Five Starters to Monitor for 2021 by Paul Sporer October 28, 2020 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.