The top 40 starters for 2021 fantasy baseball fall roughly in the 75 to 125 overall for those of you who are wondering where we are overall, and, of course, when the rankings are done I will be along with a top 500 overall to show you exactly where we are. Think of this set of starters as your number twos and number threes, but, again, I will have a pitchers’ pairing tool to help with that too. I give and you receive. Ho, ho, ho, that’s me giving and you receiving. 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 40 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.
21. Max Fried – This tier started in the top 20 starters for 2021 fantasy baseball. This tier ends at Glasnow. I called this tier, “The Butcher of Bologna.” As for 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
22. Tyler Glasnow – At some point it’s all going to come together for Glasnow, and at some point you’re going to be able to see your ding-dong, if you skip dessert for the next five years. Good luck to both Glasnow and you! I’ll be here rooting you guys on. 2021 Projections: 10-7/3.92/1.22/164 in 133 IP
23. Carlos Carrasco – This is a new tier. This tier goes from here until Berrios. I call this tier, “Bon varyäge.” The tier name is what you say when you’re taking a number two in a fancy joint. You want a cheap number one? Well, that ship has sailed, but how about an expensive number two? I will go over how to draft starters when I do my pairings post, but this tier is essentially when you think your number one might be a little weak, and you wanna bulk up on a number two. As for Carrasco, here’s what I said this offseason, “Traded to the Mets. Carrasco was one of the few guys helped by a partial season. Need to get some innings in, but don’t want to go 200 IP? 2020 had exactly what you needed! Now that I’ve seen Carrasco post remarkably similar numbers to every other season in his career minus his fluky bad 2019, when he was obviously dealing with more important things than baseball — MORE IMPORTANT THAN BASEBALL WHAT — and I trust Carrasco completely to be solid again. I already drafted him, and would absolutely again, though his trade might throw some helium in the thought bubbles about him, raising his price. In the NL East and a much better ballpark, he will be the ace we saw every year of his career, except one. Also, since no one (or maybe very few) will be throwing 200 IP this year, his inability to go 200 innings in 2021 won’t hurt him either.” And that’s me quoting me! Only thing that stopped me from ranking Carrasco in the top 15 starters is he might have a skosh of risk. 2021 Projections: 12-7/3.36/1.14/187 in 164 IP
24. Dylan Bundy – I started writing a sleeper post for Bundy, then stopped. He already broke out. Felt like old news. Gotta keep it fresh up in here, nah’mean? What sticks out the most for me with Bundy is his huge drop in Z-Swing%. If he were just flat-out wild, I’d prolly scoff like an em-effer scoffer, but he had a 2.3 BB/9 last year. That Z-Swing% is indicating something wild, but more like a wild and crazy good time! Yes! High five me, man! No? Okay. If you’re throwing strikes and people are not swinging, they’re baffled. If you’re teaming that with a 13% SwStr and a 32.4% O-Swing%, well, let’s just say people no longer recognize what Dylan’s dealin’. That’s good too! More high fives! No? Okay, fair. Seriously, pairing 60% or lower Z-Swing, 13% SwStr and 32+% O-Swing is: Bundy, that’s it. Pairing those and in close proximity: Darvish, Nola, Gallen and, yeah, nothing but aces. 2021 Projections: 13-8/3.43/1.06/187 in 178 IP
25. Zach Plesac – Much like my degree in poli-sci, it’s academic saying I would draft Plesac, then not ranking him high enough to draft him. He wouldn’t be my first starter, which is the big difference between a lot of people grabbing Plesac, which is different than grabbing the Bozack. Zach Bozack would be perhaps the greatest name ever though, maybe I could call him that. *thinks for a half a blink* Yes, I can! Just not now. I gotta sneakily work it in when you’re not paying attention. Plesac is a 8.5 K/9, incredible command, low-3 ERA guy, who was spit out of Cleveland’s starting pitcher mill. Too bad their mill has a conveyor belt that leads directly to another team when arbitration hits. 2021 Projections: 10-7/3.42/1.01/152 in 162 IP
