The royal we already went over all the hitters for 2021 fantasy baseball rankings. That’s not the “royal we” as that term usually implies. It was me writing it alone while wearing a Burger King crown. I refuse to draft a top starter where they are usually drafted. Unlike hitters, you need six starters, depending on your league depth. Simple math tells us there’s plenty of starters to go around. Simple Math also says, “Stop putting words in my mouth!” Simple Math has an attitude problem. Simple Math says, “Try counting on your fingers without me!” Yo, eff you, Simple Math! In most leagues, there’s a ton of pitchers on waivers that can help you — all year. Not just in April. With the help of the Stream-o-Nator, you can get by with, say, three starters while streaming the rest. (By the by, Razzball Subscriptions are now open. Early subscribers get Rudy’s War Room, which I haven’t drafted without in about five years, and it’s worth the price of a subscription.) There’s also the fact that three stats by starters are difficult to predict due to luck. Wins, ERA and WHIP are prone to change, depending on which way the ball bounces and whether or not the guys behind the pitchers can score runs. Finally, the best starters can give you four categories. The best hitters can give you five categories. So, here’s Steamer’s 2021 Fantasy Baseball Projections for Hitters and 2021 Fantasy Baseball Projections for Pitchers. As always, where I see tiers starting and stopping are included with my projections. Anyway, here’s the top 20 starters 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.
NOTE III: Free agents outside the top 100 are not yet written up or projected. They are approximately ranked, obviously subject to change.
3. Jacob deGrom – This tier goes from here until Nola. I call this tier, “Hanging out with Neil, Patrick, Harris.” Your buddy tells you to meet him at this place, because Neil Patrick Harris is gonna be there, and you’re like, “Holy crap, Doogie Howser, that’s amazing!” You rush over there with some memorabilia for him to sign that you plan on keeping and not immediately putting on eBay, then you get there, and it’s three guys named Neil, Patrick and Harris. That disappointment is what you will have when you draft one of these guys. Now for a diatribe, I give every year, “If these starters were to fall in drafts to where I’m willing to draft a starter, I will draft any and/or all of them. It’s not about them as much as it’s about their draft slot. Sure, I have actual problems with guys like, say, Buehler and Flaherty, which I will get to, but if they fell to the 50s in a draft? Sure, at that point, you have to draft one, because I would be drafting a starter and he’d be above other guys. (Thank you for not laughing too loud when I said Buehler or Flaherty at pick 50.) For unstints, I always draft a starter around 50th overall (give or take ten picks), so if I’m in a draft with eleven other Greys and we’re sitting there discussing boba and the Maxo Kream album and just general BS’ing, and all of us forget to draft a starter, I’d draft Shane Bieber at 50th overall, then Cole, etc. So, this is a ranking of my starters, it’s just unrealistic for me to say I’m actually drafting these guys. They’ll be gone before I’m willing to draft a starter. Yes, I love the pitchers in this tier. They are great. There, I said it. But I will never own them.
Last year if you owned Trevor Bauer, Kenta Maeda, Luis Castillo, Lance Lynn and Zac Gallen, you would’ve walked away with your league’s pitching categories and not drafted any top starters. Am I cherrypicking? Yes, just like you could’ve cherrypicked last year’s pitchers based on my suggestions! You could’ve had Maeda, Lynn, Woodruff, Darvish, and Giolito and not drafted one starter before 50th overall. I love top pitchers, but you do not need them. In some leagues, you could do fine NOT drafting ANY starters. Yes, I brought out the caps. I’m not only talking about H2H leagues where you can carry only relievers. I’m talking 10 or 12-team roto leagues where you can stream starters. Maybe you own one starter and stream five spots. Maybe you own two guys and stream four spots. Maybe you drink seven cups of coffee and stream all day. Even if you want to draft an entire rotation and hold them (or try to), you don’t need a guy from this tier. There’s plenty of options later to fill out your rotation so you’re competitive in leagues where you can’t stream. I’m not suggesting you Reggie Roby starters. I’m telling you to Reggie Roby top starters. Concentrate on your hitting while these guys are being drafted.” And that’s me diatribing me!
