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2021 Points League Rankings - Starting Pitcher

We had to take a brief hiatus but are getting back at it on the points front at RotoBaller, now just a few weeks from the start of spring training. We've already covered most of the hitters so we're moving over to pitchers.

So let's do some point ranks, shall we? If you've forgotten from last year, I have strong opinions on point leagues. TL;DR? You can't just transfer over value from roto and you can't just take players with good BB/K ratios. You must make your values based on your specific rule and not assume that someone who is good in one scoring system will hold the same value as in another system. If you don't, you'll be behind from jump street. Or, at least you won't be as set up for success as you could be.

Pitchers are supremely important in H2H formats and you'll need to manage your staff even more in 2021 considering how many questions there are surrounding just how many innings starters will be allowed to pitch coming off of a shortened 2020. That just means I have more reasons to go even deeper on starter analysis. Plus, it's my birthday, so I think I'm allowed. We have a lot to cover, let's go.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received five total writing awards and 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, tops in the industry! Congrats to all the award winners and nominees including Best MLB Series, NFL Series, NBA Writer, PGA Writer and Player Notes writer of the year. Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!

 

Methodology and Common Terms

I'll mention this often ( and have mentioned it often); player values can vary wildly depending on your individual league settings. Whether using the standard scoring of the major platforms (ESPN, CBS, Yahoo, Fantrax) or custom setting, understanding how players score in your system and how roster sizes affect value is supremely important. The more you leverage this understanding, the more powerful the position you'll be starting from.

The swings between platform rankings can still vary greatly but starting pitchers don't have nearly as much wildness as with hitters, particularly at the top of the food chain.

Using the ranking from our premium Point Ranker Tools (powered by Nick Mariano's CUTTER projections), here are the top-30 hitters and top-30 starting pitchers by average platform ranking, along with the standard deviation of the platform rankings (ESPN, Fantrax, CBS, Yahoo, and NFBC).

Hitter Average Hitter Rank  Std Dev Starting Pitcher Average Pitcher Rank Std Dev
Juan Soto 1.8 0.8 Jacob deGrom 1.0 0.0
Ronald Acuna Jr. 3.4 3.9 Gerrit Cole 2.0 0.0
Mike Trout 4.0 1.9 Shane Bieber 3.0 0.0
Mookie Betts 5.0 1.9 Trevor Bauer 4.0 0.0
Jose Ramirez 5.6 2.5 Max Scherzer 5.0 0.0
Fernando Tatis Jr. 5.8 4.8 Lucas Giolito 6.0 0.0
Freddie Freeman 6.8 1.5 Aaron Nola 7.0 0.0
Christian Yelich 7.2 2.2 Yu Darvish 8.0 0.0
Manny Machado 9.0 2.2 Lance Lynn 9.6 0.5
Cody Bellinger 9.4 1.8 Luis Castillo 9.8 0.8
Trevor Story 12.2 6.8 Clayton Kershaw 11.6 2.2
Jose Abreu 13.0 2.5 Walker Buehler 11.6 0.5
Bryce Harper 13.4 4.4 Brandon Woodruff 13.8 1.6
Trea Turner 15.2 1.1 Carlos Carrasco 14.6 1.9
J.T. Realmuto 15.8 5.1 Hyun-Jin Ryu 15.8 3.3
Francisco Lindor 18.4 3.2 Jack Flaherty 16.0 1.9
Rafael Devers 18.8 4.0 Kenta Maeda 19.0 3.2
Kyle Tucker 19.2 4.7 Zac Gallen 18.8 1.3
Bo Bichette 20.8 4.4 Sonny Gray 19.4 1.5
Xander Bogaerts 22.4 4.1 Zack Greinke 20.4 4.3
Corey Seager 24.4 3.3 Jose Berrios 20.0 2.8
Salvador Perez 24.6 9.7 Blake Snell 21.6 1.5
Aaron Judge 24.6 10.6 Kyle Hendricks 24.4 7.5
Alex Bregman 25.0 8.5 Tyler Glasnow 22.6 4.6
Yasmani Grandal 26.6 8.7 Zack Wheeler 24.4 3.3
Anthony Rendon 27.0 9.4 Framber Valdez 25.8 1.1
Randy Arozarena 28.8 7.1 Charlie Morton 25.4 1.7
Eloy Jimenez 29.8 6.8 German Marquez 31.4 3.5
Luke Voit 31.2 6.2 Kevin Gausman 31.2 5.5
Michael Conforto 31.4 9.0 Dylan Bundy 29.6 0.5

With that in mind, I place less of a premium on the differences in scoring rates between the different platforms. While there are notable exceptions where a pitcher may perform significantly worse on one platform compared to the others, for the most part, I'm just looking at overall pitching quality along with high strikeout rates and likely workload.

Like with hitters, I'll also be using a "generic" point-scoring system when referring to player scoring-rates that is a rough aggregate of the systems on the different platforms. Scoring will vary from system to system but by using a common scoring system for analysis, we'll at least be speaking close to the same language.

 