26. Jose Berrios – We shouldn’t be guessing this is the season when Berrios finally goes from a number two to a number one, but what fun is not guessing? I’m always guessing. Do you just walk down the street and not shout out weights of passersby? Geez, I guess I’m the weird one. See, another guess! Berrios consistently tempts with an ace year, then falters at some point to give a solid, if not ace year. Some numbers were trending the right way — SwStr% up, velocity up — other numbers trending the wrong way — no command, getting barreled. You Jose Berrios or you Jose Barrelios? Hmm…? My guess (there I go again!) is he just didn’t have the feel for his fastball last year, and had no time for adjustments in a short season. 2021 Projections: 13-7/3.76/1.19/196 in 191 IP
27. Jesus Luzardo – This is a new tier. This tier goes until Lopez. I call this tier, “Get fitted for a tuxedo shirt now.” After the season, there’s gonna be so much excitement and congratulations rolling in from your fantasy baseball championships, you won’t have time to get fitted for your tuxedo shirt then, so now’s the time. This tier is gonna get yo’self some championships. This is the tier where you’re going to win or lose your league. This is the tier last year where you found Woodruff, Lamet, Ryu, Gallen and Odorizzi. Okay, they’re not all gems. But these are the starters I am most excited about and will be drafting repeatedly without caution over and over again and again same sentiment same sentiment same sentiment! I love all of these starters. You’ll notice some sleeper posts, and, if I didn’t feel like I had gone over Urias, Luzardo and Lopez a lot in the past, I would’ve wrote sleepers on them too. In case you get the one starter this year that ends up like Odorizzi, I’m not advising it, but you could prolly just draft three starters from this tier and stream, and be fine in shallower leagues (or maybe even deeper ones). At least four of these guys will be in the top 20 starters next year. Also, you might find yourself thinking, “Yo, Grey, if I were a female or into males, you and I would snog, but some of these guys are ranked way too high.” That’s fine, draft them when you need to, i.e., look at their ADP and draft them a round or two before that, but let’s just say there were people last year saying I was too high on Woodruff, Lamet, Ryu, Gallen and Odorizzi too. Again, oops on Odorizzi. Oopsizzi? As for Luzardo, sorry, I’m a broken record with this, but how does anyone project Luzardo to throw 175 IP this year. Sorry, I’m a broken record with this, but how does anyone–Was skipping too. I think there was a flaw in the Matrix when it came to projecting starters this year for some. Luzardo threw 66 2/3 IP this past year (with postseason), which was roughly 85% of the max for innings by anyone, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to throw 85% of 200 IP this year. I mean, I guess he could, but I fear for his arm if he does. He has a career high of 110 IP and he’s 23 years old. I’d love to see him throw 175 IP, but whoa on expectations. Still, again with stank, STILL! I love him. We’re just waiting, twiddling thumbs, for the huge breakout, and, at that point, Luzardo will become a top 10 starter for a good seven years. He will be special. 2021 Projections: 10-6/3.24/1.21/137 in 135 IP
28. Julio Urias – I’ve made a pretty firm determination at the start of my rankings to not judge what guys did in the postseason with too large of a microscope. Circumstances change so much in the postseason. You’re facing one team over and over–wait, that was this past season too. Well, there was a park change for the Dodgers midway thru postseason, and I just didn’t look at anyone’s output in the postseason that closely, aside from Randy Arozarena and Julio Urias. Urias and Arozarena have other similarities, too, but we won’t talk about who I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry. Plus, I don’t have a daughter. So, Urias’s 7.4 K/9 changes to 8.5 if you include his 23 innings in the postseason (11.4 K/9, 1.17 ERA, 2.95 xFIP), and while not weighing it the same as regular season, when a guy only has 55 IP in the regular season, it’s, well, it’s there! I can’t remove it from my brain — yet at least, but fingers crossed for science qniasiug25–sorry, fingers were still crossed. Urias, much like another Dodgers starter Dustin May, has better stuff than his numbers indicate early in his career, but the breakout feels imminent. As for the Bauer signing and how that affects Urias, maybe Urias gets rested a bit more or piggybacks after May or Gonsolin, but those two latter starters took the biggest hits to their value. People panic during draft season that a guy won’t get his innings, but there’s always plenty to go around, especially when you have Kershaw and a guy who didn’t even pitch last year in your rotation. 2021 Projections: 11-5/3.41/1.10/131 in 139 IP