It’s like this every year. Without fail. In the preseason, everyone will be telling you that you need a top starter, some people might even tell you that you need two top starters. What they never say, or purposely fail to mention is how every year there’s starters in the “top starters” who weren’t there a year ago, so you could’ve had a top starter without paying for one. I told you to draft Maeda in every league last year; grab Woodruff, I said; Lynn was one of my biggest bargains I drafted everywhere and Gallen, Gray and Nola were all guys I liked. You didn’t need Cole, Bieber, Buehler, Flaherty or deGrom, and didn’t want Scherzer, Strasburg, Verlander or Greinke. There’s dozens of starters to own, and you need at most six. For whatever reason, everyone forgets how many starters are available later. It’s almost like they’ve forgotten Bauer, Woodruff, Gallen, Maeda, Lamet, and Lynn weren’t drafted until after 100th overall or much later, and here they all. I wrote Lamet, Woodruff and Maeda sleeper posts last year they were going so late! Just like next year, I will be saying I told you Tyler Mahle, Kevin Gausman, Pablo Lopez and others were insane values. I’m being 100% serious when I tell you that if someone tells you that you need a top eight starter, you should question everything they tell you. If they tell you to draft two aces, then you should make an anonymous call for help. They need it. As for deGrom, he’s great. Dur. 2021 Projections: 16-4/2.51/0.95/244 in 193 IP
4. Yu Darvish – Another guy you absolutely know, and if you don’t know Yu, you need some spa-level introspection in Sedona with just you and the gal pals, so in’s tead you have a Choose Your Own Adventure: Read my Yu Darvish fantasy or I’m going to give you a long explanation about pitching in general in the Year Blackjack after 20. (Trying to make that stick, so please use it.) No one threw a lot of innings last year. Without taking all the fury out of my Lynn blurb, which you might’ve read already anyway when he was traded, it’s one of the reasons I like Lynn so much this year. I picture, uh, pitchers getting to around 140 IP this year and just struggling to finish off strong. If there was a pitcher who only threw 60 IP in 162 games, you would never expect them to turn around and throw 200 IP the next year, and I don’t think we should be thinking it after a 60-game season. This is gonna make top starters even less valuable. I gonna have around five starters projected for 200 IP this year, and that’s projecting vs. reality. In reality, there might be two guys who throw 200 IP, and it might be German Marquez and Kyle Hendricks. What I think we’re gonna see is a bunch of rotations of seven or more starters with a lot of backend guys getting around 50+ IP and a bunch of Openers, helping take innings off of arms. Also, there’s a peak of 205 IP projected from any one starter this year (Cole). Usually there’s a handful of 220 IP starters projected. Drafting pitching this year is more precarious than ever, but it doesn’t mean top starters are more important. It means there’s gonna be even more need for the random starter who you grab for a few starts in July, and is then out of the rotation by August. 2021 Projections: 14-8/2.79/1.03/237 in 188 IP
5. Aaron Nola – Was surprised by how much I loved what Nola did last year. Such an odd year to look at as a step forward. Only step forward I wanted to do last year was in front of oncoming traffic. If Nola gets better, he will be the best starter in baseball. From Crescent City to Crescendo City: The Story of My Love for Nola. A) There’s no reason to think Nola can’t approach 200 IP, which is one of my biggest problems with a lot of guys. B) He finally found the next level on his Ks and combined that with command he always had, but lost briefly in 2019. C) There’s no C. If I were the type to get in on a top starter, I’d happily grab Nola, as he looks like he’s on the cusp of a Cy Young. 2021 Projections: 15-4/2.89/1.02/236 in 201 IP
6. Lucas Giolito – This is a new tier. This tier goes until Bauer. I call this tier, “I yam disgustipated.” I was super tempted to drop Giolito, and this whole tier down below the next tier. Right now, Giolito’s ADP is 20 and that makes me laugh like an absolute loon. I look at an ADP for Giolito and I’m like, “Yo, that’s cool, but how can I get some of the shrooms everyone else is taking?” Then after some staggering around like a Robert Altman-filmed Popeye, I’m like, “Oh my gorshk! I yam disgustipated!” Seriously, though, y’all so horny for starters that you’re taking Giolito 20th (or higher!)? I know, it sounds silly when I say I would draft Giolito at 50th overall, but not at 20th, but it’s really not. 20th overall is barely the 2nd round for some drafters. Giolito off the board before someone’s taken their 2nd pick is absurd and I yam disgustipated. 2021 Projections: 16-8/3.18/1.03/239 in 190 IP
