Pitching costs more than ever in Fantasy baseball drafts in 2021, but there's no evidence we're actually getting any better at drafting starting pitchers, and the early rounds are littered with potential landmines who can trip up your season. Early-round pitchers -- especially outside of the first two rounds -- consistently provide a worse return on investment than their comparatively priced hitters, both because their production is harder to predict and they are more injury prone.
This is all true, but the thing is, you still need pitchers. Hig-end ones. Pitchers who can provide good ratios and a bunch of strikeouts and, hopefully, a good amount of innings. The ones who can do all of that are pushed up near the top of drafts for good reason, and that's why I'm willing to take a starting pitcher with one of my first two or three picks in most leagues, typically. And I'll usually take a pitcher in the fifth-seventh round range in most drafts, too.
But I want hitters to make up the bulk of my picks inside of the top 100. They're a better bet to be worth the pick, which is a big part of my thinking on it, but that's not all of it. Another big part is, I really love the pitching options available between 100 and 150th overall in most drafts. Or, technically, 98.4 through 147.2 in FantasyPros.com's consensus ADP, which includes the following pitchers:
(Note: Valdez suffered a broken finger that could cost him a significant amount of time -- potentially much of the season, per one report. We broke down how to approach the Valdez injury on FBT.)
I don't have that group all ranked in this exact order, and I don't love all of them individually, but this is the range I'm typically looking to snag two or three of my starters from. I want four or five of my top-40 starters, and if go heavy on hitting early, I'm perfectly content to get three of this group. In my Tout Wars draft earlier this week, I ended up with my two favorites -- Greinke and Anderson.
I'm significantly less worried about Greinke's diminished velocity and inflated ERA from 2020 than most seem to be, and in a season where volume is going to be very hard to depend on, Greinke is the kind of veteran who very well could go out and throw 200 innings. The 4.03 ERA going alongside the three-mph drop in average fastball velocity seems to be scaring people off, but … it didn't actually impact how well he pitched last season. Greinke actually had a lower FIP and SIERA than in 2019, with his highest strikeout rate since 2017 and his lowest walk rate ever. Greinke has been one of the consistently most profitable pitchers to invest in for Fantasy over the last five years, and I'm still buying.
And I love pairing him with Anderson, one of 2020's small-sample size stars I'm actually buying. There are questions about how much he'll be able to throw coming off the shortened season -- he threw just 51 including the postseason in 2020 -- but I'll note he's thrown as many as 135.2 innings in a season as recently as 2019 and has a pretty good track record for a young pitcher as far as health goes, so I could see him getting to 150 innings. And I think those 150 innings are going to be very good. He's had some control issues in the past, but the stuff is legitimately great, including a new changeup he refined and got Luis Castillo-esque results from last season. Anderson is a top-24 pitcher for me, and if he's my No. 4 starter, I'm in a great spot, as was the case in Tout Wars.
But those aren't the only two pitchers from this group I like, and if I miss out on them, there are plenty of guys I'm willing to bet on from this range. It's a key part of my pitching strategy, and it should be for you, too. Here's how I've got them ranked, with a few thoughts on each:
- Ian Anderson -- High-pedigree pitcher who made it to the majors in 2020 with a new pitch that was his best pitch. He's the best pitching "prospect" for 2021.
- Zack Greinke -- A long track record of outperforming expectations and I'm willing to bet he'll keep that up with his price lower than ever.
- Chris Paddack -- Paddack's fastball lost effectiveness in 2020, but he's spent the offseason working on it, and I'll bet on the talent and pedigree in a bounceback campaign. If he shows confidence in his curveball in spring, all the better.
- Charlie Morton -- A 37-year-old starter coming off a season with diminished velocity and a shoulder injury isn't a great bet, but the velocity came back after he returned from the injury and he was excellent in the postseason, so I'll buy at this depressed price.
- Sixto Sanchez -- Sanchez has a high floor as a hard thrower with great command who induces a lot of weak contact. If he can figure out how to get more whiffs and strikeouts, he has ace upside, though there's probably a pretty hard innings ceiling for Sanchez, and I'm not sure it's even as high as 150.
- Patrick Corbin -- Another bounceback candidate, Corbin's diminished velocity was a serious issue for him, and it's fair to wonder if he can get back to his previous excellence without it. On the other hand, we're talking 11 starts in 2020 vs. 66 between 2018 and 2019 where he had a 3.20 ERA and 10.8 K/9. He was being drafted as a top-12 starter this time last year.
- Sandy Alcantara -- Alcantara shares a lot of qualities with Sanchez, his Marlins teammate, in that he induces a ton of weak contact but doesn't get as many strikeouts as you think he should given the quality of his stuff. The difference is, Alcantara doesn't have Sanchez's control, nor his inning questions. Alcantara nearly threw 200 innings in 2019 and went at least six innings in each of his final seven starts in 2020 despite missing a month with COVID-19.
- Lance McCullers -- McCullers was solid in his first season back from Tommy John surgery, but he could take a step forward a year removed. He's never thrown big innings or been particularly consistent, but if you're looking for a poor man's Dinelson Lamet (who is, himself, a poor man's Tyler Glasnow), McCullers brings similar upside with arguably less risk.
- Kevin Gausman -- The reason I'm not higher on Gausman coming off a very good 2020 is simple -- we've seen good two-month stretches from him before. However, if pitching in San Francisco helps keep his homer woes in check and he has the feel for his splitter, Gausman could be a solid SP3 in 2020.
- Pablo Lopez -- That's three Marlins starters in this range, and Lopez is the least-heralded among the group -- and also the best strikeout pitcher of them. Lopez showed flashes in 2019 and then made a leap in 2020, lowering his fastball usage, leaning on his very good changeup more, and introducing a cutter. I have him a bit lower than the other two Marlins because he shares some of Sanchez's inning concerns without being quite as sure a thing.
- Joe Musgrove -- I've cracked some jokes about Musgrove's history of teasing us late in one season only to disappoint in the next, but if he makes it past 130 overall, I think he's a fine dice roll. The flashes are impressive, and he's got a deep arsenal, and if he puts it all together the upside is pretty high.
- Jesus Luzardo -- Here's a nice post-hype breakout candidate. Luzardo carried so much hype heading into his rookie season, and if he disappointed it's only because expectations were too high. Again, there's probably a hard innings cap here, but Luzardo was better at pitching deep into games than I expected as a rookie, and I'll bet on the results catching up to the hype this season.
- Julio Urias -- It may end up that Urias needs to leave the Dodgers to live up to his full potential, simply because they are unlikely to ever use him like a normal, full-time starter. But he's thrown 239 innings with a 3.20 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, and is one of the best in the game at limiting hard contact consistently. Don't expect more than, say, 130 innings, but they should be very good ones.
- Dylan Bundy -- I'm less bullish on Bundy than many in the industry -- his apparent breakout in 2020 was heavily front-loaded to his first four starts -- but there were real changes here. Bundy largely eschewed his fastball, and that seems to have made a difference. His 113.6 ADP is a bit rich for my blood, but I don't mind him if he falls a little further than that and I can get him as my SP5.
So which Fantasy baseball sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which undervalued first baseman can help you win a championship? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy baseball rankings for every single position, all from the model that called Will Smith's huge breakout last season, and find out.