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Fantasy Baseball 2021: Starting pitcher rankings, tiers, draft strategies and more to know

Get ready for your 2021 fantasy baseball draft by diving in to the starting pitcher position
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Starting pitching can be the most volatile asset in fantasy baseball, but it's also often the key to winning your leagues. That's why you should consider loading up at the position early and often in drafts, particularly in an H2H points format, where you should try to have five or even six arms in your rotation by the time the draft hits Pick No. 120. There are interesting names after that point as well, obviously, but I find it much easier to fill out the hitter side of the ledger in the middle-to-late rounds of a draft than I do with starting pitchers I feel comfortable rolling out there on a weekly basis.

So how should you attack the position heading into your draft? I've done numerous mock and real snake and salary cap drafts heading into the 2021 MLB season, and I'm here to share the things I've learned so far. If you're a regular subscriber to SportsLine, you probably know me from dominating NFL picks for years, but did you know I actually got my start in sports media as a fantasy baseball analyst? I even finished No. 1 among all experts for my draft rankings the first year FantasyPros tracked MLB expert accuracy on their site.

Want more fantasy baseball tips from CBS Sports' panel of experts? Go sign up for our 2021 Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit to have our full set of rankings, strategies, tiers and more sent directly to your inbox.

More tiered rankings: C1B2B3BSSOFSPRP

Here's how I'm ranking and approaching the starting pitcher position for fantasy baseball in 2021:

Starting pitcher ranking tiers

1. Shane Bieber, CLE
2. Jacob deGrom, NYM
3. Gerrit Cole, NYY

The big three at the position can be slotted in any order, but I'm most comfortable with Bieber, a guy I landed in multiple dynasty leagues early in his rise and have been head over heels for since. However, I've also hedged a little by taking deGrom in the first round instead here and there, as he has just as good a chance at being the No. 1 player in fantasy baseball at the end of 2021. Grab one of these three guys in Round 1 if at all possible, especially in H2H points leagues, where I would take them over any hitter.

4. Trevor Bauer, LAD
5. Yu Darvish, SD
6. Aaron Nola, PHI
7. Lucas Giolito, CHW
8. Max Scherzer, WAS
9. Walker Buehler, LAD
10. Luis Castillo, CIN
11. Clayton Kershaw, LAD
12. Jack Flaherty, STL

While not quite at the level of the top three, this tier is stocked with rock-solid ace options. Buehler might be the best of the bunch in terms of talent but his workload could lag a little behind the others, so I have him a little lower than I would otherwise. I love starting the draft with back-to-back pitchers if I can get Bauer or Darvish in Round 2, but I'll be sure to come out of Round 3 with two of the top 12 pitchers.

13. Brandon Woodruff, MIL
14. Blake Snell, SD
15. Zac Gallen, ARI
16. Kenta Maeda, MIN
17. Tyler Glasnow, TB
18. Lance Lynn, CHW
19. Stephen Strasburg, WAS
20. Corbin Burnes, MIL
21. Sonny Gray, CIN
22. Hyun-Jin Ryu, TOR
23. Zack Greinke, HOU

Even if you have two pitchers by the time we get to this tier, I like snapping up two more from this group, though those usually come later in the tier after I add a hitter or two in my drafts. A few of these guys like Gallen and Glasnow may have to deal with lighter innings load, but they'll be incredibly effective with the innings they give you. Strasburg and Gray are two guys who have dealt with injuries during spring, suppressing their value in drafts a bit. Even if I go a little more aggressive on hitting in Rounds 4-6, if I can escape with two of Strasburg, Gray, Ryu or Greinke in Rounds 7-8, I'm feeling great about my draft.

24. Kyle Hendricks, CHC
25. Zach Plesac, CLE
26. Jose Berrios, MIN
27. Max Fried, ATL
28. Zack Wheeler, PHI
29. Chris Paddack, SD
30. Ian Anderson, ATL
31. Charlie Morton, ATL
32. Jesus Luzardo, OAK
33. Lance McCullers, HOU
34. Joe Musgrove, SD
35. Dylan Bundy, LAA
36. Dinelson Lamet, SD

If I've done my job in the first three tiers, I'm probably only taking one name from this list, likely closer to the bottom half of this group than the top half. Hendricks for several years was a great value in drafts because he doesn't post the strikeout totals that managers target, but this year his ADP is more in line with where he should be going so he's not necessarily a must-target for me this year like he has been in the past. Chris Paddack and Ian Anderson are a pair of young arms with the upside to jump as high as Tier 2 this season, so they make for nice targets if you're chasing ceilings.