7. Walker Buehler – After four seasons in the majors, Buehler has a record of 24-9/3.15/1.03/420 in 365 2/3 IP. In 1974, Nolan Ryan went 22-16/2.89/1.27/367 in 332 2/3 IP. Oh…*hikes to the top of Machu Picchu*…kay. On a side note, I wonder how many people climb to the top of Machu Picchu then sing The Village People’s Macho Man, replacing Macho with Machu. Nolan Ryan was obviously a freak of nature, but Trevor Bauer a quote-unquote workhorse has one season in nine seasons of 200+ IP. Y’all drafting Buehler in the top 25 overall, might be lucky to get 150 IP, which would still put him about 100 innings more than this year, when factoring in postseason. Insert emoji removing a corn cob pipe, squinting, then pull back to see a truck emoji about to run over the other emoji. 2021 Projections: 14-5/3.07/1.00/188 in 158 IP
8. Jack Flaherty – I know ERA is dumb. So, I will put aside his 4.91 ERA in only 40 1/3 IP last year. In fact, throw out his 2020. He started and stopped, due to shutdowns, so there’s very little chance he was “right” at any point. That’s fine. His 2nd half two years ago is still doing more heavy lifting than Ken Patera and “The Polish Power” Ivan Putski combined. I do like his price more this year, but still not enough to get invested. If I were his pitching coach, I would tell him to throw his slider (.182 xBA, 49.5% Whiff rate) as much as possible. If we’re not throwing out his 2020, he needs to fix his fastball or locate it better. Horizontal movement year over year shows me he was missing up. Some quibbles in there, and if he were going two rounds later, I could see being in on him. Some are going Flaherty, and I’m obviously going with nitpickery. 2021 Projections: 14-7/3.33/1.09/209 in 178 IP
9. Trevor Bauer – Was holding out as long as I could to write up Bauer, just as he was apparently doing for the biggest contract. The Mets seemed to land him. If they haven’t due to some last-minute change, I will update the blurb, but honestly think Bauer’s gonna be a Metropolitan. Just a matter of crossing T’s, dotting I’s and hiding an arm injury. I kid! The Mets have never ruined anyone. “Who didn’t want to be ruined!” That’s a Mets doctor who is currently holding a rectal thermometer under his tongue. Wonky analogy alert! Imagine the Tasmanian Devil spinning through a ceiling, then continues up into the sky, spinning through the moon, then continuing up until he disappears into the distance, out of range of the world’s largest telescope. That’s Trevor Bauer’s spin rate. Pretty convenient it happened during his contract year when people were too busy checking for viral droplets instead of pine tar droplets on a hat. Not saying Bauer cheated last year. I’m saying I’m 99.9% sure he cheated, and if I were him, I’d cash out, then not cheat again this year, which will see his value plummet, but if he does have an opt-out after one year, well, who knows, maybe he’ll cheat again. Either way, his draft price is way too inflated, and I won’t be drafting him. Metco is a solid landing spot though. Nothing involving the Mets has ever gone horribly wrong. UPDATE: Dodgers signed Bauer, as Bauer returns to where he first started making enemies with Gerrit Cole. “3, 2, 1…” That’s me counting down the seconds until David Price opts out again. Wonder what happened with the Mets and Bauer. Maybe Steve Cohen offered him the same GameStop in Massapequa that Steven Matz worked out in high school, and Bauer turned him down. Stonks, but no stonks, perhaps. Maybe Bauer failed the Mets’ physical because he was too healthy. “What do we do with this arm? It works!” That’s the Mets’ doctors. This hurts all the other Dodgers’ starters more than anything, assuming my prediction on David Price doesn’t hold. Maybe I can republish my Tony Gonsolin sleeper in 2022. Everything I said in Bauer’s main blurb about his spin rate still applies. Also, I’d be hesitant thinking Dodger Stadium, and run support will simply offset his starts vs. the Padres and when he goes to Coors. Though, RIP to all Diamondback and Giants bats. 2021 Projections: 15-8/3.47/1.18/247 in 203 IP
