I play in a lot of fantasy baseball leagues. Some might call it an unhealthy obsession, or even an addiction – if you are one of those people, you should probably stop reading this and do something more useful with your time like making solar energy more accessible – but it brings me joy to play this game and root for these players.
What brings me pain is when the players I’ve been rooting for on my roster underperform my expectations, or suffer a serious injury.
That’s why I take a diversified approach to rostering players. In most cases, I like to spread the risk and avoid loading up with the same guys on all of my fantasy teams. It makes it more likely that I’ll have something to root for all year long.
That being said, like everyone, I have my favorite players. The ones I like more than the crowd. It’s one thing to list the players you like. But quite another to put your money where your mouth is. Yesterday, I shared the hitter version of this list.
In 2021, excluding Best Ball formats, I drafted 11 teams. Not all the leagues have the same number of teams, categories, or players drafted. And some even have keepers. But if I drafted the same player on a bunch of my teams – especially given my affinity for risk avoidance – you know my fantasy season is very much in their hands. This list includes pitchers on 30%+ of my rosters this season.
Without further introduction, here are Five Guys … I’m going to ride or die with in 2021 (pitchers) …
First Guy: Freddy Peralta, MIL – Once the laughingstock of pitcher development, the Milwaukee Brewers have emerged as a force to be reckoned with. Every year, it seems they take a young arm who they have groomed in long relief, and turn them into an ace. In 2019, it was Brandon Woodruff, In 2020, it was Corbin Burnes. Will 2021 be Fast Freddy’s year?
His ERA indicators were ace-caliber, his 14.42 K/9 was ridiculoso, and his Statcast page is redder than the soles of Lil Nas X’s new sneakers. Peralta can struggle with control, and he benefited from some generous home run luck last season. He has also never pitched more than 120 innings in a season, including his minor league career, so there are legit questions about how many innings he’ll log.
I bet on the come in many leagues, grabbing him late/free as a high-leverage middle reliever with the upside of making the rotation. And now he’s in there. I’ve always liked his skills, and the other rotation contenders were meh. Even if they pull him from the rotation at some point and he only pitches 120 IP, he’ll have more Ks than other SP with 20-30 more IP.
Second Guy: Lance Lynn, CHW – I prioritized innings eaters with my top starters in building my rotations this draft season. I love the skills and potential of Jesús Luzardo and Julio Urías, but I wanted big dudes with thick legs that will put in work on the mound. Lynn epitomizes this as much as any pitcher.
He probably has the best odds in the game to get to 200 IP this season, and that likely comes with 200 K. I know we’re not supposed to try to predict wins, but he pitches deep into games for a winning team with a good bullpen in a favorable division.
In drafts, I liked pairing him with another top arm, and then filling in with productive bats until the middle rounds.
Third Guy: Sandy Alcantara, MIA – Like Lynn, Alcantara is built for distance. He put up a 197 IP season at the age of 23, and took the rubber Opening Day for the talented Marlins rotation as a 25 year-old this season.
In a year when I anticipate chaos among the ranks of pitchers, I prioritized arms like Alcantara who feel like they have a safe floor and will eat innings. I’m penciling him in for slightly above-average fantasy starter stats – nothing fancy – but with the reliability and volume I’m willing to pay up for to limit the need for streamers.
Fourth Guy: Lance McCullers, HOU – No one denies McCullers is an extremely talented starting pitcher. His career numbers since 2015 are those of a borderline ace. In 500 IP over five seasons, he has put up a career 3.70 ERA (3.29 FIP) with 10 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, and 0.71 HR/9.
The concern isn’t his talent nor his production. It’s that he only has thrown 508.3 IP in five years. He has suffered through various injuries, and carries that label. But after missing the entire 2019 season, he looked excellent in 2020. So I took the discount all draft season. I think he’s a #2 SP who I could draft as a #4
And the Astros – who know his medical history better than anyone – just signed him to multi-year extension. Which was a nice vote of confidence for his fantasy managers.
Fifth Guy: José Urquidy, HOU – Urquidy wasn’t a target of mine entering draft season, just a starter with potential to take the next step who seemed to fall to me in every draft for a dirt cheap price. Houston has developed a strong track record of developing solid starters. And despite nice surface numbers, Urquidy pitched to a lot of luck last season. Check out his LOB%, BABIP, etc.
Urquidy limits walks, and while he has not shown great K numbers at the MLB level, his minor league track record indicates there’s room for growth there. And when you’re grabbing him as an SP5 or 6 in a 15-teamer, the profit potential is significant. Especially because he’s an Eno guy (27th SP on his rankings).
Five More Guys:
- Lucas Gilolito, CHW – He was my #4 ranked SP this season (with Yu Darvish as a 4A). Elite skills. Really thoughtful pitcher and person. Great team context.
- Kenta Maeda, MIN – I believe in him. I’ve always believed in him. I believe in him moving forward. Regress his 2020 numbers so that he’s not only pitching against the AL Central and you still have a #2 fantasy SP. Maybe the Dodgers would have more than one recent World Series if they didn’t cynically micro-manipulate his contract so they never had to pay his bonuses.
- Yusei Kikuchi, SEA – Poster boy for bad luck in 2020 where his expected stats were much better than his ERA. Not a stud, but might be primed for a leap after a couple of years stateside.
- Daulton Jefferies, OAK – Longtime favorite of mine. Has battled injuries, and had one bad start last season. He’ll eventually get his shot this season. Love him most in leagues where there are minor league rosters.
- Daniel Ponce de Leon, STL – Another one of “my guys.” Has the stuff to make a leap, not sure he can put it all together, but he’s getting a shot. And there’s always that Cardinals Devil Magic.TM