29. Corbin Burnes – Slight “come clean” before I go into why I love Burnes. He’s going way before this in some leagues where people think they’re smarter than everyone else. It doesn’t mean they’re smarter, they just think they are, so they overdraft some guys. Or they think others in the league are smarter than the average bear, so they outsmart the out-smarters and draft guys way early. Burnes will almost 100% be drafted after this point in 12-teamers with ESPN or Yahoo’ers. So, Burnes is still a steal this late. If I’m proven wrong and ESPN and Yahoo rank Burnes before this, then I will take my L and just not draft Burnes, because I think he’s worth a draft pick around here and not in, say the top 20 starters, where he’s going in some leagues. As for Burnes, it’s all gorge, and I am engorged. He should be going where Woodruff went last year, with a similar outlook, but a shortened season has made his numbers stand out a bit more. He’s a 13 K/9 guy if we’re talking 80 innings, but hopefully we’re not. That’s gonna be the peach we’re canning, which is totally a saying. If the Brewers don’t want to wrap Burnes’s arm in gauze to make him into the Invisible Man for 2022 thru 2023, they won’t throw him for anywhere near 160 IP. Could and likely will be a fantastic 120-ish IP from him, but that feels like upper limits before the returns are diminished by that law. 2021 Projections: 8-8/3.06/1.19/167 in 124 IP
31. Chris Paddack – Wild yet true fact that isn’t that wild but is true! Podcaster Ralph texted me about Paddack just as I was about to write this blurb, and convinced me to take another look at him, and move him out of the next tier of guys I don’t want. Then a few weeks later, Ralph told me he’s no longer into Paddack, so do we trust December Ralph, or January Ralph? Welp, too late for me, because I’ve already dug in on him, and I dig it. Turns out Paddack tried to add a cutter and he would’ve been better adding an eephus pitch or just rolling the ball to the plate. That cutter hurt his fastball, and produced a batting average against of .500 and a SLG of 1.167. The back of his shirt when he’s riding a Harley should say, “Ditch the *itch.” And we can wonder why he edited the word pitch. That cutter screwed up everything. In a normal season, you have time to adjust and figure out yo’ shizz. In a 60-game season, you don’t even have time to hit a phantom IL stint and talk to someone about what’s going wrong. Me telling you to draft Paddack again is also about his price. He’s so cheap this year. A 9 K/9, 1-something BB/9 and in Petco is that cheap? Won’t be for long. 2021 Projections: 12-8/3.61/1.06/165 in 161 IP
32. Pablo Lopez – I was tempted to just make one tier of all the Marlins starters. Call that shizz, “Fish,” and flap around on the ground like a carp out of water while I type that shizz up! Ya feel me? You do? Okay, stop touching me then. Pab-Lo is my favorite of the Fishmen, and will be smacking my own face numerous times during drafts to not draft four of five Marlins starters. “He’s my starter!” Smack! “He’s my daughter!” Smack! “He’s dating Randy Arozarena!” What? Lopez is a high-8 K/9 with lovely command who is just coming into his own. The 94 MPH fastball was a top fastball last year, and he had the 14th lowest HardHit%, producing a silly 6.7 Launch Angle. Ya think he produced some ground balls? Um, yeah. Ks and ground balls is as good as it gets. Let’s just hope the Ks don’t regress, giving us blues balls, as he lets everyone hit grounders to Jazz. 2021 Projections: 10-10/3.71/1.14/169 in 164 IP
