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Staff Post: Starting Pitchers to target in 2021 fantasy baseball

The Fake Teams writers tell you which arms to buy into for 2021.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Miami Marlins Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Friday afternoon, and that means it’s a day full of fantasy baseball here at Fake Teams! We’ll continue the festivities with our staff targets at starting pitcher. There are some quality names on this list, and we hope you enjoy them. But if you have an alternative viewpoint, we’d love to hear why in the comments!

MLB: Spring Training-Baltimore Orioles at Washington Nationals Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals (Mark Abell)

NFBC ADP: 26.08

I know he’s 36 and he has now had four consecutive years of his ERA getting worse, but he’s still a very strong pitcher. He posted a 3.74 ERA last year in what could be considered a “bad year” to go with a 12.3 K/9. He’s still got the stuff from anyone who has watched him in Spring Training, and he will likely be a top 10 pitcher this year. However, his ADP seems to be slipping close to outside of that range. He has a solid team behind him which means he will get you a good ERA, strikeouts and wins...what more can you want? Few pitchers have the consistent track record he does, and I trust in that over someone with one good year who is younger.

Pablo Lopez, Miami Marlins (Andrés Chávez)

NFBC ADP: 126.60

Man, I love PabLo. He limits hard contact (90th percentile in average exit velo, 79th percentile in hard-hit rate, 84th percentile in barrel%) and gets plenty of swings and misses (12.1% SwStr%) while limiting walks (2.83 BB/9.) In short, he knows how to pitch and can miss bats. Additionally, he worked to add a breaking ball to his arsenal during the offseason, as he wants to add to his four-seam fastball, sinker, cutter and changeup. He explicitly said he wants to go through lineups three or four times, which is music to fantasy owners’ ears. He had a 3.61 ERA in 2020, but his 3.09 FIP and the fact he is adding another pitch make me think he still has another gear to hit when it comes to performance. I’m in.

Aaron Civale, Cleveland Indians (Garrett Atkins)

NFBC ADP: 187.56

The unofficial starting pitcher of Fake teams, Civale is one of my favorite targets this season at any position. He was stellar over the first eight starts of 2020. He had a 3.63 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 52 innings. His last four starts, especially his final start of 2020, ballooned his season ERA to 4.74. Don’t look at that number and write him off. His FIP, which is a much better tool to judge performance compared to ERA, was 4.02. That was the 27th best in baseball. The underlying stuff is great for Civale. He has a 73rd percentile fastball spin rate and a 87th percentile curve spin. His 5.1% walk rate was sixth best in baseball, right behind Yu Darvish’s 4.7% walk rate. He’s a steal at his current ADP which is around SP50 overall. He has easy top 30 upside.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels At Los Angeles Dodgers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Heaney, Los Angeles Angels (Heath Capps)

NFBC ADP: 203.28

I stay drafting Andrew Heaney. The ADP isn’t prohibitive, the team context continues to improve every year, and Heaney is pretty appealing from a “if he can put it all together” standpoint. His walk rates have been pretty solid over the course of his career, as his highest mark is 8.9%—but he’s been at 6.0%, 7.3%, and 6.8% over the last three years. He also generates strikeouts aplenty, as evidenced by rates of 28.9% and 25.1% in the last two seasons. One issue has been hard contact, as he was inside the bottom 9% of the league with a 90.4 MPH average exit velocity allowed in 2019. His 1.89 HR/9 that year was pretty ghastly, too. For what it’s worth, Heaney battled through Tommy John surgery in 2016 and suffered a litany of injuries in 2019. It’s conceivable that we’ve not seem him at his best (or healthiest) just yet.

In the sprint season he improved with regard to hard contact—his 88.6 MPH mark was in the 35th percentile, and his HR/9 dropped to a tolerable 1.22 rate. He’s also a guy who can likely be inside the top 25 in innings pitched in 2021, as he tied for 27th last year and should be one of the “horses” for Los Angeles. Maybe you’ll have to pick and choose his battles early on to let him build up some trust, but if Heaney shows some consistency early nearly all of my fake teams will benefit.