Welcome to the hardest post to write each year. *jamming out to The White Stripes’ The Hardest Button to Button while looking at the ‘Submit’ button* This post can go a dozen different ways. This is merely how I landed on the top 20 for 2021 fantasy baseball, but I can’t stress enough that who you drafted in the 1st round could change this. Empirically, this is who I like for the top 20 for 2021 fantasy baseball. This also can change depending on the depth of your league. There’s still tiers to help you wade your way through the top 20, and, when I’m done with all the rankings, I will do a pairings post to help with who to draft in the 2nd round if you took so-and-so in the 1st round. All the positional rankings will live under the 2021 fantasy baseball rankings. The projections in this post are, as always, mine. For Steamer’s 2021 Fantasy Baseball Projections for Hitters and 2021 Fantasy Baseball Projections for Pitchers, click those thingie-whosies. Anyway, here’s the top 20 for 2021 fantasy baseball:
NOTE: All 2021 fantasy baseball projections are based on a 162-game season, and will be until we hear definitively there will be less games.
NOTE II: All my rankings are currently available on Patreon for the price of a Starbucks coffee, if you get one of those extra grande frappuccino jobbers. Don’t wait for the rankings to come out over the next month, and get them all now.
11. Christian Yelich – This tier started in the top 10 for 2021 fantasy baseball and ends at Bichette. I called this tier, “The I Test.” In some ways, this tier and the next could be called, the “Why are we trying to remember 2020? It was an awful year, let’s just forget it. Sure, those who forget history are doomed to repeat, but if we’re not repeating it for another 100 years, let someone else remember that shizz, I’m not gonna be here” tiers. Forget that Yelich is going way later than this in many drafts, because everyone thinks a few random weeks during a pandemic is his new normal. This year’s fantasy drafts will be focusing on skills vs. results from an abbreviated goof of a season. One of the most interesting aspects to 2020 is…How soon can I forget it? Also, why are some people pretending a 60-game sample size makes all the sense in the world for some players, but not other players? Draft for 2021, not for last year. It sucks if you got hoodwinked into Yelich last year as a top three pick. Check your mailbox, I sent you a sympathy card. No I did not! You get an asymptomatic card! Put on your big boy pants, and grab your spine out of your wastebasket! Baby time is over! Yelich did a giant dump last year, and now you’re the one wearing the diapers? You’re telling me a guy who is 29 years old suddenly forgot where the strike zone is? His numbers make no sense. A 30.8% strikeout rate? A .205 average? A guy that does dirty flirting every year with .300 suddenly can’t hit? Sure, and I have a bridge to sell you on the River Kwai. He had a 99% exit velocity; a 98% Hard Hit rate; top 2% of the league in walks, and a .276 xBA on fastballs when he was .347 the year before. Oh…*builds a tower of phonebooks to the moon*…kay. Right. 2021 Projections: 104/34/102/.288/16 in 549 ABs
12. Bo Bichette – Not to get Mr. Prorater all crazy, but Bichette was on pace for a 30/24 season last year. Mr. Prorater, “Did you know if every person in the world wished Happy Birthday to one person, it would take that person seventy-four years to text back ‘Thx’ and eighty-one years for ‘Thanks’?” Mr. Prorater, I think you might be making up your prorating. If you combine, Bichette’s first two years, he’s gone 16/8 in 319 ABs, while hitting .307. Godfather Larry Walker better not get any blood from a dead person found in his backyard on his SpongeBob Nascar jacket, because Bo Bichette’s gonna need it in 25 years. His walk rate fell pretty low last year, and last year for him was 29 games, so *raspberries lips*. Again, draft based on skills and not what’s jangling around in your skull about what a player might’ve did in 29 games. Skills vs. skulls, go skills. Bichette is a 25/25/.290 guy at his floor. His ceiling is The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo. Not to thirst trap you too hard, but this year’s Bichette feels like last year’s Tatis. Good luck getting Bichette after the 5th pick next year. 2021 Projections: 102/27/81/.294/25 in 597 ABs
13. Freddie Freeman – This is a new tier. This tier goes from here until Machado. I call this tier, “Landslide.” Otherwise known as the Fleetwood Mac song that doesn’t require you to drink nasty-ass cranberry juice.
Well, I’ve been ‘fraid of changin’
‘Cause I’ve built my fantasy team around you,
But 60-game season stats prorated makes you bolder,
Even valuable players get older,
And I’m gettin’ older, too, but not as old as you, Bartolo.
