Fantasy Baseball SP Rankings: Starting Pitcher Tiers, Sleepers, Draft Strategy

Putting together SP rankings for 2021 feels like even more of a fool’s errand than usual. Not only are last year’s stats moderately helpful at best and completely useless at worst, but the increased likelihood of injuries and strict innings limits after every starting pitcher threw so few innings last year is even higher than normal. That won’t stop fantasy baseball owners from thinking they can spot the “sure things” in the top tier and the “must-have sleepers” in the middle tiers, but no matter what your usual draft strategy is, one thing is certain: Depth is going to be crucial at this notoriously volatile position. 

The top 10-15 pitchers in our rankings are similar to the top 10-15 you’ll find on most sites, though not necesarily in the same order. We like Blake Snell a little more and Jack Flaherty a little less, but po-tay-to/po-tah-to. These players will all likely go in the first four or five rounds. After that, things can go in a variety of directions.

For instance, we’re not nearly as high on Zac Gallen as most sites despite the young righty impressing over the past two seasons. Gallen is still a high-K hurler who can at least be a No. 2 on any staff, but we’re just a little worried about his lack of experience and home park. Shouldn’t we also feel that way about Corbin Burnes or Jesus Luzardo, both of whome are ranked ahead of Gallen? Yeah, we should, but we like Burnes’ slightly higher strikeout potential and Luzardo’s home park a liittle more. You might disagree. So be it. There are going to be a lot of similar examples at this position.

Even though we mentioned increased injury risks, you shouldn’t let that impact your selections too much. Obviously, a player like Dinelson Lamet (biceps, elbow) is more of a risk and you don’t want to draft him too early despite his top-10 talent, but even already-injured SPs, such as Chris Sale (elbow) and Luis Severino (elbow), who might not return until around midseason, could have just as much value as SPs who seem spry and ready at the start of the season. All injury risks can quickly become potential values if they’re falling too far.

You can go a variety directions when drafting, but it’s not recommended you load up on too many pitchers early. You still likely want at least one ace and a solid No. 2, but filling out your rotation with late-middle or late-round picks — then being a vigilant streamer once the season starts — can work just as well as drafting five pitchers in the first 12 rounds. Getting a mix of “stable” veterans and a few high-upside younger pitchers is usually smart. Focusing on strikeouts — the most repeatable stat — is really the only thing you can rely on. 

Every other pitching stat is subject to a high level of variance, so it’s also important to study the advanced stats. Unsustainably high or low BABIPs — which could be even more misleading after such a short season — need to be scrutinized more closely, while wins are almost not even worth looking at or trying to project beyond elementary analysis of “pitchers on better teams have a better chance of getting wins.” (Duh)

Ultimately, SP is a journey into the great unknown every year, and no matter who your pitchers are after draft day, be prepared to stream and play the matchups. When it comes to pitching, that’s the only strategy you can count on employing every year.

We’ll be updating these pitcher rankings as needed throughout the spring, so check back for the latest player movement. 

Fantasy Baseball SP Rankings: Starting Pitcher Tiers, Sleepers, Draft Strategy

Rankings based on 5×5 H2H leagues with Ks, ERA, WHIP, Wins, and Saves as pitching categories. 

Position eligibility based on Yahoo’s default settings

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