Starting Pitcher Rankings

Overall Rank Pos Rank Name 2019 IP 2020 IP 2019 pt/IP 2020 pt/IP 2019 K-BB 2020 K-BB
2 1 Jacob deGrom 204     68 3.1 3.4 26.2 32.1
5 2 Shane Bieber 214     77 2.9 4.1 25.5 34.0
6 3 Gerrit Cole 212     73 3.8 3.3 34.0 26.7
12 4 Yu Darvish 178     76 2.5 3.5 23.7 26.6
18 5 Trevor Bauer 213     73 2.2 3.5 18.8 29.9
22 6 Walker Buehler 182     36 3.0 2.8 24.2 21.1
25 7 Max Scherzer 172     67 3.1 2.6 30.3 23.4
27 8 Jack Flaherty 196     40 2.9 2.5 22.8 19.4
29 9 Brandon Woodruff 121     73 2.9 2.7 22.9 24.9
31 10 Aaron Nola 202     71 2.5 2.9 17.5 25.3
32 11 Lucas Giolito 176     72 3.0 2.9 24.3 24.0
41 12 Clayton Kershaw 178     58 3.0 3.4 21.0 24.4
42 13 Luis Castillo 190     70 2.8 2.5 18.8 22.3
44 14 Tyler Glasnow 60     57 3.7 3.3 27.0 29.0
46 15 Kenta Maeda 153     66 2.7 3.6 18.9 28.2
49 16 Blake Snell 107     50 2.4 2.9 24.3 22.2
52 17 Corbin Burnes 49     59 0.9 3.5 21.3 26.7
55 18 Lance Lynn 208     84 2.6 2.8 21.4 18.6
57 19 Max Fried 165     56 2.6 3.3 17.9 13.8
60 20 Zach Plesac 115     55 2.1 3.2 10.1 24.8
76 21 Hyun-Jin Ryu 182     67 2.9 2.9 19.2 20.0
77 22 Kyle Hendricks 177     81 2.3 2.5 16.2 17.8
82 23 Zac Gallen 80     72 2.4 2.7 18.0 19.6
83 24 Carlos Carrasco 80     68 2.1 2.5 23.5 19.6
86 25 Dinelson Lamet 73     69 2.4 3.4 24.0 27.3
91 26 Sonny Gray 175     56 2.8 2.8 19.4 19.6
95 27 Dylan Bundy 161     65 1.7 2.9 14.9 20.6
99 28 Stephen Strasburg 209        5 3.1 -1.2 23.2 4.3
101 29 Kevin Gausman 102     59 1.5 2.7 18.2 25.7
114 30 Jose Berrios 200     63 2.4 2.3 17.1 15.5
121 31 Framber Valdez 70     70 1.2 2.6 7.3 20.8
124 32 Tyler Mahle 129     47 1.5 2.6 17.1 19.4
133 33 Zack Wheeler 195     71 2.3 2.3 17.5 12.8
136 34 Jesus Luzardo 12     59 4.4 2.2 28.3 16.9
154 35 Zack Greinke 208     67 2.9 2.3 19.4 21.2
158 36 Pablo Lopez 111     57 1.7 2.6 14.5 17.1
160 37 Sixto Sanchez 13.9
168 38 Julio Urias 79     55 3.0 2.5 17.8 12.1
170 39 Lance McCullers Jr.     55 2.3 15.9
171 40 Charlie Morton 194     38 3.1 2.0 23.2 18.8
173 41 Chris Bassitt 144     63 2.5 2.7 15.4 14.6
175 42 Marco Gonzales 203     69 2.0 3.0 10.5 20.6
179 43 Ian Anderson     32 3.2 19.6
182 44 Drew Smyly 114     26 1.4 2.7 12.6 29.7
183 45 Joe Musgrove 170     39 2.1 2.0 16.4 23.5
194 46 German Marquez 174     81 2.4 2.0 19.4 14.0
197 47 Patrick Corbin 202     65 2.8 1.2 20.1 14.2
199 48 Frankie Montas 96     53 3.1 1.6 20.3 15.6
200 49 Nathan Eovaldi 67     48 1.6 2.6 11.6 22.6
203 50 Jake Odorizzi 159     13 2.8 1.0 19.0 15.0
211 51 Eduardo Rodriguez 203      - 2.6 16.1
213 52 John Means 155     43 2.2 2.1 13.0 19.9
214 53 David Price 107      - 2.4 21.0
215 54 Andrew Heaney 95     66 2.1 2.3 21.5 18.3
217 55 Sandy Alcantara 197     42 1.7 2.5 8.4 14.0
222 56 Chris Paddack 140     59 2.8 2.0 21.5 18.8
224 57 Dustin May 34     56 2.2 2.6 19.1 12.5
226 58 Aaron Civale 57     74 2.4 1.8 13.2 17.0
230 59 Jordan Montgomery 4     44 1.4 1.9 26.3 19.7
243 60 Kwang-hyun Kim     39 3.0 7.8
245 61 Michael Pineda 146     26 2.5 2.7 18.7 16.2
253 62 Jameson Taillon 37      - 2.0 13.9
255 63 Mike Soroka 174     13 2.7 1.2 14.4 1.8
260 64 James Paxton 150     20 2.8 1.8 20.7 21.1
262 65 Matthew Boyd 185     60 2.3 1.2 23.9 14.0
266 66 Marcus Stroman 184      - 2.0 13.0
268 67 Zach Eflin 163     59 1.8 2.6 11.5 22.4
273 68 Yusei Kikuchi 161     47 1.2 1.7 9.2 13.9
278 69 Chris Sale 147      - 2.6 29.6
280 70 Cristian Javier     54 2.9 16.8
282 71 Mike Minor 208     56 2.4 1.5 15.3 17.6
285 72 Taijuan Walker 1     53 3.0 2.6 25.0 13.8
286 73 Ryan Yarbrough 141     55 2.5 1.8 17.2 13.7
291 74 Jose Urquidy 41     29 2.4 2.2 19.8 7.8
292 75 Miles Mikolas
296 76 Dallas Keuchel 112     63 2.0 2.7 10.7 9.7
300 77 Justus Sheffield 36     55 1.3 2.2 11.3 12.1
304 78 Robbie Ray 174     51 2.5 1.1 20.2 9.2
306 79 Zach Davies 159     69 2.0 2.8 7.6 15.9
307 80 Corey Kluber 35        1 1.4 3.0 13.7 0.0
316 81 Griffin Canning 90     56 2.1 1.9 17.2 13.9
323 82 Triston McKenzie     33 3.1 26.0
324 83 Josh Lindblom     45 1.9 18.8
326 84 Nate Pearson     18 1.8 3.7
327 85 MacKenzie Gore
328 86 Brad Keller 165     54 1.6 2.6 7.3 8.4
329 87 Caleb Smith 153     14 2.2 2.4 16.7 5.0
330 88 Sean Manaea 29     54 4.0 2.1 21.1 16.7
339 89 Jose Quintana 171     10 2.0 2.2 14.2 22.0
341 90 Rick Porcello 174     59 1.7 1.0 12.8 14.9
345 91 Deivi Garcia     34 2.3 18.5
347 92 Garrett Richards 8     51 0.3 2.1 12.2 13.6
349 93 Mitch Keller 48     21 1.0 2.1 21.6 -2.3
350 94 Tarik Skubal     32 1.6 19.4
353 95 Spencer Howard     24 1.2 11.5
356 96 Anthony DeSclafani 166     33 2.3 0.7 17.0 5.7
357 97 Adam Wainwright 171     65 2.0 2.5 11.9 14.9
360 98 Spencer Turnbull 148     56 1.3 2.0 13.3 9.1
362 99 Dane Dunning 15.5
364 100 Danny Duffy 130     56 2.0 2.0 12.4 14.5
368 101 Michael Kopech      -
371 102 Elieser Hernandez 82     25 1.9 3.1 16.7 27.4
372 103 Chris Archer 119      - 1.7 16.7
375 104 Kris Bubic     50 12.2
377 105 Luis Severino 12      - 3.3 22.9
380 106 Brady Singer     64 2.1 14.4
381 107 Luke Weaver 64     52 2.7 0.7 21.2 15.7
383 108 Kyle Gibson 160     67 2.1 1.2 14.7 9.3
384 109 Madison Bumgarner 207     41 2.3 0.9 19.0 8.9
385 110 Ross Stripling 90     49 2.4 1.6 19.7 10.0
387 111 Austin Gomber     29 2.5 10.1
395 112 Carlos Martinez 48     20 5.8 -0.6 17.5 6.7
397 113 Dylan Cease 73     58 1.5 1.9 14.1 3.9
398 114 Adrian Morejon 8     19 0.2 2.5 14.3 26.6
402 115 Tanner Houck 19.0
404 116 Casey Mize     28 0.7 9.8
406 117 A.J. Puk 11      - 3.5 17.0
408 118 Cal Quantrill 103     32 1.7 3.0 13.8 17.0
412 119 Kyle Freeland 104     70 0.7 1.5 8.5 7.6
413 120 Noah Syndergaard 197      - 2.2 18.4
415 121 Domingo German 143      - 3.0 19.2
418 122 Michael Fulmer     27 -0.2 5.9
420 123 Adrian Houser 111     56 2.3 1.0 17.3 9.3
430 124 Matt Manning

