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Starting pitchers to target in 2021 fantasy baseball

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Pitching will make or break your fantasy baseball season. Be sure to grab these guys.

Getty Images/Pete Rogers Illustrations

Pitching has become progressively more important with each passing season. Especially high-end starters who can provide both innings and strikeouts. Everyone is drafting them earlier and stockpiling them on their bench at the end of drafts. 2021 offers the toughest challenge yet. No single pitcher tossed more than 100 innings in 2020. In fact, Lance Lynn led the league with just 84 innings pitched. What will this mean for the coming year? Will we get any starters racking up 200+ innings? Innings are great, don't get me wrong, but they have to be quality innings. Don't substitute quantity over quality.

Here are some of my favorite targets at starting pitcher for 2021.

Brandon Woodruff, Milwaukee Brewers

My Rank: 9
Expert Consensus Rank: 13
NFBC ADP: 34.51

Brandon Woodruff has arrived and is here to stay. He's a top 10 pitcher for me coming in at number nine at the position. Look at his baseball savant page!

That's a lot of red! I want to highlight the 80th percentile fastball spin and the 65th percentile curve spin. These are both big improvements for Woodruff compared to his 2019 season. In 2019, the fastball spin was 40th percentile and the curve spin was just 25th percentile. His xFIP of 3.29 was ninth among qualifiers. I'm happy with him as my SP1 if I go hitter early and I'm thrilled to pair him with another top 10 starter if I go heavy on pitching.

Carlos Carrasco, New York Mets

My Rank: 16
Expert Consensus Rank: 20
NFBC ADP: 65.23

Carrasco is back, y'all. In 2018, Carrasco had an ERA of 3.38 with a 10.8 K/9. He was a top 20 starter in ADP going into 2019. In 2019, he had a disappointing 4.98 ERA over 12 starts. He then had to step away from the game due to leukemia. In 2020, he showed a clean bill of health and was back to the old Carrasco. He had a 2.91 ERA over 12 starts with a 10.9 K/9. He went at least six innings in all but three of those starts as well. He now moves to the NL after being traded to the Mets, which is always a plus for a pitcher’s ERA. I like him to provide quality innings and a lot of them in 2021.

Ian Anderson, Atlanta Braves

My Rank: 29
Expert Consensus Rank: 34
NFBC ADP: 100.21

Ian Anderson had about as great a debut as one can have in 2020. Over six regular season starts he posted a 1.95 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and an 11.4 K/9. Then the postseason happened. Anderson's first three starts were great. He pitched 15.2 innings with 22 strikeouts and nary a run. He finished the postseason out with a 0.96 ERA with 24 Ks over 18.2 IP. The underlying numbers back up Anderson's dominance. His xBA against of .183 was 19th among qualified pitchers. His xSLG against of .233 was best. And his xwOBA of .242 was 11th best. I'll leave you with this about Anderson: over his 32.1 IP, which was 138 batters faced and 571 total pitches, he allowed just one barreled ball.

Tyler Mahle, Cincinnati Reds

My Rank: 43
Expert Consensus Rank: 54
NFBC ADP: 175.22

Tyler Mahle clicked in 2020. He posted career best numbers across the board. A 3.59 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 11.3 K/9 over 47.2 innings. Mahle was another big gainer when it comes to fastball spin. In 2019, he was just 34th percentile. He jumped to 74th percentile in 2020 and the results showed how much that improvement played up. He added a slider to his pitch mix, while ditching his cutter. The slider was a big pitch for him, as he threw it 32% of the time. It was his best pitch for getting whiffs, with an impressive 41.5% whiff rate. His fastball whiff rate was up to 31.6% in 2020, compared to 21.3% in 2019. Swing-and-miss stuff is a great factor in today's pitching landscape. If Mahle can keep his gains from 2020, his current ADP will make him one of the best values in fantasy.

Dylan Cease, Chicago White Sox

My Rank: 50
Expert Consensus Rank: 105
NFBC ADP: 377.57

I don't know how to quit Dylan Cease. In fairness, I'm not alone. I've seen plenty of fantasy dudes on twitter hyping up the 25-year-old hurler. 2020, like most of Cease's career, is hard to judge. He posted a low 4.01 ERA in 58.1 IP. But the FIP was 6.36! His 10.0 K/9 in 2019 dropped to just 6.8 K/9 in 2020. His hard hit percentage and exit velocity allowed both trended in the wrong direction. His xwOBA of .388 was 14th worst among qualified pitchers. Yet, he's still a value in 2021. No one is buying him. He's free in almost every league. The saving grace is his fastball velocity and spin rate. It's God-level. His average fastball velocity of 97.5 MPH is 7th in baseball and the average spin rate of 2521 RPM is tied for 11th.

Who are you targeting this year at starting pitcher?