All of these guys are well known names who have been around the block a few dozen times. Only surprising thing is a few of them are currently being drafted way after this point, which I can’t figure out, but will try to cover why when I get there. As for Freeman, congrats on winning the stronger of the two weak MVP awards. Doesn’t take much onion peeling to see Freeman was wildly lucky last year to hit .341, which in a small sample marched him to his best average year. Line drives and HardHit% were great, but it was also two months, and I’m essentially throwing it out. He’s still great, just don’t expect a six-month jaunt thru 2021 at his 2020 pace. If you’re wondering where I came up with his projected 32 HRs, it’s 17% HR/FB on 177 fly balls, and tacking on an extra two homers for encouragement. I am the dad you wish you had. 2021 Projections: 101/32/113/.297/4 in 588 ABs
14. Bryce Harper – I could’ve also named this tier, “If you don’t know who these guys are, I suggest starting with my 2014 rankings and working your way up to present day.” True Story Alert! I looked at Bryce Harper’s peripherals then his .268 average, and I thought to myself, “He had to have a much higher expected batting average,” and what do you know? Check out the big brain on Grey! Harper’s .307 xBA was in the top 4% of the league, and, with better luck, Harper could’ve had a 15/10/.350/.450/.660 season, and would’ve been lauded as top five overall pick. Only big difference between Harper’s previous year vs. past years was his strikeouts plummeted in 2020, but picking and choosing which stats to throw out in a small sample is a slippery slope, which makes for tough sledding. 2021 Projections: 97/35/110/.266/12 in 562 ABs
15. Manny Machado – I have a lot of anecdotal reasons to worry about Machado. In 2019, I was worried about Machado because San Diego is such a beautiful place to chill that he would vibe too hard and not care enough, which is what seemed to happen. Then he wasn’t checked out in 2020, because he was quarantined and there was no chill for anyone, so he had his mind on the ball and the ball on his mind because there was nothing else to do. If any of this checks out as true and not just nonsense, then 2021 could be a concern. The one thing that points to this being more than just nonsense is Machado is the only player I’ve seen gain almost 200 spots on the Sprint Speed charts after eight years in the league. Did he really get faster, or did he just run harder? Hmm, indeed. The other way to look at Machado is 2019 was the outlier year for him, and he’s much more of a 35/12/.280 hitter. I wanna believe, but buoying my optimism is he is at worst a 33/5/.260 hitter. 2021 Projections: 97/34/104/.278/10 in 584 ABs
16. Shane Bieber – This is a new tier. This tier goes from here until Cole. I call this tier, “Sipping on your daiquiri.” The tier name refers to your activity during your draft when these guys go off the board. They’re already long gone in all leagues, so you’ve likely already sipped on your daiquiri, and are already feeling tipsy, but, neverthehoo, if they’re available, take a pull on your crazy straw and ignore these guys. If you’ve been following my rankings for a minute, and not an actual minute, but an Urban Dictionary minute which is actually a long time, you know I’d never draft a starter in the top 20. So, yes, I’ve chosen to only rank two starters in the top 20. If you want to bemoan my low ranking of these two starters, then bemoan away. Just remember, a bemoaner sounds a bit to me like, “U be a boner.” Here’s what I’ve said previously about ranking starters in the top 20, “Before you say, ‘Grey, you’re handsome AF, and super smart. You rub-a-dub places I thought only ladies could rub and/or dub. Yet, you say you’d never draft a starter in the top 20, but you’ve ranked Shane Bieber and Gerrit Cole in the top 20. Should I not draft Bieber or Cole if they’re available? Thank you for your time, you are a real pleasure.’ This always drives me crazy. Not the compliments, those are nice. If you’re following my rankings, Story, Bellinger, Yelich, Machado, and more are ranked higher than their ADP and where others are ranking them (for the most part; there’s exceptions, obviously). So how on earth did you get to pick 17, and have no one else available to you but Bieber or Cole? Are you in a league with sixteen me’s? Otherwise, there’s guys available to draft I like more than Bieber. A companion piece to this question is the guy (and, let’s be honest, it’s always a guy), who says, ‘Only players available were Bieber and Machado and I didn’t want to draft Machado, so I went with Bieber.’ So, you don’t want to listen to me on who to draft in regards to Machado, but you want me to say it’s okay to draft a guy I’ve ranked later who I’ve said not to draft? Okay…*places traffic cone on head, kneels down in driver’s ed course, gets slammed by pimple-faced teenager’s Sebring* So, why even rank Bieber 17th overall if I wouldn’t draft him here? I gotta rank him somewhere! What, I’m gonna rank him 450th overall next to Austin Gomber?” And that’s me quoting me! I changed some names and numbers from last year to this year, but that’s still completely applicable, so please appliqué!