37. Sixto Sanchez, MIA
38. Julio Urias, LAD
39. Shohei Ohtani, LAA  
40. Pablo Lopez, MIA
41. Frankie Montas, OAK
42. Sandy Alcantara, MIA
43. German Marquez, COL
44. Kevin Gausman, SF
45. Patrick Corbin, WAS
46. Tyler Mahle, CIN
47. Marco Gonzales, SEA
48. David Price, LAD
49. Mike Soroka, ATL
50. Carlos Carrasco, NYM

Ohtani has been shooting up in drafts as he continues to put together an awesome spring both on the mound and at the plate. Daily-lineup leagues where you can move him back and forth depending on whether he's pitching on any particular day make him a must-target, and I'd jump him up at least to the top of the previous tier in those formats, maybe even a little higher. I'd typically look to get one of the guys in this tier, and if you're stocked in the rotation to this point, don't be afraid of targeting a guy like Marquez and only using him on the road. Soroka and Carrasco are great IL stashes if you already have good starting options in the rotation and can afford to wait for them to get healthy.

51. Corey Kluber, NYY
52. Andrew Heaney, LAA
53. Aaron Civale, SP
54. John Means, BAL
55. Jameson Taillon, NYY
56. Michael Pineda, MIN
57. Elieser Hernandez, MIA
58. Eduardo Rodriguez, BOS
59. Zach Eflin, PHI
60. Jose Urquidy, HOU
61. Dustin May, LAD
62. Tony Gonsolin, LAD
63. Framber Valdez, HOU  
64. Luis Severino, NYY
65. Noah Syndergaard, NYM

Here's another group where I tend to come away with one or two guys, and typically that's about it for me for the remainder of the draft. The first five guys in this tier have plenty of upside, and players like Pineda and Rodriguez should offer nice floors if you took a few riskier options at starting pitcher earlier in the draft. May and Gonsolin may not start the season in the rotation but should help your staff while getting innings out of the bullpen, and whenever they are needed to make starts, they could have RP eligibility and allow you to slot them in at that spot in a year where there isn't really many RP-eligible worth targeting. The final three guys are great IL stashes, with Valdez apparently avoiding season-ending surgery based on the latest news.

66. James Paxton, SEA
67. Yusei Kikuchi, SEA
68. Domingo German, NYY
69. Griffin Canning, LAA
70. Marcus Stroman, NYM
71. Triston McKenzie, CLE
72. Tarik Skubal, DET
73. Drew Smyly, ATL
74. Chris Bassitt, OAK
75. Chris Sale, BOS
76. Dallas Keuchel, CHW
77. Robbie Ray, TOR
78. Sean Manaea, OAK
79. Jordan Montgomery, NYY
80. Nathan Eovaldi, BOS
81. Brady Singer, KC
82. Cristian Javier, HOU
83. Ryan Yarbrough, TB
84. Jake Odorizzi, HOU
85. Taijuan Walker, NYM
86. Matthew Boyd, DET
87. Nate Pearson, TOR
88. Zach Davies, CHC
89. Dane Dunning, TEX
90. Adbert Alzolay, CHC

Starting pitcher strategies

Quantity and quality is the name of the game. Ideally I come away with one of the top three in Round 1, two from the first two tiers by the end of Round 3, four from the first three tiers by Round 7 or 8, and one from Tier 4 by the end of Round 10. After that, I'm looking for upside, starting with Shohei Ohtani if he's still on the board. Don't forget to stash at least one star starting pitcher on your IL from Soroka, Carrasco, Severino, Syndergaard and Sale.

In the end game, I'd look for players I may be able to use in an RP slot if applicable, including the young Dodgers hurlers who might not make the rotation to begin the year. A.J. Puk, Tejay Antone and Jose Quintana are a few other names that fit the bill there. Other late picks I've wound up with here and there include Yusei Kikuchi, Drew Smyly, Domingo German, Taijuan Walker and Adbert Alzolay.

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R.J. WhiteSuper Stat Geek