10. Max Scherzer – This is a new tier. This tier goes until Woodruff. I call this tier, “Allusions (delusions?).” This tier is filled with guys who I have allusions (delusions) of drafting around 50th overall. As for Scherzer, I take some pride in Scherzer being the first HOFer who I wrote a sleeper post for before he was anything on the Diamondbacks. What’s better, having a Hall of Fame career or writing a sleeper post? I think we both know the answer. Also, holy crap, I’ve been doing this for a while. I’m going to be writing a sleeper post about Ramon Laureano Jr. at some point, aren’t I? Eff me. I’m going to be answering trade questions by hunting and pecking on the typewriter with my nose, because of arthritic fingers. Any hoo! I had some allusions (delusions?) of drafting Scherzer this year, thinking his price might’ve finally fell, but I haven’t seen a ton of times he’s fallen into the 45 thru 60 range overall. He’s close though (as late as 47th overall in some leagues,) so I loosened up my restrictions on drafting a starter. More than likely Scherzer and everyone in this tier will be go before I pull the trigger on my 1st starter. This is a slight difference from past years. Usually the 10th starter off the board is about 50th overall. This year everyone seems to be panicking earlier than usual to draft a starter. Don’t do that, there’s starters to draft. As for Scherzer (finally), he’s the closest we have to Nolan Ryan. I can’t imagine him not recording 200+ Ks if he gets anything close to 170 IP. That might be the issue. I do worry about any starter who at any point has had back issues after the age of 35. Call him a Max Schiropractor. 2021 Projections: 12-6/3.47/1.12/237 in 174 IP
11. Luis Castillo – You, “Yo, I can’t get over your handsomeness. It is alluring. Is that the right word? But you’re also one of the dumbest motherf*ckers I’ve ever met if you think you’re getting Castillo around 50th overall.” Tough, but fair. I can’t believe how hard people are going after starters this year. It’s almost like everyone thinks top starters are going to be more valuable with less innings thrown, when it will absolutely be the reverse of that. Not to get all scientific with examples, but look at our Player Rater from last year. The top 20 starters last year were nowhere near top 20 starters drafted. With less innings, guys don’t have as much time to shake off luck or spread themselves with sheer quantity. For unstints, Jacob deGrom and Dinelson Lamet were about equal in value. If deGrom threw 220 IP, he’d pull far away from Lamet, who would throw around 160 IP, because an extra 60 IP of insane Ks and great ratios makes a huge difference. 190 IP vs. 160 IP is just not as big a difference. Less innings from everyone will not make top starters better or make it harder to find starters later. Sorry, PETA’s ringing my doorbell for beating this dead horse. I get it, but you know Castillo, so there’s not much to say on him. He’s a 11 K/9, 3.35 ERA starter who has four pitches he uses equally and with great effect–That is so boring to read. I need to stop. One final note on him, FanGraphs should consider removing their 2017 prospect rating of him that was 45 grade, kinda points out how insanely off they were. You say TINSTAPP, I say TINJUSTSTOP; let’s call the whole thing off. 2021 Projections: 12-9/3.37/1.15/227 in 186 IP
12. Brandon Woodruff – I have a standing desk, but stand on top of a very little chair, so I can fall off my chair when I see things like someone projecting Woodruff for 192 IP. I loved Woodruff last year, and love him this year. This is coming from a place of love when I scream into my inner monologue cavern, “You’re projecting Woodruff for 192 IP?!” Like my next dog, Arfer Woofruff, would say, “Woof!” If Bra-Wood reaches 192 IP, the Brewers aren’t just drunk in name. Woodruff is benefitting from the “lesser innings from everyone” in the same way deGrom or others are being hurt by it, but that doesn’t mean expect 190+ innings. His career high is 121 2/3 IP. Yo, you want him to throw the final fifty innings with his left arm? Though, he is about to throw the prettiest 150 IP anyone’s ever seen with a 10.5-11 K/9 and barely-over 2 BB/9. 2021 Projections: 11-5/3.12/1.01/189 in 154 IP
13. Hyun-Jin Ryu – This is a new tier. This tier goes until Gray. I call this tier, “The Safety Dance.”
We can pitch in the dance if we want to,
We can leave your top starters behind,
‘Cause your top starters don’t dance past 200 innings,
And if they don’t dance past 200 innings.