 

Tier One

Do you know what's unfair? Not only does two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom continue to dominate hitters every single season but also boosted his velocity in 2020, averaging 98.6 mph on his fastball, up from 96.9 mph in 2019 and 95.9 mph in 2018. Out of the starters who pitched at least 25 innings in each of 2019 and 2020, deGrom's 1.7 mph increase was the fourth-highest, trailing only Drew Smyly, Dustin May, and John Means. Once again, this came from two-time Cy Young Award winner, Jacob deGrom.

On his way to a 2.38 ERA over 68 IP - backed by a 2.46 xFIP and 2.70 SIERA -  deGrom threw his new and improved heater less than he had in previous seasons, finishing with 44.9% fastball usage, after 49.2% in 2019 and 51.9% in 2018. The decreased usage was replaced almost entirely by an increase in sliders, with his 36% usage representing a career-high.

That's probably a good idea, considering that deGrom's slider was basically impossible to hit in 2020:

deGrom Slider 2017 2018 2019 2020
SwStr% 13.7 19.1 20.1 27.2

Shane Bieber definitively proved that his breakout performance in 2019 (214 IP, 3.28 ERA, 30.2% K%) was no fluke, posting an outlandish 1.63 ERA and 41.1% K% over 77 IP on his way to the American League Cy Young Award.

In point leagues, Bieber took things to an even higher level, finishing as the number-one starting pitcher, both in total points scored and points-scored per inning pitched. And it's not just that he finished first, he finished in first by a lot:

Pitcher IP 2020 Points 2020 Pts per-IP
Shane Bieber 77 316 4.10
Yu Darvish 76 264 3.47
Trevor Bauer 73 255 3.49
Gerrit Cole 73 243 3.32
Kenta Maeda 66 236 3.56
Jacob deGrom 68 234 3.44
Dinelson Lamet 69 233 3.38
Lance Lynn 84 233 2.77
Lucas Giolito 72 209 2.90
Marco Gonzales 69 209 3.01

Do you remember when we thought Gerrit Cole was headed to bust-city, in the beautiful country of Mediocre-Land? Because after being selected first overall by the Pirates in 2011, Cole had been mostly underwhelming over his first five years in the majors with Pittsburgh, at least in terms of what you expect out of a number-one pick:

Pittsburgh IP K% BB% ERA FIP xFIP SIERA WHIP
2013-2017 782.1 22.7 6.3 3.50 3.27 3.47 3.60 1.22

Those aren't bad numbers, by any stretch (and are probably HOF worthy for Pittsburgh, considering their pitching the past few decades) but are obviously not those of an ace. But then he was traded to the Astros and the rest is history, with Cole dominating for two years in Houston before doing the same for the Yankees in 2020.

Things have been...slightly different since leaving the City of Bridges:

Season IP K% BB% ERA FIP xFIP SIERA WHIP
2018-2020 485.2 36.6 6.8 2.71 2.85 2.84 2.82 0.96

If Cole played in a different division, I'd probably have him in the toss-up zone with Bieber/deGrom. But the AL East meatgrinder is no joke, both in terms of the quality of offensives that reside there but also the bandbox-ness of their stadiums. That makes him a small notch below the other two but if you end up with Cole as your number one starter, I wouldn't start getting stressed out.

