Five Starters to Monitor for 2021

I love shopping in the middle and late rounds for pitching. It’s not that I won’t buy studs, I love doing that, too, but finding gems who greatly overperform their draft slot can be instrumental to winnings leagues. I’ve already started analyzing the pitching pool thanks to Justin’s #TooEarlyMocks and here’s a handful of guys I’ll be eyeing as later pickups, especially in any winter drafts I do as they’re all priced to buy right now.

John Means | Baltimore Orioles

Velocity gains didn’t net early results as he managed just a 10.13 ERA and 1.31 WHIP in first four starts. Excellent changeup from 2019 wasn’t there but he regained the feel and put up a 2.73 ERA and 0.88 WHIP over the final six starts (33 IP). The changeup had a 4.2 pitch value during that run and he maintained the velo boost. The home runs are still concerning with a 2.5 rate in 2020 and 1.6 for his career. If he can start keeping the ball in the yard more often, there’s some low-3.00s ERA potential here especially if the new velo and strikeout rate maintain.

Tyler Mahle | Cincinnati Reds

Thrust into the rotation unexpectedly, Mahle cut his problematic home run rate (1.6 prior to ’20; 1.1 in ’20) en route to a strong 3.59 ERA/1.15 WHIP combo and he returned to the slider and amped up its usage. This resulted in a career-best 30% K rate, aided by a 14% SwStr rate. He also saw his walks jump a bit to 10%, but I wonder if there was less giving in during hitter counts as he realized that re-racking with a new batter was better than laying a hittable pitch in and getting smoked 400+ feet over the wall. He allowed just a .175 AVG in hitter counts, but a .452 OBP thanks to a 34% BB rate. In even and pitcher counts, he allowed a .192/.253/.353 line. The 26-year old should have an opportunity to start again in 2021 and I’d love to see what he can do with a full six months of starts (or close to it… I’m still not convinced we’re getting 162 in 2021 just yet).

JT Brubaker | Pittsburgh Pirates

There wasn’t a lot going on in Pittsburgh this year so you’ll be forgiven for missing the few things that did go well, including Brubaker’s debut. The 26-year old righty made their prospect list and profiled as a useful backend arm. He has three pitches with a velocity level for each, missed bats at an above average clip (23%), and could’ve put up a sub-4.00 ERA if not for a pair of bad starts (12 of 26 ER allowed in 2 bad starts). I’m not saying bad starts don’t count, but rather outlining that there was more good than bad down the stretch (5 starts of 1-2 ER and then the 2 duds). He will be absurdly cheap and I’ll be putting him on my Draft Champions teams and keeping him on the watch list for shallower leagues.

Brady Singer | Kansas City Royals

It was a solid little debut for Singer. He put up a nice 4.06 ERA/1.17 WHIP with a 23% K rate and 9% BB rate in 64.3 innings. His sinker/slider combo held both righties and lefties at bay and while he certainly got the most out of his 10% swinging strike rate, I think he could feasibly improve that, especially if his show-me changeup develops into a true third pitch.

He got just a 40-grade on the pitch when slotting in as KC’s 4th prospect so it’s not surprising that he used it just 5% of the time. That will be key to him taking another step in 2021 and beyond. All told, I was impressed by him making the jump from Double-A to the majors. He can put up another low-4.00s mark with a good WHIP as-is with upside if his two reliable pitches develop and that changeup comes along.

Daniel Ponce de Leon | St. Louis Cardinals

As a hybrid arm the last three years, he’s been pretty good with a 3.78 ERA/1.24 WHIP combo including a 27% K rate in 114.3 innings. He took a 7.82 ERA into September across a whopping five appearances, but then put together a 3.15 ERA in four starts with 28 strikeouts in 20 innings. Interestingly, all four starts were the second leg of a doubleheader and I do wonder if that made the schedule a tick or two easier.

At any rate, I think PdL could gain a full-time starter’s role in 2021 and be a nice late round gamble. He’s always missed bats and been tough to square up (12% SwStr, 6.5 H/9) so if he can trim the 1.3 HR/9, there’s some real upside here, even at age-29.





Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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bluerum29
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bluerum29

Why would we not get 162 games in the 2021 season. The timeline this year shouldn’t effect next season like it is in some other sports. 162 normal games next year (unless they reduced the season permanently by a handful of games which wouldn’t be the worst thing).

thebearproofsuit
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thebearproofsuit

uhhhh….? take a guess…..

bluerum29
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bluerum29

If we don’t get back to normal and avoid this covid crap impacting our lives, including sports, next year then we are just wasting time in our lives. We have dealt with it long enough, time to move on. Zero covid protocols for 2021 seasons.

thebearproofsuit
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thebearproofsuit

lol…..I’m not sure that’s how it works.

I don’t think it’s up to people to randomly decide when they’ve ‘dealt with it enough’ and then we can just magically ‘move on.’ I don’t think the virus cares that much if you are fed up.