33. Ian Anderson – This is a new tier. This tier goes from here until Wheeler. I call this tier, “Raining cold water on the pants tent.” This is just a tier of guys who could be good, but Redd Foxx would call you a big ol’ dummy if you drafted any of them. Ain’t no thing in my chicken and wing combo, but hell if I’m paying full price for any of these guys. I am ye of little faith while listening to Faith No More after ripping Faith Evans out of my Word Up magazine. As for Anderson, already gave you my Ian Anderson fantasy. It was written while picking needles out of my teeth after eating a hedgehog. 2021 Projections: 8-7/3.78/1.24/157 in 132 IP
35. Stephen Strasburg – He could be fine, but here’s a very hard piece of advice to follow: Don’t draft him. Can you do that? Are you up to the task? I believe in you, but do you believe in yourself? Ya know when it will be very hard to “Don’t draft him?” When we get to the spring and he’s throwing and looking good and you’re like, “I trust Mike Rizzo, the Nats GM, more than the handsome-faced jerk Grey!” I hear ya, but Mike Rizzo is paid to tell you Strasburg is healthy, and I’m paid a lot less to tell you it’s not worth the risk if Rizzo, Strasburg and others are lying. Save yourself an ulcer and avoid. 2021 Projections: 7-9/3.66/1.12/134 in 123 IP
36. Zack Wheeler – Yes, last year is easily discardable like my Gregg Jefferies rookie cards, but in this case I want to hold onto them *points to glass case surrounded by lasers like you’d see in an action movie that is filled with my Gregg Jefferies rookie cards* Their price will rebound! Any hoo! Wheeler was awful last year! A 6.7 K/9, with a huge uptick in ground balls that illustrates a pitcher who decided, “Hey, let’s throw to contact!” On a new team, it’s even more suspicious because maybe that is a new game plan. I don’t know, but I’m not paying to find out when there’s roughly a dozen guys I want instead of him where he’s being drafted. Wheel on, Wheela. 2021 Projections: 13-8/3.87/1.12/161 in 182 IP
37. Lance McCullers – This is a new tier. This tier goes from here until the top 60 starters for 2021 fantasy baseball. I call this tier, “Sideways bosom.” There’s safety in numbers. The number three, for unstints, is safe. The number 3 also looks like a sideways bosom. What’s more comforting! These pitchers should be a fantasy number 3 like a sideways bosom. This is a repeat of last year’s fantasy number three tier name, because I like to keep things samesies for when I put together my pitching draft tool. It makes things easier for me. Sorry, you’ll get over it. As for McCullers, McCullers, Cullers-Cullers–Sorry, Ice T always pops in my head. You can imagine how convenient that is when I’m drinking lemonade. Watch out, here comes Arnold Palmer! McCullers is one of maybe ten pitchers who really benefitted the most from 2020. What a great excuse to go out and essentially rehab for 55 IP in a wonky season. Not only do I think McCullers is someone to draft, I think he’s safe, and has some upside. Yummo for me! 2021 Projections: 12-6/3.81/1.19/166 in 154 IP
38. Kyle Hendricks – He’s such a prototypical number three starter. You google “number three starter,” and it returns just a picture of Hendricks in a life vest. Hendricks is such a prototypical number three, he doesn’t even smile. Not smiling is what a number three starter does. Emotion is for ones and twos, and fours and fives. Threes don’t smile! They just put on their hard hat, life vest and go to work making everything safer. 2021 Projections: 12-9/3.39/1.14/154 in 191 IP
39. Patrick Corbin – I get the urge to write off Corbin like it’s your cocker spaniel you adopted. Pupi Cholo is a dependent, but not for taxes, so you can’t write him off. Sorry. Also, Corbin is still someone I would draft, so can’t write him off either. Yes, his K/9 fell, but so did his walk rate. Okay, his velocity fell. All the way to the same velocity he had when he threw 200 IP in 2018 when he had a 3.15 ERA. His career BABIP is around .310, and last year it was .362. He did give up a bit too many homers, but he’s been an ace for two straight years, and you can’t give a guy a pass in that wildly dumb year? I’m not even asking you to give him a pass, and draft him as your ace, which he could be. I’m merely saying as a number three starter bounce back? This is a no brainer, which is my speciality! 2021 Projections: 11-8/3.89/1.24/181 in 184 IP
CONTINUE ON TO THE TOP 60 STARTERS FOR 2021 FANTASY BASEBALL