 

Tier Two

I want to put Yu Darvish in the first tier, I really do. However, putting aside general talent, 200 IP is the real gatekeeper of Tier One, ultimately relegating Yu to the tip-top of Tier Two. But make no mistake, I think this is the best version of Darvish we've seen in nine years and a version that will continue the domination we've seen since the second half of 2019:

GS IP K% BB% K-BB ERA FIP xFIP SIERA WHIP
2012-2018 139 872 29.5 9.1 20.5 3.49 3.38 3.29 3.27 1.19
2019 1st Half 18 97 26.5 11.7 14.8 5.01 5.31 4.25 4.54 1.34
2019 2nd Half 13 81.2 37.8 2.2 35.6 2.76 2.83 2.37 2.45 0.81
2020 12 76 31.3 4.7 26.6 2.01 2.23 2.82 3.14 0.96

The strikeouts have always been there; the key to Darvish's newest leap is a 3.2% BB% over his last 25 starts and 157.2 IP since the start of 2019's second half. Simply put, 2020 was not an accident and came as a result of distinct changes made to Darvish's mechanics and pitch mix in 2019.

Tl;dr the above link? I'll catch you up:

Darvish adjusted his pitch mix in the second half of 2019, leaning on his cutter more and adding a knuckle-curve. Perhaps more importantly, he tightened up his release points, leading to locations that were more consistent, less hittable, and less wild. And that train just kept rolling in 2020, with Darvish's 4.7% BB% giving him the 5th-lowest rate among qualified starters.

Pitch 2019 Use% (1st) 2019 Use% (2nd) 2020 Use% 2019 BB% (1st) 2019 BB% (2nd) 2020 BB%
Cutter 34.3% 39.8% 44.6% 6.7% 3.4% 5.5%
4-Seam 29.1% 23.8% 14.7% 18.6% 1.7% 2.6%
Slider 16.0% 10.8% 14.8% 15.8% 4.3% 10.2%
Sinker 14.7% 7.8% 10.3% 12.2% 3.3% 0.0%
Curve 3.7% 6.4% 4.9% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Split 2.2% 6.0% 4.1% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Knuckle Curve 0.0% 4.9% 6.4% n/a 0.0% 0.0%

Now on a better team in San Diego and pitching in a more pitcher-friendly park, Darvish and his new fancy walk-rate are poised to mop up batters and again be a fantasy superstar.

In a vacuum devoid of innings pitched, I wouldn't have Trevor Bauer so close to Yu Darvish. But Bauer will likely pitch 15-20 IP more than Darvish and that helps him close the gap for overall points. However, it cannot be denied that NL Cy Young Award winner was a fantasy superstar in 2020, posting a 1.73 ERA and 36% K% and averaging 3.49 pts/IP on his way to finishing as the third-highest scoring starter.

The mix of Bauer's batted-ball data stayed mostly the same as prior years but what really stood out was the decrease in quality of contact against him, even as his 72% Contact% was in the same range as it's been since 2018:

2020 Trevor Bauer 2018 2019 2020 +/-
Contact% 70.4 73.1 72.0 -1.1
Groundball% 45.3 38.8 36.1 -2.7
Flyball% 22.6 28.2 26.6 -1.6
Popup% 6.7 9.3 15.8 +6.5
wOBAcon .329 .391 .308 -.083
xwOBAcon .340 .391 .300 -.091
Poor% 2.6 3.1 5.1 +2.0

Frequent readers might think I'll avoid the elephant in the room and fail to acknowledge 2020's derailment of the Jack Flaherty hype-train. Well, ol' Not Burt doesn't wait around to get charged by a rogue pachyderm; I move forward.

While Flaherty was obviously a fantasy dud in 2020, posting a 4.91 ERA over 40 IP, there were also some extenuating circumstances. Like, I don't know...A pandemic putting the entire Cardinal team on the pine for nearly a month? Flaherty opened his season on July 24, picking up the win after allowing two earned runs in seven innings. Following the COVID team outbreak,  he then didn't pitch again until August 19, with management only allowing him to face nine batters as Flaherty ramped back up following the long layoff.

Things didn't get much better after that, with Flaherty giving up home runs and walks like he hadn't since his rookie season in 2018:

Date Opp IP TBF H BB HR SO ER ERA WHIP
24-Jul vs PIT 7.0 27 6 0 0 6 2 2.57 0.86
19-Aug @ CHC 1.2 9 1 2 1 3 1 5.40 1.80
24-Aug vs KCR 5.0 17 1 0 0 3 0 0.00 0.20
29-Aug vs CLE 5.0 20 3 2 1 5 1 1.80 1.00
4-Sep @ CHC 2.2 15 4 2 0 4 3 10.13 2.25
10-Sep vs DET 5.0 20 4 2 1 6 2 3.60 1.20
15-Sep @ MIL 3.0 19 8 2 2 6 9 27.00 3.33
20-Sep @ PIT 6.0 21 2 2 0 11 1 1.50 0.67
25-Sep vs MIL 5.0 22 4 4 1 5 3 5.40 1.60

I'm no pro but I feel like it might be kind of difficult to pitch one game and then wait a month before going again. And that those difficulties might have manifested in the control issues that lead to a spike in walks. It also might lead to a pitcher not being as confident with his fastball location and consequently living  center-cut, instead of attacking the edges:

Three of the six homers allowed by Flaherty in 2020 came against his four-seamer; two were chest-high meatballs and the other one came in straight down the pipe. Not great, Jack.

I'm willing to bank on most of Flaherty's struggles being related to COVID shenanigans and one terrible start against Milwaukee. His stuff is still filthy and his fastball velocity was 93.6 mph in 2020, keeping the modest increase he'd seen between 2018-19. I feel roughly the same about him as I did heading into last year, with the biggest change depending on whether or not the National League uses a DH again.

Oh, and one more thing. If you throw out Flaherty getting blown up by the Brewers on September 15 (when he allowed nine earned runs on two home runs in just three innings), you're left with:

IP K% BB% ERA WHIP
36.4 29.7 8.1 3.14 1.04

Let's get this hype train back on the tracks.