“I’m sick of this crap, ….I’m going back to normal life..”
“Sir, your house is still on fire!”
“I don’t care,….I’m goin’ back in…I gotta watch muh shows! ”

In fact, it’s exactly this kind of attitude and action that puts the season at risk.

bluerum29
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bluerum29

There is no magically move on, its a choice to move on. Choose to go back to work, choose to interact with people normally. Some will continue to get sick, some wont get sick. When you get sick, stay home. If you aren’t sick, live life. Will some get really sick and die? Yes we have seen that. But the rest of the world shouldn’t stop living as a result.

Lenard
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Lenard

Hey everyone, it looks like Justin Turner reads Fangraphs!

thebearproofsuit
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thebearproofsuit

@Lenard- Ha!

tomerafan
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tomerafan

Thankfully for me and my family, that’s not a choice you get to make for us. Your post is the literal definition of selfish – “I’m tired of this and willing to accept the risk, so dammit everyone else should, too!” Nope. You’re relatively free to take your risk. MLB and the MLBPA, who feel differently, are not obliged to provide baseball for your bacchanalian enjoyment.

It will not be safe to have significant numbers of fans in the stands.

The risk of infection and cross-contamination among players, and between players and the rest of the world, increases with the number of games played unless the season will be played in a bubble (which it will not).

The owners lose money for games played with no fans or minimal fans.

The players have a right to protect their health and may choose that playing a half-season for half-salary is more likely to complete successfully and be held safely than a full season at full salary.

For all of these reasons, it is highly likely that the 2021 season will be a shorter-than-162-game season. And I’ll be thrilled for whatever the season is. I’d rather have 81-games of baseball than unsafe baseball or no baseball.

bluerum29
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bluerum29

You say its selfish, but its not just about me. I want everyone and everything to get back to normal for the benefit of all. Many are suffering in various forms as a result of life not getting back to normal.
Every time you go out and are around people you have some risk of getting sick with one thing or another, thats life. We don’t stay in a bubble because of it.

Travis L
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Travis L

If you transmit the virus to others because you aren’t taking precautions, and they get harmed or die, are you willing to take legal and fiscal responsibility for your selfish behavior, including jail time? If not, then you want the rights without the responsibility.

pepper69fun
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pepper69fun

Advocating that people should take actions that increase their risk of death is pretty much the opposite of “for the benefit of all”.

thebearproofsuit
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thebearproofsuit

….you do realize that it’s often the people that feel perfectly fine that are spreading it, right? How else do you think the President and dozens in the White House got it? You think there was some deathly sick person wandering around the White House halls coughing on people?

This ‘Some will live, some will die” argument is about as lazy as it gets. If it means saving hundreds of thousands of lives, wouldn’t you want to at least take some steps to help prevent that? Wear a mask, don’t gather in large groups, social distance. Is that really asking that much in face of the alternative of letting ~2 million people die without even trying to slow it down?

‘Go back to normal’ prematurely cuz u are fed up and we very well not even start the season.

carter
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carter

Bluerum, I hope we get in 162 games as well! I hope everything is normal also! The way you write it sounds like we have a choice on if there are protocols or not. I don’t even know what is correct, and I do not pretend to. But the odds of there being no covid protocols in 2021 seem slim.

I think there is some fatigue with the general public, but if there was a protocol in 2020 and here we are many months later and the rates are actually higher, it would stand to reason that in 2021 the same protocol would be in place. That is why, for me personally in a few of the super early drafts I am doing I am valuing Central pitchers higher, because it stands to reason there can be some similarities this season.

I sure hope this isn’t the case. But if you look at a graph it is trending the wrong way. It is trending the wrong way across most the world again tbh, so it is hard to think it will be eradicated by 2021 season time. I don’t pretend to know what is the right solution in this country, but I would imagine there will be some modifications to 2021 as well.

bluerum29
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bluerum29

I agree that it wont be eradicated by that time, but I am saying we have a choice. We can choose to just move on and live life as we were before. At some point there will be better treatments and there will be vaccines, but we can’t just sit around waiting for that. Its not like it is a virus that if you get it means you will die. Some don’t even get sick when they have it. We need to function as a society and live. Do we really want to look back on our lives with an entire lost year or more that was a waste?

tomerafan
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tomerafan

We need to function as a society and live.

You have a very different notion of “society” than I do. I would think that functioning as a society means collectively sacrifices for the common good from time to time. Your mileage may, and obviously does, vary.

bluerum29
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bluerum29

We have sacrificed, significantly at this point. The common good at this point means getting back to actually functioning in a normal way. Luckily, most of my everyday life is normal where I live. There are some places that are still not and that needs to change.

