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Starting Pitcher Fantasy Baseball Shuffle Up: Jacob deGrom, then everyone else

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The only thing harder than finding reliable fantasy starting pitching is ranking all of it going forward. The butterfly is always bobbing, weaving, darting, and dipping. It’s always a work in progress.

Nonetheless, we trudge forward.

Here is how I’d attack the fantasy pitching board if I were entering a fresh league that drafted tonight. Assume a 5x5 format, as usual. Courtesy ranks for injured players are at the bottom, but those are not for debate. If you have more injury optimism than I do (or better medical intel), that’s cool.

The numbers attached to each player are unscientific; more gut-feel than anything else (although of course, I have plenty of quantifiable reasons for slotting the players where I do). Players at the same number are considered even. The idea is to tier the talent in a reasonable, logical way — if anything about pitching could ever be considered logical.

To the shuffle:

The Big Tickets

47 Jacob deGrom

41 Gerrit Cole

39 Yu Darvish

36 Brandon Woodruff

35 Corbin Burnes

35 Trevor Bauer

35 Walker Buehler

33 Max Scherzer

33 Lucas Giolito

33 Zack Wheeler

When it comes to the Milwaukee staff, the innings-shutdown pitcher I worry about is Freddy Peralta, not Woodruff or Burnes . . . Buehler hasn’t lost a game since Sept. 21 of 2019 — that was 24 starts ago. His current ERA doesn’t mesh with the estimators, but whenever a pitcher has a WHIP under 1, I’m not going to look for reasons to fade them. He’s ridiculous, and still might be the best pitcher on the deepest team in the majors . . . Giolito hasn’t been as efficient putting away hitters this year, and of course the White Sox haven’t been limited to last year’s cushy schedule, when they only faced the AL and NL Central. Nonetheless, Giolito’s expected ERA is a half-run lower than his actual, and I still view him as a bonafide ace for fantasy purposes . . . Assuming Wheeler is okay after a rare off start Tuesday — his velocity was down and he only worked three innings — he looks like one of the best set-and-forget aces. He’s spiked his strikeout rate while maintaining elite control, and his fastball, slider, and curve all grade as plus pitches.

If deGrom can stay reasonably healthy for the rest of the year, he looks like the NL MVP. He’s perfected a novel approach to handling NL batters: he shows them three different versions of his dominant stuff. There are several statistical frames to showcase just how dominant he’s been this year; here’s my favorite so far:

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Legitimate Building Blocks

29 Clayton Kershaw

27 Lance Lynn

26 Aaron Nola

25 Joe Musgrove

25 Kevin Gausman

23 Carlos Rodon

21 Julio Urias

20 Hyun Jin Ryu

20 Jose Berrios

20 Freddy Peralta

19 Trevor Rogers

19 Sandy Alcantara

18 Ian Anderson

18 Zack Greinke

18 Pablo Lopez

Kershaw hasn’t made 30 starts since 2015, which makes you wonder if and when the Dodgers might look towards some load management. There’s no reason to force Kershaw to pitch through any minor aches and pains as they show up, and he is in his age-33 season . . . Gausman hasn’t pitched well enough to hold a 1.51 ERA — you already knew that — but the suggested 2.74 number is still elite. Remember, he was the fourth overall pick in his draft class, and he’s not the first pitcher to figure things out after escaping Baltimore, even if it’s taken a few moves before he settled in. He’s limited hard contact very well, his swinging-strike rate is a career-best, and his already-elite control has taken a step forward. If not for deGrom, Gausman would be in the middle of the NL Cy Young race . . . Other than a solid drop in walk rate, Berrios 2021 looks a lot like the pitcher he’s been all his career — good, not great. He’s struggled with his off-speed pitches this year; his change hasn’t been a plus pitch, and he’s yet to find his good curveball. Some guys are destined to be career No. 2 or No. starters.

