherty if they were both on the board when I need a pitcher.

          That said, in a standard draft, I would consider it an optimal start to get two hitters and then hunt for Flaherty in round 3, because Nola is going way before Flaherty.

  13. bbhhi says:
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    Does Tanner Roark have any redeeming value?

    • 183414 says:
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      Probably as a human being.

    • everywhereblair

      everywhereblair says:
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      There’s a contingent out there that loves Tanner Roark. Statistically, he’s not, like, a disaster. But, I don’t think he makes the top 100 SP this year and is beat deployed as a contrarian move in DFS formats. Thanks for checking in!

  14. Son

    Son says:
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    Father forgive me for I sinned last year. I did not listen and draft Bieber.

    Good stuff, doc.

    • everywhereblair

      everywhereblair says:
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      Just my luck…Rudy took Flaherty as his SP1 in LABR last night!

  15. Jerry says:
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    Wait. No tell me I didn’t miss Raz slam ??

    • everywhereblair

      everywhereblair says:
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      Nope! Sign ups are still going — check that link in the top of my article or the “leagues>razzslam” tab at the top of the page.

      Wouldn’t be the Razzslam without the Razzbowl champ!

  16. PACHOKA says:
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    WAT’S WRONG WITH PADOCK?

    • everywhereblair

      everywhereblair says:
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      Don’t think anything is truly “wrong.” Young pitchers struggle sometimes. Certainly the pressure is on for him to perform well this season, but he seems to be training to improve and hopefully he’ll have a better 2021. Outside the top 20 SP but within the top 50 likely.

Comments are closed.