The only thing I don't like about Brandon Woodruff is that his 35 ADP will likely keep me from rostering him on virtually all of my teams as I did in 2020. Woodruff broke out for real last season, finishing with a 3.05 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, and 31.1% K% and moving into an elite tier of starting pitchers. His 3.05 ERA was backed by a 3.29 xFIP and 3.30 SIERA, while his 13.0% SwStr% was up from 11.6% in 2019 and has risen every year he's been in the majors. And while his whiffs outside the zone stayed virtually the same as in 2019, his whiffs inside the zone impressively rose from 19.6% to 25.1% in 2020 - besides deGrom and Bieber, that was the biggest increase by any starter being taken in the top-150 of ADP.

Ok, enough is enough, Lucas Giolito. I give. You're awesome. There wasn't any lack of belief in the 32.3% K% from his breakout 2019, as Giolito's filthy changeup helped him post a 15.2% SwStr%. That trend continued in 2020, with Giolito carrying a 33.7% K%, backed by a 17.3% SwStr% - a mark bested only by the 21.6% SwStr% of Jacob deGrom.

However, I did have worries that his home run issues weren't totally solved (1.40 HR/9 in 2018, 1.22 HR/9 in 2019) and you don't want a home run problem when your home park is Comerica. But the White Sox ace continued going down, allowing 1.00 HR/9 on his way to a 3.48 ERA (3.35 xFIP, 3.51 SIERA) that looked an awful lot like his 3.41 ERA (3.66 xFIP, 3.57 SIERA) from 2019.

 

Tier Three

There are many questions about how pitchers will be used coming off of the short season, with some clubs already announcing that inning limits will be more aggressively held to, particularly in regards to younger arms. That probably won't be the case with Lance Lynn, who eats innings for breakfast and is unlikely to face any restrictions from the new White Sox manager, Tony LaRussa.

Lynn led the league with 84 IP in 2020, a year after throwing 208.1 IP in 2019 but isn't just a compiler, scoring at a rate of 2.77 pts per-IP, a mark that was actually slightly higher than his 2.62 pts/IP in 2019. I don't think Lynn has the ceiling of some of the arms around him in the rankings but an above-average scoring rate and steady innings make him one of the safer bets in the tier to return value.

I love Corbin Burnes. No, seriously; I really do. However, there is the problem of how many innings he'll pitch in his first full season in the rotation, with his 59.2 IP in 2020 representing a career-high. But this is a lesser concern for me in points, as opposed to roto.  In roto, it's harder to justify using a top-60 pick on someone who will likely cap out around 150 IP. In points, though, I'll bump up guys who have the week-to-week potential to totally swing a head-to-head matchup.

It just goes back to having a solid strategy for how to structure your staff in points.  Do I want Burnes as my number-two starter? Probably not. He (along with Zack Plesac and Max Fried, and others) will likely only wind up on the rosters where I've gotten one of the Tier-1 guys in the first round and plan to pair Burnes with another strong Tier-2/3 guy taken with either the pick before or after.

Finally released from the bandbox chains of Camden Yards, my sweet Dylan Bundy thrived in his new home on the west coast with the Angels, carving fools up to the tune of a career-high 27.0% K% and career-low 3.29 ERA. And those weren't his only career-bests in 2020, with his 6.4% BB%, 20.6% K-BB%, 1.04 WHIP, and 0.69 HR/9 all setting new top marks.

Bundy did it only throwing his fastballs 42% of the time (down from 50% in 2019 and 56% in 2018), using his slider and changeup a combined 46%, along with the curve for the remaining 12%. Wow. So he broke out after going to a team that recognized that this wasn't the same Bundy who used to throw gas? And who thought he should maybe stop pitching like he still has that heat and instead lean on his absolutely filthy secondaries? Huh...How about that?

The 29.0% K% that Sonny Gray flashed in 2019, after a career-rate of 20.9% K% over his previous 900 IP seems to be a new feature, not a bug, after putting up an even better rate of 30.6% K% in 2020. But his walk-rate continues to climb, finishing with a career-high 11.1% BB%, after posting a 9.6% BB% in 2019 and a 9.8% BB% in 2018, which was also a personal worst at the time. However, most of all I hate the price. Sonny Gray is a fine pitcher and I'd happily take him at the end of the top-100. But a 65 ADP? Hard pass.

The best predictor of future injuries is past injuries. Do you know what Stephen Strasburg does most every year? He gets injured. While I'm reasonably confident that Strasburg will have around a 30% K% and 3.50 ERA, I have no idea whether it will be over 150 IP or 50 IP.  With his level of risk, there is a 0% chance that I'll be willing to roster Strasburg anywhere close to his 72 ADP. Also, there is a 0% chance that I roster him at all. Hit that music, Mr. McMahon.

 

Tier Four

Whether in points or roto, I've given up on trying to figure out why Jose Berrios continues to be drafted near the top-75 every season. Is everyone just enamored by the bulk of innings and let themselves be blinded to the fact that his season-long numbers are always relatively mediocre? To be fair, he's more of an asset in points, because there is something to be said for knowing that Berrios will turn in a stable point total in most weeks.

We know who Berrios is, he tells us every season with remarkable consistency:

IP W K% BB% K-BB% WHIP ERA FIP xFIP SIERA
2016 58.1 3 17.4 12.5 5.0 1.87 8.02 6.20 5.64 5.36
2017 145.2 14 22.6 7.8 14.8 1.23 3.89 3.84 4.51 4.29
2018 192.1 12 25.3 7.7 17.7 1.14 3.84 3.90 3.89 3.80
2019 200.1 14 23.2 6.1 17.1 1.22 3.68 3.85 4.32 4.28
2020 63 5 25.1 9.6 15.5 1.32 4.00 4.06 4.28 4.39

Berrios is a fine pitcher in real life, though ideally as a team's number-two starter instead of their ace, but I'm unlikely to pay a top-80ish price for someone whose ceiling is likely to only be top-75ish.