As for Bieber, have absolutely no qualms with anything to do with him. If we’re talking about drafting pitchers, I’m actually surprised he’s being drafted after Cole in some leagues. Bieber is a chef’s kiss from the top of Gheorghe Muresan’s head to the bottom of Muggsy Bogues’s toes; Cole has legit issues. For another mountainous metaphor, Bieber’s yodeling up in The Price is Right Cliffhangers game, and Cole is just about to free fall off the side. Last year, Bieber’s 14.2 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 produced a 2.04 xFIP and, while I won’t be drafting him, it does make me frisky in my pants. My guess is his velocity bump (93 to 94 MPH) is due to the short season, and he’s more of a 11-12 K/9 guy, but 11-12 K/9 with a 2 BB/9 is–bah gawd, that’s Mr. Perfect’s music! 2021 Projections: 16-5/2.48/0.91/261 in 204 IP
17. Gerrit Cole – Unlike Bieber, Cole’s fastball velocity went down, and he was lucky to have a 2.84 ERA last year vs. his 3.38 xFIP. He lost spin on all his pitches; his curve lost inches of break; his fastball’s runs above average went from 37.1 to 5. Marco Gonzales’s was 14.3; Brandon Woodruff’s 12.8, to give you an idea of the league leaders. Cole’s slider was 6, which was 4th best in the league, just about tied with Antonio Senzatela. El oh–coughs. Yeah, last year was goofy, but still. I’m not drafting Cole, as previously said in the Bieber blurb, and I’m not bothering to ask any other ‘pert who is drafting him why they are drafting him, but if I were you, and I wanted a good question to ask a random ‘pert, I’d ask them, “You obviously are not as handsome as Grey from Razzball, but I’d still like to think you can be as smart. So, could you explain why Cole is above Bieber in your rankings, or did you just recycle your rankings from last year and *raspberries lips* you don’t care?” My guess is they don’t care, and haven’t even thought about putting Bieber over Cole, because recently Cole has been the easy number one for starters. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how someone could draft Cole before Bieber, but I also can’t figure out why anyone’s drafting a starter this high either, so *shrugs*. I don’t know. 2021 Projections: 16-6/2.77/0.94/266 in 205 IP
18. Adalberto Mondesi – This is a new tier. This tier goes from here until the end of the post. I call this tier, “Beaker.” The Muppets are the best thing this world has ever produced, don’t @ me, there’s nothing close. The absolute best Muppet is Beaker. Animal might be The Muppets’ id; Kermit its heart; Miss Piggy its most passionate; Bert and Ernie its taboo breakers, and Fozzie Bear just sucks, but Beaker, man, that’s where it’s at. He doesn’t need words just meeps, helps Dr. Bunsen Honeydew where he needs it, elicits all your hate, bundles it up into exasperation without lashing out, and has the best hair. Allow me:
This tier will likely elicit hate, but meep this, these guys are the best. Okay, not the best, but all have strong outside chances of being the best. Upside, that sweet siren song calling to Robert Pattinson in The Lighthouse that makes him steal Willem Dafoe’s lobster. That’s not a spoiler, I couldn’t spoil that movie if I wanted. Steamer’s projections for Mondesi: 21/54/.257. Oh, that’s the giddy and the up. That’s for a player who is getting better. Listen here, knower of truths, Mondesi is Beaker and Beaker is life.