Well, they’re no starters dancing past 200 innings.
Like a Molina, that’s catchy! These starters are good-slash-capable of shoving. Shoving, as defined by Baseball Terms dot com, is when a pitcher is capable of pitching extremely well. It’s also one of the worst words, and makes no sense in context of pitching. Sounds like a guy is taking a dookie on the mound. Any hoo! These guys are “safer” number ones. I throw up the deuces around safer, because no starters are going to safe this year. As for Ryu, wavy lines take over the screen, and we slowly fade to…
The year is 2030. Baseball seasons are now a five-game series between two teams. There’s 28 other teams, but they don’t play, because their billionaire owners were too broke to afford players. Since there’s only five games, only three starters are needed for each team, and of those six teams, a 43-year-old Hyun-Jin Ryu is coming off his 13th straight sub-3 ERA season, but, because of fear this is the year he’s not good, he’s drafted last out of the six possible starters. *wavy lines taking us back to present day* Seriously, how does Ryu get a sub-3 ERA every year, and has a 2.95 ERA in 807 1/3 career innings, and is still under-drafted? Lack of Ks? Okay, that’s been over 9.5 K/9 in two of the past three years, so try again. He doesn’t even have a good stadium to pitch in, if the Jays are in Buffalo again, and he still is coming off a 2.69 ERA in Buffalo in the supposedly scary AL East. 2021 Projections: 13-6/2.81/1.06/181 in 184 IP
14. Blake Snell – Already gave you my Blake Snell fantasy. It was written while getting the tattoo, “Zhug Life,” across my chest to honor that delicious Middle Eastern sauce. 2021 Projections: 13-6/3.12/1.18/187 in 153 IP
15. Kenta Maeda – Remarkably consistent in every facet except ERA, which is fine and/or dandy. Even in 2019, when his xFIP ballooned up, I saw him coming off that year as one of the biggest sleepers, and he delivered in admittedly a dopey year. Don’t expect 2020 again if we see anywhere close to 162 games. Maeda is still great for 150 IP, but I wouldn’t push him much beyond 170 IP, and even that I Kent-a get behind. 2021 Projections: 12-7/3.41/1.14/178 in 162 IP
16. Lance Lynn – Here’s what I said this offseason, “Traded to the White Sox. Take that with your ‘No teams are competing to win!’ In every deal, one team is clearly competing and one team is the Texas Rangers. So, they suck. Too bad they will only see a third party World Series celebration. Aw, that’s harsh. Sorry, Rangers fans, if there are any. So, Lynn to the White Sox, moving from Arlington National Cemetery for Home Runs to Guaranteed Rake. *Larry David meh face* It’s not great. If you must look at splits for a new park, Lynn was a 4.50 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 12.6 K/9 guy in Chicago, but that really means nothing. He was facing the White Sox, not the White Sox’s opponents and he was there as a visitor. In 1426 2/3 IP in his career, Lynn has been a 3.57 ERA guy, under-4.00 xFIP and 9-ish K/9. That’s who he is, give or take .25 ERA and .5 K/9, until he declines into not being that, and it hasn’t happened yet. Last year he had a 2.53 ERA thru 79 IP, until a final rough start (5 2/3 IP, 9 ER) that knocked him up to 3.32. In a year where most threw roughly 70 IP, he’s also one of maybe five pitchers who might approach 200 IP this year. There’s gonna be real value in that. I’m a big fan of Lynn’s, even in the new park.” And that’s me quoting me! 2021 Projections: 15-8/3.61/1.11/212 in 204 IP
17. Clayton Kershaw – As you go through this blurb, you should mime Pac-Man with your arms, only instead of eating dots, you’re trimming hedges, because this recommendation is one big hedge, with Kershaw’s ranking even a hedge. Will you be able to draft him as the 18th starter off the board? No, prolly not. But I would! Is he good for 200 IP? No, but no one is! Will he still throw less innings than even guys who are throwing less innings after a 60-game season? Yes! Did he gain fastball velocity last year? Yes! Will it carry into 2021 when he needs to throw more innings? No! One hedge that doesn’t need clipping, is that he is a low-3 xFIP pitcher. Always except in the postseason. Damn, I just ordered a parasol off Amazon for no reason, because there’s already shade moving in. I kid on the Kershaw postseason narrative, it’s such nonsense. 2021 Projections: 12-5/2.94/1.02/169 in 159 IP