Framber Valdez posted a 26.4% K% over 70.2 IP in 2020, finishing with a 3.57 ERA (2.85 FIP, 2.94 xFIP, 3.23 SIERA) and 22nd in total points among starting pitchers. And people are excited about his future prospects in 2020 according to an 85 ADP. Call me...skeptical. At least in regards to the jump in strikeouts and being able to consistently get out RHB.

While Valdez did increase his strikeout rate from 20.7% K% in 2019 to 26.4% K% in 2020, the big bump in strikeouts didn't come with an increase in his swinging-strike rate. In fact, it actually dropped from 10.6% SwStr% to 10.0 SwStr%.

And Valdez slightly mixed up his approach to RHB in 2020, increasing his sinker usage from 43% to 56%, dropping his four-seamer almost completely from 16% in 2019, while upping his changeup from 8% to 16%. But he changeup didn't improve with more use, dropping from a 17.6% SwStr% and 38.7% whiff per-swing to a 12.1% SwStr%% and a 30.6% whiff per-swing, with a .397 xwOBAcon that was up from a .272 xwOBAcon.

Valdez was getting fewer whiffs in 2020 but was living more in the zone with his non-fastballs versus RHB. His changeup jumped from a 27.3 Zone% to 46.2% Zone% and his curveball went from 36.2% to 44.2%. That can be a dangerous way to live, as evidenced by righties posting a .237 xwOBA against his changeup in 2019 and a .357 xwOBA in 2020, with his .272 xwOBAcon jumping to .397 xwOBAcon.

Tyler Mahle was a very different pitcher in 2020, completely scrapping the curveball he threw 26% in 2019 and going back to his slider, which wasn't used in 2019 but had a 19% usage in 2018. And the slidepiece was fancy, putting up a 19.6% SwStr% that was up from 14.9% in 2018. After a 21.7% K% in 2018 and 23.2% in 2019, Mahle posted a 29.9% K% last season, with an overall 13.8% SwStr% that was up from 9.4% in 2019 and 9.9% in 2018. The new whiffery was impressive but is it for real?

Call me a believer that it was. But while the improved slider is the sexier news of note, an improved four-seamer was just as much responsible for his newfound success. Mahle's fastball has always had elite movement on the horizontal plane and that got even better in 2020, with his 12.4 inches of break (4.8 inches over average) an increase from 11.7 inches in 2019 and 11.6 inches in 2018.

However, the bigger change came on the vertical plane, with vertical drop going from 17.1 inches in 2018 (-o.6 below average) and 17.3 inches in 2019 (-1.3 below average) to 13.6 inches in 2020 (1.6 above average). This is a substantial increase in the coveted "rise" effect that pitchers are looking for and it wasn't just a happy accident; this was pitch design.

Mahle increased the spin on his four-seamer from 2161 rpm to 2390 rpm, his spin efficiency (the amount of spin that contributes to movement) from 87.8% to 99.9%, and his horizontal release point from -3.0 to -2.4. The changes were palpable. Not only did his four-seamer increase from a 9.3% SwStr% to a 14.4 SwStr%, but batters also went from an 11.7-degree average launch angle against it to 32.1-degrees (not a typo). That helps explain a pop-up rate that went from 4.9% to 12.1% and how he almost doubled his Under%, going from 20.2% in 2019 to 39.7% in 2020.

Not only is Mahle's improved strikeout rate backed up by increases in his swing-and-miss ability but batters are popping it up way more when they do make contact. That sounds like a recipe for a breakout I can get behind.

Zack Wheeler finished as SP 19 in 2018, SP 25 in 2019, and SP 29 in 2020, with respective scoring rates of 2.57 pts/IP, 2.27 pts/IP, and 2.35 pts/IP. He posted a career-best 2.92 ERA but with a 3.76 xFIP, 4.05 SIERA, and career-low 7.5% HR/FB. His value keeps going down and snapping back to around a 4.00 ERA in 2021 seems a pretty likely conclusion, as his HR/FB rate gets back to normal. Especially considering his hitter-friendly home ballpark and that the Phillies match up with the Al East for interleague play this season, meaning he'll also have to navigate all of those bandboxes. Given all of that, can someone please explain to me why we're paying top-100 prices for Zack Wheeler?

What? Do you think I'd really pass up an opportunity to bag on Zack Greinke? Greinke finished as SP 36 (just behind teammate Cristian Javier, who pitched 13 fewer innings), posting a 4.03 ERA and 24.5% K%. The slow fastball got even trashier in 2020, dropping in average velocity from 89.9 mph to 87.9 mph (5th percentile), with batters posting a .483 xwOBAcon against it that was up over 100-points from the .372 xwOBAcon in 2019.

For those brave souls willing to use a top-12o pick on a 37-year-old pitcher throwing mid-80's cheese, we salute you.

Pablo Lopez has a changeup that's so filthy it's making me finally warm up to him. Lopez had himself a mini-breakout in 2020, posting a 3.61 ERA over 57.1 IP, down from a 5.09 ERA in 2019 and a 4.14 ERA in 2018. Notably, his strikeout-rate made a significant jump from 18.6% K% and 20.3% K% in the previous two seasons, to 24.6% K% in 2020, with a 12.1% SwStr% that was up from 10.2% SwStr%.

Lopez works with a four-seam, sinker, and curveball but the aforementioned changeup is the showpiece, getting elite movement on both planes and carrying an 18.1% SwStr% in 2020. The problem I have with Lopez is the same one I have with many young pitchers. Just how many innings will they pitch and will it be on a normal schedule? Lopez pitched 57.1 IP in 2020, 125.2 IP (all levels combined) in 2019, and 121 IP (all levels) in 2018. Projection systems have him pegged for around 160 IP but I see that as more of a ceiling.

