2021 Bold Pitcher League Leaders

On Thursday, I unveiled my bold hitter league leaders, which are all guaranteed to hit. Today, let’s jump over to the pitching side, where I’ll do the same for the throwers. Once again, I’ll use my Pod Projections to guide me toward players I’m more bullish on than the other projection systems. Unlike for hitters, I’ll only be sharing bold leaders in four categories. There will be no bold wins league leader named, because wins are silly and unpredictable.

American League

ERARobbie Ray

Ray has always been a big strikeout pitcher, but he’s typically done it with generally average velocity. With his velocity up a bit so far in the Spring and the strikeouts continuing to come, it all comes down to his control. He hasn’t posted a single digit walk rate since 2016, but control is a skill that sometimes improves quickly and dramatically. Don’t forget he’s posted a sub-3.00 ERA before, and that came with a double digit walk rate, so he doesn’t necessarily need drastic improvement to enjoy a repeat.

WHIPRyan Yarbrough

The key to a WHIP king is limiting walks, which Yarbrough has done throughout his career. While his strikeout rate has been relatively low the past two seasons, leading to more hits and raising his WHIP, he actually posted the highest xK% of his career last season thanks to a huge SwStk% spike. His velocity actually declined and pitch mix didn’t change much, so who knows if all those extra whiffs is repeated this year. But the possibility is there given his low walk base and solid defense behind him.

SOTarik Skubal

It’s rare a real surprise wins the strikeout crown, as it not only requires lots of strikeouts, obviously, but also a ton of innings. Innings is going to be the biggest challenge for Skubal, but man is he quite the strikeout artist. He never posted a strikeout rate below 30.3% in the minors, and although his SwStk% plummeted upon his promotion to the Majors last year, he still managed to post a 27.6% strikeout rate.

SvTanner Scott

Since saves are so unpredictable, it’s really not too bold picking any of the locked in closers. So I went with one of the guys on a team whose bullpen isn’t truly settled yet. I didn’t expect Hunter Harvey to hold the closer role all year even if he remained healthy and opened the season with it. But now with him on the IL, we still don’t know for sure who will record their first save. The smart money is on Scott, who is seemingly the only good pitcher in their entire bullpen.

Scott has always generated strikeouts, but control has been a major issue. Luckily, as a groundballer, many of those walks could potentially be erased by the double play. What gives me more confidence is the complete lack of alternatives in that Orioles bullpen. Without a skills surge or great fortune, no one else should pitch well enough to grab the job. So without competition, Scott should get the first shot and hold the job for as long as his walk rate doesn’t lose him the role.

National League

ERAMarcus Stroman

Stroman opted out of the 2020 season, so we’ve only seen him for about a third of a season in the NL. His stuff always seemed like it should result in a higher strikeout rate, so maybe a full season in the NL will make it happen. He combines the potential of a higher strikeout rate with an extreme ground ball tilt, making the Mets’ infield defense important. Luckily, Francisco Lindor is one of the leagues’ best at shortstop, which should help make up for J.D. Davis‘ poor defense at third.

WHIPChris Paddack

Paddack has all the ingredients for a low WHIP — excellent control resulting in low walk rates, a good strikeout rate limiting balls in play, and expectations for an above average defense that could help reduce his BABIP. Paddack’s WHIP was inflated last year by a ridiculous 25% HR/FB rate, which shouldn’t happen again.

SOFreddy Peralta

Peralta fits here the same way Skubal fit on the AL side. After winning a rotation spot, he’ll take his high strikeout ability to the mound every fifth day, but innings are going to be the challenge for him to get anywhere near the strikeout lead.

SvRichard Rodriguez

The Pirates haven’t announced who their closer is going to be, but I have been working under the assumption that it will be Rodriguez. Like in Scott’s case, the Pirates don’t have any obvious alternatives, and Rodriguez is the only expected bullpen member with a projected ERA under 4.00. His skills rebounded last year after dipping in 2019, and he now owns a career 3.43 SIERA. He is clearly good enough to hold the job all season, and I think he will.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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1 year ago

projecting saves leaders from teams that aren’t projected to win 70 games is bold!

1 year ago
Reply to  maximus74

Especially when he is such an obvious deadline trade piece. I doubt he ends the year on the Pirates.

1 year ago
Reply to  MikeInNJ

David Bednar can take his place.. trade piece from Joe Musgrove

1 year ago
Reply to  maximus74

The latest on the Pirates pen, from mlb.com beat writer Jake Crouse: “Shelton said the Pirates do not have a closer at this point. Rodríguez fared well closing out games last season, but Shelton sees him as better equipped to be a setup man. That could push Crick into the spot, or the Bucs could brush aside the idea of a closer in favor of a group of high-leverage options on any given day.” https://www.mlb.com/news/pirates-2021-opening-day-roster-prediction

1 year ago
Reply to  maximus74

I don’t think it’s *that* bold. If a team is bad and they win 65 games, chances are many of those wins are close. 🙂

1 year ago
Reply to  mjroberts222

Except it’s been researched and it simply doesn’t hold up. Guys from winning teams tend to get the most saves.

1 year ago
Reply to  maximus74

I’d argue it’s unrealistic, not bold.