Before you start you’re b’ing and m’ing, on our Player Rater last year, Mondesi was the 18th best player, 15th best hitter, and only four guys were ahead of him that didn’t make this top 20. Sure, okay, I get it, last year was goofy. I’m the one saying that! Don’t try to steal my very catchy sayings! Even if last year was goofy, can you seriously imagine a world where Mondesi doesn’t get 50+ steals if he gets 500 ABs? If 50 steals were all he was giving, he’d be worth a top 30 pick. That’s with zero runs, zero RBIs, .000 batting average and zero homers. How is he getting 50 steals with a zero in every other category? I don’t know, this is your dopey hypothetical! The fantasy value of Mondesi’s steals alone last year was $25.4. That’s more value than Michael Conforto, the 31st ranked player. Mondesi is more like a top 12 draft pick, but I honestly didn’t want to hear it, so I ranked him here. His biggest risk are non-5×5 risks. Can he slump in insane ways because he walks once every millennial? Sure, but speed doesn’t slump. Is he a great real life baseball player? Here’s what’s gonna blow your mind, we’re not drafting for real-life baseball. I know, shocker. Oh, and none of this has even mentioned that he’s a 20-homer hitter with a career .251 average in 1097 ABs. He’s bad for fantasy again, why? 2021 Projections: 90/17/76/.253/51 in 581 ABs
19. Luis Robert – Donkey Teeth, innocently, because everything he does is innocent, said to me, “Luis Robert is a top 20 player, right?” And I cackled at him and told him to take a cat o’ tails and whip his back for 25 lashes for making me listen to such nonsense. Then, some time between his 18th lash and his wail to, “Please let me stop, it hurts so much,” I looked at Luis Robert’s stats and projections and thought, “Maybe I should stop Donkey from flogging his back.” I didn’t, because I was also in the middle of getting a manicure, and the woman I hired had to be done in 45 minutes, and my cuticles needed extra attention and–Well, let’s just say, it’s eye-opening when you look at Luis Robert’s projections: 30/23/.260. Oh, I’m sorry, are you better than Mike Trout or nah? This comes down to another case where a player is just so much better for fantasy than they are for real life, which is why I think some fantasy baseballers (<–my mom’s term!) get confused. Also, some fantasy baseball ‘perts are out there trying to tell people to draft two starters in the 1st two rounds, so, yeah, there’s questionable advice circulating through the interwebs. What’s not to question is that Luis Robert can be a top five overall fantasy hitter and is actually peaking vs. plateauing or remaining the same or plateauing means remaining the same. Does his 32.2% strikeout rate from last year worry me? Yo, look at my hair, do I look like I get worried? Also, no, it doesn’t. He never struggled with contact in the minors. That was his rookie year, and he struggled with contact. Big whoop. Or rather big whiff. Who cares? Guys get better and Luis Robert is The Guy. Lou Bob is a 70-grade speed, 60-grade power guy. He has a better chance for a 30/30 season than he has of hitting .233 again. Rather than Beaker, could’ve called this tier, “Guys You’re Going To Kick Yourself Over If You Don’t Have Them On A Team.” But Beaker, man, Beaker. 2021 Projections: 72/28/84/.271/26 in 569 ABs
20. Rafael Devers – As I mentioned in the top 20 shortstops for 2021 fantasy baseball, Bogaerts and Tim Anderson just missed the top 20 overall. Well, Devers did too, then Arenado was traded to the Cardinals, and I moved Arenado out of the top 20 (he’s listed in the top 20 3rd basemen for 2021 fantasy baseball), and I moved Devers into the top 20. Don’t want to go about this in a negative way, and focus on why Devers was almost not a top 20 guy, and instead focus on why he’s ranked this high. My shrink says accentuate the positive, and I say, “Like how I tell myself this wasn’t really a $150/hour session when I subtract parking validation?” And he says, “Yes.” Devers is being drafted/ranked so much lower than this. I’m going to do the very sneaky disguise players as letters game. Ready?
Steamer Projections for Player A: 99/35/105/.288/7 vs. Player B: 88/19/72/.294/7.
Player A is 24 years old; Player B is 32. Okay, obviously A is Devers and B is LeMahieu. It wasn’t meant to be difficult, stop victory lapping around your desk, your chair has rollers, it’s not even really excerise. Not saying Steamer is always right, but that’s about as 3rd person objective as I get. I see the extra Ks last year from Devers, but c’mon. Y’all aren’t taking that serious, are you? So, why is Devers going from an ADP of 18 last year to 45 this year? Is there a reason or are most of you just winging it? Winging it is fine, as long as you’re not doing it while listening to Winger. Also, Debra Winger > Winging it > Winger, if you were wondering. Still deciding on how much higher Debra Winger is than Winging It, but it’s a rather large difference. Prolly a different tier. I am actually interested on why anyone would be down on Devers this year. You out there saying this, “The Red Sox aren’t good, Grey, dontcha know?” Question for you, Fancy Pants: Have you seen Fenway? Knocks off the wall to boost average, bombs to right to boost power. The Red Sox pitching was awful last year, they were good offensively (top third in OBP, SLG, AVG, runs). They were good because, again, have you seen that park? A 24-year-old hitting his peak, and his peak is excellent and you don’t want to draft that because…? Seriously, I’m at a loss. 2021 Projections: 106/31/109/.284/8 in 602 ABs