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Ranking the top 100 starting pitchers in fantasy baseball [UPDATE]

We take a look at the starting pitcher position, including notable offseason transactions, injury news, and rank out the best options for your 2021 fantasy baseball drafts.

Kenta Maeda and Tyler Glasnow are DFS Pitchers to start on Opening Day

March 31 update: A few starters — Sonny Gray, Eduardo Rodriguez, Robbie Ray — have been or will be placed on the IL before Opening Day. None of those guys should miss more than a couple of weeks, so they haven’t moved in the ranks.

Sixto Sanchez and Deivi Garcia won’t open this season in the big leagues, but I’m not going to overreact to that. I moved Sanchez down just a few spots, to No. 36, while Garcia moved down from No. 84 to No. 99. In that range, the separation between pitchers is small.

One player who has moved somewhat significantly is David Price after he lost out on the Dodgers’ No. 5 rotation spot to Dustin May. Price has gone from No. 66 to No. 74, next to his bullpen mate Tony Gonsolin. May remains at No. 53 as I expected him to win that gig all along.

March 26 update: There are a bunch of starting pitchers already dealing with bumps and bruises, but two pitchers have more concerning injuries. Zac Gallen suffered a hairline fracture in his right forearm while batting earlier this month. This is a reminder that we aren’t expected to have the designated hitter in both leagues this year. There is no word on Gallen’s recovery timetable, but it seems like he will miss several weeks of action. I have moved him from No. 14 to No. 34.

Secondly, Carlos Carrasco suffered a hamstring tear that will keep him out for up to two months. Carrasco was already dealing with elbow soreness, so there are just a bunch of red flags here right now. He has been moved from No. 19 to No. 55.

It sounds like Sonny Gray will open the season on the injured list because of his back pain, but he shouldn’t miss too much time. I dropped him just a couple of spots.

Framber Valdez’s fractured finger doesn’t need season-ending surgery. It’s still unclear as to when he will return to the mound, but that’s a bit of good news.

Kwang-hyun Kim has been lowered a handful of spots, down to No. 90, since his back injury will cause him to open the season on the injured list.

Spencer Turnbull has been placed on the COVID-19 injured list. It’s unknown when he’ll pitch again, obviously, so he has been removed from the top 100.

Stephen Strasburg and Zach Eflin are expected to be ready for their first scheduled start of the regular season despite some recent maladies.

March 17: Nate Pearson aggravated his groin injury this week, so I have dropped the Blue Jays rookie yet again, from No. 70 to 77.

Mets pitcher Carlos Carrasco was shut down for a little bit after experiencing some elbow soreness. He did make it through a bullpen session Tuesday, so perhaps this is much ado about nothing, but I did drop him just a few spots in the ranks.

March 9 update: One of biggest stories in baseball this month is the finger injury suffered last week by Astros starter Framber Valdez. Will the broken ring finger on his pitching hand keep him out for a couple of months or the whole season? That important bit is unclear right now. Regardless, he will be out for a long while, so I have moved Valdez from No. 29 to No. 58.

The Astros found a suitable replacement for Valdez as they signed veteran Jake Odorizzi. The 31-year-old was an All-Star in 2019 while with the Minnesota Twins. He really struggled in the shortened 2020 season, but from 2014-19, Odorizzi averaged 165 innings and 160 strikeouts per year with a 3.88 earned run average. He enters these rankings at No. 90.

And in other Astros news, a bunch of pitchers, including starter Cristian Javier, are currently away from the team due to health and safety protocols, according to manager Dusty Baker. Javier is at No. 64 in my ranks, but this bears watching.

Blue Jays rookie Nate Pearson likely won’t be available come Opening Day after he suffered a right groin strain earlier this week. The fire-baller has gone from No. 65 to No. 70 in these ranks.

Other moves: I’ve gotten a little aggressive on Shohei Ohtani, considering what he has shown early in spring training. He has been boosted from No. 68 to 55. Braves starter Mike Soroka has dipped from No. 42 to No. 46. It sounds like David Price might pitch in relief at times this season, so I have pushed him down just a tad, from No. 52 to No. 57.

Starting pitchers in fantasy baseball should be viewed in the same manner as running backs in fantasy football: there are not many reliable, top-end options, and all of them carry considerable risk because of the inherent nature of their job. Even the likes of Jacob deGrom and Gerrit Cole are not impervious to sudden arm troubles. But they are first-round picks in many leagues because they have been able to put up tremendous numbers while staying relatively healthy for multiple seasons.

The goal for fantasy managers should be to select 2-3 starters who offer that best combination of production and reliability before filling out their rotation with more boom-or-bust hurlers. As always, there are a bevy of pitchers who carry that tag into this season; some of them will doom your team while others will be league-winners. Choose wisely.

Offseason transactions

A true arms race took place between the San Diego Padres and the Los Angeles Dodgers this offseason. The Padres struck first in December by trading for 2018 AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell, who was joined by 2020 NL Cy Young runner-up Yu Darvish 24 hours later. They also acquired Joe Musgrove from the Pirates in January. The Dodgers responded by adding last season’s NL Cy Young recipient, Trevor Bauer, in February. Darvish and Bauer look like elite options this year while Snell is more of an SP2 in fantasy. Musgrove is a mid-round selection.

Lance Lynn is the White Sox’s newest ace after he was traded by the Rangers. His past two seasons, his age-31 and age-32 campaigns, were the best of his career. A true workhorse, Lynn finished among the top six in the AL Cy Young voting in 2019 and 2020.

Carlos Carrasco was sent from the Indians the Mets in what is generally regarded as the Francisco Lindor trade. Although he turns 34 years old this month, it’s tough to disregard Carrasco’s successful 2020. He registered a 2.91 ERA and struck out 82 batters in 68 innings.

Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon have thrown one inning combined since the end of the 2019 season, but both men are now healthy, and the Yankees are depending upon them turning back the clock a bit to when they were rotation stalwarts. Kluber and Taillon are enticing, high-risk, high-reward picks in this year’s starting pitcher pool.

Notable injuries

Three aces — Chris Sale, Luis Severino and Noah Syndergaard — are deep in their rehab after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year. There is hope that all of them will play in 2021, but it’s likely that none of them will debut before June.

The Nationals are being very cautious with Max Scherzer, who suffered a sprained left ankle in early February. There doesn’t seem to be any concern regarding his regular-season status.

Mike Soroka, who ruptured his right Achilles tendon in August, has been throwing off a mound since January, but it’s unknown if he will be ready to go come opening day. The good news is the Braves’ righty hasn’t had any setbacks in his recovery.

Top 100 SP rankings

Starting pitcher rankings 2021

Rank Player Team
Rank Player Team
1 Jacob deGrom New York Mets
2 Gerrit Cole New York Yankees
3 Shane Bieber Cleveland Indians
4 Walker Buehler Los Angeles Dodgers
5 Trevor Bauer Los Angeles Dodgers
6 Yu Darvish San Diego Padres
7 Luis Castillo Cincinnati Reds
8 Lucas Giolito Chicago White Sox
9 Aaron Nola Philadelphia Phillies
10 Brandon Woodruff Milwaukee Brewers
11 Jack Flaherty St. Louis Cardinals
12 Max Scherzer Washington Nationals
13 Clayton Kershaw Los Angeles Dodgers
14 Lance Lynn Chicago White Sox
15 Blake Snell San Diego Padres
16 Jose Berrios Minnesota Twins
17 Kenta Maeda Minnesota Twins
18 Tyler Glasnow Tampa Bay Rays
19 Kyle Hendricks Chicago Cubs
20 Hyun-jin Ryu Toronto Blue Jays
21 Corbin Burnes Milwaukee Brewers
22 Max Fried Atlanta Braves
23 Sonny Gray Cincinnati Reds
24 Stephen Strasburg Washington Nationals
25 Zach Plesac Cleveland Indians
26 Zack Wheeler Philadelphia Phillies
27 Zack Greinke Houston Astros
28 Jesus Luzardo Oakland Athletics
29 Ian Anderson Atlanta Braves
30 Patrick Corbin Washington Nationals
31 Chris Paddack San Diego Padres
32 Charlie Morton Atlanta Braves
33 Zac Gallen Arizona Diamondbacks
34 Lance McCullers Jr. Houston Astros
35 Sixto Sanchez Miami Marlins
36 Joe Musgrove San Diego Padres
37 Julio Urias Los Angeles Dodgers
38 Pablo Lopez Miami Marlins
39 Shohei Ohtani Los Angeles Angels
40 Tyler Mahle Cincinnati Reds
41 Dylan Bundy Los Angeles Angels
42 Kevin Gausman San Francisco Giants
43 Sandy Alcantara Miami Marlins
44 Dinelson Lamet San Diego Padres
45 Triston McKenzie Cleveland Indians
46 Marcus Stroman New York Mets
47 Frankie Montas Oakland Athletics
48 Marco Gonzales Seattle Mariners
49 Corey Kluber New York Yankees
50 Jose Urquidy Houston Astros
51 German Marquez Colorado Rockies
52 Jameson Taillon New York Yankees
53 Dustin May Los Angeles Dodgers
54 Aaron Civale Cleveland Indians
55 Carlos Carrasco New York Mets
56 Framber Valdez Houston Astros
57 Andrew Heaney Los Angeles Angels
58 Dallas Keuchel Chicago White Sox
59 Chris Bassitt Oakland Athletics
60 Mike Soroka Atlanta Braves
61 Zach Davies Chicago Cubs
62 John Means Baltimore Orioles
63 Cristian Javier Houston Astros
64 Eduardo Rodriguez Boston Red Sox
65 Zach Eflin Philadelphia Phillies
66 Jordan Montgomery New York Yankees
67 Michael Pineda Minnesota Twins
68 Sean Manaea Oakland Athletics
69 Griffin Canning Los Angeles Angels
70 Drew Smyly Atlanta Braves
71 Brady Singer Kansas City Royals
72 Nathan Eovaldi Boston Red Sox
73 James Paxton Seattle Mariners
74 David Price Los Angeles Dodgers
75 Tony Gonsolin Los Angeles Dodgers
76 Nate Pearson Toronto Blue Jays
77 Dane Dunning Texas Rangers
78 Mitch Keller Pittsburgh Pirates
79 Matthew Boyd Detroit Tigers
80 Elieser Hernandez Miami Marlins
81 Michael Kopech Chicago White Sox
82 MacKenzie Gore San Diego Padres
83 Brad Keller Kansas City Royals
84 Tarik Skubal Detroit Tigers
85 Adam Wainwright St. Louis Cardinals
86 Justus Sheffield Seattle Mariners
87 Ryan Yarbrough Tampa Bay Rays
88 Kwang-hyun Kim St. Louis Cardinals
89 Jake Odorizzi Houston Astros
90 Noah Syndergaard New York Mets
91 Chris Sale Boston Red Sox
92 Luis Severino New York Yankees
93 Casey Mize Detroit Tigers
94 Robbie Ray Toronto Blue Jays
95 Yusei Kikuchi Seattle Mariners
96 Domingo German New York Yankees
97 Mike Minor Kansas City Royals
98 Madison Bumgarner Arizona Diamondbacks
99 Deivi Garcia New York Yankees
100 Taijuan Walker New York Mets