18. Sonny Gray – Ya know what’s slightly wild — Gray’s walk rate last year! Hey ho! — No, but seriously, folx, as they spell it on crypto exchange bulletin boards, Gray’s had plenty of seasons (five!) where he deserves a top 15-ish starter draft spot, and this is the 2nd year in a row when I’m way higher on him than his ADP. He has a 8.5 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 3.54 ERA in his career 1132 IP. This isn’t a guy who just suddenly figured it out. Last year, I kinda understand the push back because he went from an 8 K/9 guy to 10.5 K/9, but why I was into him last year and still am, he found more Ks. He had the 21st least amount of contact, about the same as Bauer and Gallen. He had the 16th best fastball, and he’s really a changeup guy, having the 2nd best change in the majors. I’d discount some of his Ks last year, due to the lopsided schedule, but he appears to be a 10 K/9 guy vs. the 8 K/9 he was earlier in the career. I could go on and on about my love for Gray, which is also what I would have Maria Bello say on a Cameo video, if you’re looking to buy me as a birthday present. 2021 Projections: 13-9/3.71/1.16/192 in 172 IP
19. Dinelson Lamet – This is a new tier. This tier goes into the top 40 starters for 2021 fantasy baseball. I call this tier, “The Butcher of Bologna.” You’ve been wanting to open a deli your whole life. You’ve had dreams of a write-up in the Peoria Journal Star that announces your arrival. “A charcuterie that dazzles the eyes, nose and eventually the mouth with cured treasures.” Finally, you retire from your job at 65, and invest your entire 401k in the deli dream. The day the sign for your deli, “The Butcher of Bologna,” is hoisted a madman kills dozens of people in Bologna, Italy, and he’s nicknamed The Butcher of Bologna. It becomes a worldwide sensation, and people shy away from your salami because it reminds them of murder. That wanna-be deli man’s failed dreams is this tier. Tee bee aitch, I’m giving you a tier now that I won’t own partially because I like to mix it up. As for Lamet, when I see the news for him say, “(Elbow) feels good, could throw soon,” I don’t walk, I run to drafting someone else. Only real shame is Lamet’s going to be a good three months behind Mike Clevinger, when he returns. 2021 Projections: 6-8/3.88/1.22/149 in 129 IP
20. Max Fried – He went from zero to hero back to zero aka he paid a girl to be his girlfriend and they fell in love, but he was overcome with newfound popularity, then it was revealed he paid Cindy Mancini to be his girlfriend and it ruined his life, i.e., Max Fried is Ronald Miller. Small detour into what’s fascinating me today. Many pitchers seem to be drafted early despite their ERA, as they should be, then you have a guy like Fried, who must be getting drafted early, due to his small-sample ERA. There’s hard to find another explanation. He had a 2.25 ERA last year, but a hot garbage strikeout and walk rate (for him), and a far-from-glorious 4.05 xFIP. He revealed himself to be way more interested in ground balls and contact, then striking guys out. I love that when it’s named Marcus Stroman about a hundred and twenty picks later. I do not like it when it’s Max Fried aka how I order my corn dogs. Also, Max Fried’s HR/FB% last year was goofy. Yo, I thought Matt Cain handed that attribute down to Johnny Cueto, and now Max Fried is just poppin’ and lockin’ into the picture? Finally, a suppressed home run rate is sustainable in, oh, I don’t know, San Fran but not in, say, Atlanta? Ya think, Previous Sentence Grey? Yeah, brah! 2021 Projections: 14-7/3.64/1.22/164 in 171 IP
CONTINUE ON TO THE TOP 40 STARTERS FOR 2021 FANTASY BASEBALL