The pitcher rankings are always one of my favorite positions to do for fantasy baseball, and the 2021 edition is no exception. Yet, I think I might enjoy this year more than most, given that we might (fingers crossed) get a full season of baseball in this year!
I should be excited even more than I am. But right now I am still conflicted over my ranking of Adam Wainwright. I still remember him coming in as the closer and shutting the door on Brandon Inge to give the Cardinals their 10th World Series back in....(double-checking)... 2006? Holy cow, Wainwright turns 40 this August! I know he's been around for a while, but that was nearly 15 years ago! My brain is still having trouble processing that. I also am having trouble processing that this might be the last year Wainwright has any fantasy relevance.
Unlike many, Wainwright actually had a decent 2020. He had respectable ratios with a 3.15 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP. However, before last year, it has been four years since he had an ERA under 4.00. Still, even in 2019, Wainwright still had a K/9 rate over eight, and I think he pitches close to 200 innings this year, which means he should easily give us 160 Ks. And with the newly acquired Nolan Arenado, I think the Cardinals can give him plenty of wins as well. Bottom line, there is a reason why he is the one player I have double-digit spots above the ECR (Expert Consensus Rankings).
But you still have to scroll way down to find Wainwright in my rankings. The biggest disparity right near the top however is Walker Buehler. I have him four spots below the ECR. And don't misunderstand; I like Buehler. But there is a reason why I like grizzled veterans like Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw more.
I don't see the Dodgers giving Buehler enough work to be worthy of a player you will likely have to grab within the first three rounds of your draft. The Dodgers have plenty of pitching options and could easily go with the opener strategy or yank Buehler at the first sign of trouble. Last year, Buehler averaged just 4.5 IPs per start. He went six innings in just one of eight starts. Buehler should get the run support, but if he's not even averaging enough IPs to get the win, is that a guy you really want as your fantasy ace? I like Buehler, but unlike the ECR, I like quite a few SPs more.
Thoughts and Other Rankings Notes:
- On the flip side of Buehler is Joe Musgrove, who I absolutely love this year. I know it is getting to be a very crowded bandwagon, but I still have him seven slots above the ECR. First off, in case you couldn't tell from my shortstop rankings, I am all in on the Padres this year. Therefore, Musgrove's run support and win total should spike right there. Furthermore, few are better than Musgrove in inducing groundouts: 48.4 percent of Musgrove's batted balls were grounders last year. Furthermore, Musgrove's strikeout peripherals, to quote Teri Hatcher, "are real and they're spectacular." His curveball is one of his best pitches; he threw it more last year and it was quite effective (swing and misses 53.2 percent of the time). Musgrove still doesn't think it's his best pitch, as he threw it less than 20 percent last year. But when you have at least five solid-to-plus pitches (in addition to his curve, he has a four-seamer, a changeup, a sinker, and a cutter), that's understandable. Musgrove will be no ordinary Joe this year!
- I am all in on the Padres, but I really like what the Blue Jays did this offseason. I would be shocked if they are not one of the "final four" teams in the AL. I could even see them being the AL representative in the World Series. And that is why on the RP side I like Kirby Yates. I'm pretty aligned with the ECR on RPs, but definitely liking the upside of the Yates more than ECR. He missed most of last year (less than five innings pitched) but had sparkling numbers in 2019 for the Padres. He had 41 saves to go with a 1.19 ERA and 0.89 WHIP. That was much a better stadium for pitchers than Toronto, so I don't think he will quite reach those numbers. But I'm going to bet on the marvels of modern medicine and say he once again puts up strong ratios with over 30+ saves.
- I also like Sean Manaea a little more than most. His ranking seems to be deflated by his 2020 season when he had a 4.50 ERA and 45 punchouts over 54 innings. He had strong ratios in 2019 but pitched less than 30 innings. However, I think we see numbers in 2021 much closer to his '18 season when he had a 3.59 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. He had 160 innings that year, but I think he gets closer to 200 in 2021. And that, to me, makes him easily a top-70 fantasy option.
- You also will see that I do not have a lot of rookie representation in my rankings. Between the pandemic and teams often treating their young arms with kid gloves (pun intended), I just don't see a lot of rookie hurlers providing stats worth drafting. I will be happy to be wrong. But I need to see it happen before I'm willing to rank them optimistically.
- One last ranking worth mentioning at this time. I am ALWAYS going to have Stephen Strasburg higher than the ECR for non-strategic reasons. Despite no known family affiliation, he does have similar features to my great-great-grandfather, and I am 100 percent convinced we are related somehow. So, I like him to do well and I will always put "cousin Stephen," as we call him in my house, above the ECR. But I also think he has one more very solid year left and will gladly take him before Kenta Maeda or Lance Lynn.
Want to know who else I like and/or moved up in my pitcher rankings? Hit me up on Twitter (@MarkStrausberg).
— Rankings by Mark Strausberg, a member of the Athlon Network Contributor, who despite his youthful exuberance and good looks has been playing fantasy sports before Wildcats or Hoosiers even made it to VHS. Got a fantasy sports question or thought? Hit him up on Twitter @MarkStrausberg.