Travis L
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Travis L

The amount we have sacrificed isn’t really relevant to the reality of the virus.

bluerum29
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bluerum29

What are you so afraid of? Death? I’m more afraid of not living than I am of death. Death will eventually come for all of us, some will have lived and some not so much. I want to be one of those that can I say I lived, accomplished things, and leaves a legacy. Anything less than that is not worth living.

tomerafan
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tomerafan

Me? I’m not afraid of death, at any level, except for the fact that dying young unncessarily risks failing to accomplish the things that I want to accomplish on this Earth (including raising good kids, and being a good husband, which are responsibilities that I gladly and willingly accept, and believe require presence and duration at this point in my life).

For me, living my life to the fullest means that the people I love also get to do so for as long as possible so that we can enjoy experiences and impact the world together. If you want to live like a bottle rocket, be my guest, Jim Morrison, but I’ll take the long slow burn and a purposeful and meaningful life of impact. I’m not judging your choices, or anyone else’s, up to the point where someone else’s reckless choices impact my ability to continue to make mine.

Look, I’m not a hard-lockdown sort of person. I believe in evidence-based approaches, reasonable steps to function as normally as possible, and loosening or tightening the reins a bit where the evidence suggests as much. But I also think that “Zero covid protocols for 2021 seasons” – which is where you started this – is horribly reckless, and way beyond the outer boundaries of what the evidence suggests is appropriate right now, or will be appropriate come February when players would traditionally report to camp. Reasonable protocols? Sure. 20% full stands, or something in that order? Maybe. But zero protocols? Forget about it.

bluerum29
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bluerum29

I don’t even come close to living life like a bottle rocket. For the most part my life is basic, but there are still things to be done and accomplished. There are people to meet and enjoy. Hell, people need to be able to get together and celebrate those who died this year and never got to have memorials for. I don’t want to die young either, I’m not afraid to die, I expect to live a long life, hopefully not too long, I’ll be miserable when I’m old, happy to move on to paradise at that point.
The goal as we turn the calendar should be to put this behind us, get past the inconveniences in life it has caused and move on.

thebearproofsuit
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thebearproofsuit

bluerum….so you say that your town is almost running normally except for a few places….so somehow this is preventing your from creating your ‘legacy’ lol…..sure…ok. Maybe you just lack adaptability? Not that I’d wish this year on anyone, but this has been my most productive year yet. Maybe you just aren’t adaptable enough to create a ‘legacy’. People who build legacies tend to know how to roll with the punches, not throw a tantrum because they have to wear a mask to buy tomatoes.

thebearproofsuit
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thebearproofsuit

bluerum….so you admit that life is functioning almost as normal for you and you are upset about the few things that have changed in order to save lives? and you are weighing your personal inconvenience against potentially another million deaths?

Give me Convenience or Give me Death has perhaps never rung truer…

I’m glad most Americans are made of surer stuff than that….

Green Mountain Boy
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Green Mountain Boy

I’m with you, brother. Stand strong, stand proud, and stand tall.

toddpratt
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toddpratt

I don’t get why this post is getting so much hate. We just finished a season during the pandemic, and by next spring things are more likely to be better (vaccines rolling out, smaller susceptible population, treatments, etc..) than they are to be worse. Obviously nothing is for sure, but the base case should be 162 games or close to it – maybe they’ll cut it to 150 to build in some slack in case of any outbreaks, but that’s not a huge difference. NFL is in the middle of a full length season as we speak, and it’s going pretty smoothly all things considered.

The only reason we wouldn’t see 162 games or close to it next season is if next spring the situation with the virus is much worse than it is now, and I don’t think that’s a particularly likely eventuality.

tomerafan
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tomerafan

More games means more travel, more shuttling between hotels, more interaction with service professionals (food & beverage, etc.). More games – by human nature – also means it’s harder to “enforce” protocols among players; what they were willing to do for 60 games may be a much, much harder bargain to accept for 150-162 games. And this is a team game; each team – and teams they play – is only as strong against COVID as their team’s weakest link in terms of personal behavior. Players with conditions that didn’t opt-out of a 60 game season might opt-out of a 162 game season. There’s so many variables to consider but I’ll be thrilled if we get 120 games, and I expect we’ll get an 80-100 game season at most.

thebearproofsuit
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thebearproofsuit

toddpratt….latest has the vaccines rolling out Q3 2021, I’m not sure why people thought there was some predetermined clock running on this thing….hoping for a vaccine fully rolled out within a year when it normally takes a decade was a bit like Kennedy promising to land on the moon by the end of the decade….hardly a sure thing.

And like the moon landing, once we get the vaccine many people will think it’s fake and refuse it.

Having a vaccine, and having a vaccinated population in a country of 350 million people are not the same thing. It will take time to roll out in sufficient numbers.

That being said, since baseball season is in the down season for COVID, and there is now precedent, I do see a decent chance of getting through a season like we did this year. Maybe a 140 game season or something like that to allow for makeup games etc.

carter
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carter

Also the whole effectiveness of a vaccine thing.