We can just run the track back for another Marlin, wondering just how many innings we can count on from Sixto Sanchez in his second season. His debut season for the Marlins (following a trade from the Phillies for J.T. Realmuto) went fine, if mostly unspectacular apart from his second start of the season when he struck out 10 batters over seven innings against the Rays, allowing no runs on six hits and one walk.

Sanchez finished the season with a 3.46 ERA over seven starts but struggled with his control late, walking nine batters in his final three starts and allowing 10 ER in 14 innings. And while Sanchez throws triple-digit gas, the rise on his four-seam fastball is 18% lower versus the league average.

Sixto's elite heat didn't translate to piles of strikeouts in majors, just as it hadn't in the minors, even at the lower levels:

Season Team IP K%
2015 PHI (R) 25.2 15.3
2016 PHI (R) 54.0 22.7
2017 PHI (A) 67.1 25.0
2017 PHI (A+) 27.2 16.0
2018 PHI (A+) 46.2 23.9
2019 PHI (A+) 11.0 13.0
2019 MIA (AA) 103.0 23.6
2020 Marlins 39.0 20.9

I'll try to keep the Drew Smyly hype in check but make no promises. Between injuries and poor performance, the 31-year-old lefty has been a disaster since 2016, running a 5.49 ERA over 289.1 IP from 2016-19, after a 3.24 ERA over his first 395 IP from 2012-15. But after landing with the Giants in 2020, Smyly was a revelation over 26.1 innings, with a 3.42 ERA and a spectacular 37.8% K% that was unlike anything we'd seen previously (23.5% K% career average prior).

It'd be easy to dismiss the increased whiffery as a small-sample anomaly but this was a different Smyly than we'd seen before. After his four-seamer averaged 91.3 mph for his career, Smyly came out firing in 2020, averaging 93.9 mph. Along with the faster heater, came a better curveball that he threw 35% of the time, carrying a 23.8% SwStr% that, among starters who threw at least 150 curveballs, was second only to the ridiculous 26.3% SwStr% put up by Shane Bieber.

Joe Musgrove went 1-5 over eight starts in 2020, posting a 3.86 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. Not exactly impressive. What was impressive was the 33.1% K% that was in the top-10% of baseball and up from 21.3% over his previous 457 IP. And besides the strikeout rate, Musgrove loved lighting up the Statcast boards:

There was a significant change in Musgrove's pitch mix in 2020, with his fastball usage dropping to 39% after sitting at around 50% for the previous four years of his career. The fastball was swapped out for more curveballs (20%) after never throwing it more than 9% previously (and 0% in 2018). But it was a different hook than Musgrove has shown before, being thrown with a slightly slower speed and more spin (2575 rpm to 2711 rpm), getting significantly more break on both planes, adding 2.2 inches of drop and 3.8 inches of break.

Musgrove's curveball had just a .104 wOBA against it in 2020 (.151 xwOBA) and increased from a 40.1% CSW% to a 47% CSW%, with his called-strike% increasing six-points and his SwStr% increasing 1.2-points. This new curveball is a weapon and could lead to a full breakout in 2021.

You have to be willing to ignore some red flags if you're willing to draft Patrick Corbin around his 150 ADP. And not small flags, these are more like naval signaling flags frantically waving in semaphore, "Turn back! Pirates up ahead!".

The new and improved version super-slider version of Corbin in 2018 that earned him a $140 million contract with the Nationals in 2019 was nowhere to be found in 2020:

Season Team IP K% SwStr% ERA FIP xFIP SIERA WHIP
2016 ARI 155.2 18.7 9.5 5.15 4.84 4.23 4.38 1.56
2017 ARI 189.2 21.5 11.0 4.03 4.08 3.89 4.12 1.42
2018 ARI 200 30.8 15.6 3.15 2.47 2.61 2.91 1.05
2019 WSH 202 28.5 14.2 3.25 3.49 3.59 3.88 1.18
2020 WSH 65.2 20.3 10.6 4.66 4.17 4.12 4.42 1.57

While still excellent, Corbin fell back to earth in 2019 from the lofty heights of the year prior and then completely crashed last season, posting blown-up ratios and a 20.6% K% that was his lowest strikeout-rate since 2016, that came with a matching drop in his SwStr%.

Corbin's breakout 2018 campaign came on the back of his increased usage of one of baseball's nastiest sliders, using it a career-high 41% in his final year with the Diamondbacks. And as well he should have, with the slider finishing the year with a .191 wOBA and .191 xwOBA against it, along with a 30.4% SwStr%

However, using Alex Chamberlain's Pitch Leaderboard, the vaunted Corbin slider hasn't been running at peak-whiffery since that breakout. It had a 30.4 SwStr% in 2018 and dropped slightly to 28.1% in 2019 before cratering to 21.2% in 2020.

It wasn't just the whiffs that were different, the actual pitch had changed from years prior, averaging 79.2 mph in 2020 after sitting at 81.7 mph the previous two seasons. It was also spinning less at the slower speed, dropping from around 2400 rpm in 2018-19, to 2242 rpm in 2020, even though its spin efficiency of 20.2% (the amount of spin that contributes to movement) was nearly unchanged from last year's 20.7%.

Corbin has gotten away with being virtually a two-pitch pitcher because the slider is just so damn good. If it's going to be merely above-average instead, then 2021 will see the continuation of the issues he faced in 2020 and makes his top-150 price untenable to me.

 

Tier Five

Even though he always runs a +4.00 ERA, Andrew Heaney has actually scored at a consistent rate these last few years, averaging 2.27 pts/IP in 2020, after 2.11 pts/IP in 2019, and 2.18 pts/IP in 2018. As always, the real issue with Heaney is knowing how many innings you can realistically count on him for:

Season IP
2014 29.1
2015 105.2
2016 6
2017 21.2
2018 180
2019 95.1
2020 66.2

If Heaney approaches 170 IP, he should easily score enough to justify his 212 ADP. However, that is asking quite a lot given his history and anyone that rosters him should structure their pitching staff accordingly.