When they’re healthy, you’re playing them

16 Charlie Morton

15 Framber Valdez

15 Frankie Montas

15 Lance McCullers Jr.

15 Luis Castillo

14 Yusei Kikuchi

14 Zac Gallen

14 Sean Manaea

14 Chris Bassitt

14 Marcus Stroman

14 Robbie Ray

14 Kyle Hendricks

14 Shohei Ohtani

13 Jose Urquidy

13 Chris Paddack

13 Kenta Maeda

13 Tyler Mahle

13 Aaron Civale

13 Blake Snell

12 Taijuan Walker

12 Zach Eflin

12 Alex Wood

12 Dylan Cease

Hendricks couldn’t get out of his own way in April, but he’s been steady since, making do with a pitch-to-contact style. How you view his home-run spike reflects what you do with Hendricks going forward; if you think he’s been unlucky, you might trade for him, but if you give him a tax for all the meatballs, you’d go in the other direction . . . Snell’s season splits up in a tidy fashion — he’s been unreal at home (1.43 ERA) and a nightmare on the road (10.36 ERA). Even though we’re only talking about 15 starts in total, that’s enough of a difference for me to view it as actionable, at least until we have something better . . . We’ve always wondered who Ray could be if he kept the juicy strikeout rate and trimmed the walks to a reasonable area. Finally, we have our answer. Ray has added a couple of ticks to his velocity, and he’s also seen a spike in his swinging-strike rate . . . The awful Mets offense has been the big New York story — along with deGrom, of course — but Stroman and Walker have been the unsung heroes in Queens . . . Bassitt used to be one of the AL’s answers to Hendricks, but this year he’s kicked the strikeouts into overdrive while maintaining outstanding control. Most of this comes from elite command with his fastball, but his curve and change have proven to be effective put-away pitches.

Oakland Athletics pitcher Chris Bassitt (40) against the Kansas City Royals
Chris Bassitt has been a revelation for the Oakland A's in 2021. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

You can make a reasonable case

11 Luis Garcia

10 Anthony DeSclafani

8 Casey Mize

7 Rich Hill

7 James Kaprielian

7 Cristian Javier

7 Shane McClanahan

7 Dinelson Lamet

7 Eduardo Rodriguez

6 Jake Odorizzi

6 Alek Manoah

6 Dallas Keuchel

6 Domingo German

6 Andrew Heaney

6 Dylan Bundy

5 Cole Irvin

5 Sixto Sanchez

5 Marco Gonzales

5 Nathan Eovaldi

5 Jameson Taillon

5 Patrick Corbin

5 Tarik Skubal

5 Kyle Gibson

I know injuries have held Rodriguez down in Boston for a while, but he’s also been one for the overrated file, too. His career ERA is over 4, and a 1.31 WHIP is not playable either. E-Rod can claim bad luck in 2021 — his 6.07 ERA doesn’t match his peripherals at all; FIP suggests something in the mid-3s — but given his injury history and division, I am not going to be proactive here. Heck, his best ERA in any season is an ordinary 3.81. He’s just a guy . . . Keuchel drops a few bucks in leagues that limit innings or play K/9, but at least he’s tied to a playoff-bound team . . . Mize has an ordinary strikeout rate and most of his Savant data is on the left side of the scale, so he might not be as impressive as 3.61/1.12 ratios want to suggest. But Detroit is so starved for a hero, I can’t help but want to rank him proactively. And heck, he does have the pedigree of a former No. 1 pick.

The rest of the sheet

4 Adbert Alzolay

4 Brady Singer

4 Jordan Montgomery

4 Tony Gonsolin

4 German Marquez

3 Chris Flexen

3 J.A. Happ

3 Johnny Cueto

3 Zach Davies

3 Wade Miley

3 Adam Wainwright

3 Logan Gilbert

3 Mike Minor

3 Griffin Canning

2 Cal Quantrill

2 Matt Manning

2 Dane Dunning

1 Jon Lester

1 Matt Shoemaker

1 Drew Smyly

Courtesy Injury Ranks — Not for Debate

27 Shane Bieber

20 Jack Flaherty

15 Stephen Strasburg

13 John Means

12 Max Fried

11 Sonny Gray

10 Matthew Boyd

7 Chris Sale

5 Zach Plesac

4 Danny Duffy

1 Jon Gray

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