I keep waiting for the world to wake up and realize that the 134 ADP of Sandy Alcantara makes absolutely zero sense. And yet every day, his ridiculous ADP remains. Are people really buying into a 3.00 ERA that wasn't supported by his evaluators and a 22.7% K% that still isn't very impressive even if it was up from 18% K% in 2019, and an increase that didn't come with a rise in his SwStr%?

Season G IP K% SwStr% WHIP ERA FIP xFIP SIERA
2019 32 197.1 18.0 10.8 1.32 3.88 4.55 5.17 5.28
2020 7 42 22.7 10.4 1.19 3.00 3.72 4.04 4.39

I get it; Alcantara has a really, really good sinker that averages 96 mph and only allowed a .198 wOBAcon against it, with a -2.7 degree average launch angle and 45% GB%. It's quite difficult to make good contact against it. Fact.

However, the sinker got completely different results against LHB, as it did against RHB. Right-handers only managed a .172 wOBAcon (.239 xwOBAcon) and 2.8% Brl%, with a 61.4% GB%. Left-handers posted a .244 wOBAcon (.396 xwOBAcon), with just a 22.0% GB% and a 9.5% Brl%.

Looking at his splits, it seems obvious that Alcantara's inability to use his sinker effectively against LHB dragged down his overall numbers against them:

AVG OBP SLG OPS wOBA WHIP FIP xFIP
2020 vs L .268 .366 .493 .859 .369 1.67 4.97 5.27
2020 vs R .190 .236 .238 .474 .215 0.83 2.77 3.12

For me, a top-130 price is far too much to pay for someone with splits issues and an uninspiring strikeout-rate. Nevermind the fact that the Marlins matchup with the AL East for 2021 interleague play and also have to contend with a lefty-heavy Mets team that's looking like the best team in the division.

 

Tier Six and Later

Missing a wheel and leaking heavy smoke, the Matt Boyd bandwagon limps into 2021 with few passengers still onboard following Boyd posting a 6.71 ERA over 60 IP. The "good" news is that his 5.78 FIP said he wasn't quite as bad as his ERA said and a 4.97 xFIP and 4.60 SIERA says he has the underlying skills to be even better in the future. The bad news is that a 5.00 ERA still means you're bad. Especially since the 30.2% K% from 2019 that got everyone so excited headed into 2020, dropped back down to 22.1% K%, putting Boyd right back where he was at in 2018. If the strikeout rate comes back, Boyd can be a useful streamer and possibly more. If not, he'll be unstartable in most matchups.

Considering the ceiling in head-to-head matchups, Chris Sale is more worthy of a stash in points than he is in roto, especially if you have an IL spot. Just stick him in the cooler and once he's back and healthy, thaw him out and fire at will. But I'm not counting on the Chris Sale of old coming back in 2021, given the post-surgery adjustment period, along with the struggles that he had prior to his injury in 2019.

Along with many other young pitchers, I have teammates Jose Urquidy and Cristian Javier in the same boat of not knowing how many innings they'll log. Urquidy had 29 IP in 2020 and 41 IP in 2019, while Javier had 54 IP in 2020; either or both of them surpassing 150 IP is a hard sell for me to swallow. The skills are certainly there. Javier had a 25.2% K% and 3.48 ERA in his debut season, while Urquidy posted a 2.73 ERA over his brief 29 IP, albeit with a 4.71 FIP, 5.36 xFIP, and 5.41 SIERA.

I'm still not ready to give up on Yusei Kikuchi; in fact, I'm encouraged by the strides he made in 2020, even though he had a 5.17 ERA over 47 innings. The peripherals looked much better, with a 3.30 FIP, 3.78 xFIP, and 4.34 SIERA. And Kikuchi got back the higher strikeout rates he ran in the NPB, with a 24.2% K% in 2020 up from a 16.4% K% in his stateside debut.

Kikuchi earned the increase in strikeouts, too. He rose from an 8.8% SwStr% in 2019 to 12.1% in 2020, with his whiffs on swings in the zone going from 13.4% to 23.9%, and whiffs on balls out of the zone increasing from 37.9% to 46.5%. He also increased his groundball rate eight-points to 52.8% GB% on the strength of the cutter he added (40% usage, 49% GB%).

Perhaps most importantly, Kikuchi got back some of his velocity from his days in Japan, with his four-seamer increasing from 92.5 mph to 95 mph. The spin also rose from 2096 rpm to 2178 rpm, with his spin efficiency increasing from 78% to 92.4%. The result was a far different movement profile; Kikuci's fastball added 1.2 inches of break and decreased from 16.1 inches of drop (league average in 2019) to 12.1 inches (15% above league average), adding more of that coveted "rise" action.

Throwing your fastball harder and with better movement usually isn't a bad thing and there was no exception in regards to Kikuchi. His swinging-strike rate rose from 7.6% SwStr% to 13.1% SwStr%, with contact against it falling from 40.2% to 31.2%.

Besides the new cutter and increased velocity, Kikuchi was also throwing a revamped slider that averaged 83.3 mph after sitting at 86 mph in 2019, increasing its spin from 2220 rpm to 2347 rpm. Spinning more but going slower, the slider lost its break, going from 3.5 inches (21% below average) to 1.6 inches (75% below average). But he made up for it on the vertical plane, moving from 34 inches of drop in 2019 to 40.7 inches in 2020.

Here's the slider in 2019, harder and with more sweeping movement:

And here it is in 2020, slower and tighter:

The result was a slider with a harder downward bite than before, ending with an 18.9% SwStr% that was up from 15.4% SwStr% in 2019. And besides more whiffs, batters also had more trouble getting it off the ground, posting a 52.9% GB% against it, up from 41.8% in 2019. This gave Kikuchi three pitches (out of four) with at least a 50% GB%.

Kikuchi increased his velocity, changed his pitch mix, and had a new and improved slider. His strikeouts and groundballs went up and even thought the ERA was bad, the evaluators were palatable. All for a throwaway ADP? Sign me up, all day.



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