It’s that time of the year again, as we begin to solidify opinions on 2021’s breakouts and busts and to rank players by position for your eventual fantasy baseball drafts. While these rankings can be used for all fantasy formats, they are a bit more on the points league/H2H side of rankings, meaning that I weigh volume slightly more than in standard leagues, because not only do innings count towards your score in points leagues, but in all formats, more volume provides pitchers the opportunity to record more strikeouts, claim wins, and have a greater effect with their ratios.
All stats via Fangraphs. All 2022 projections by Steamer. All ADP data via NFBC drafts from 10/1/21-12/18/21 (59 drafts).
1. Shohei Ohtani – Los Angeles Angels (ADP: 7.98, Min:1 | Max: 20)
2021 Stats: 9-2 W-L, 130.1 IP, 3.18 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 156/44 K/BB
2022 Projections: 11-8 W-L, 165 IP, 3.69 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 192/57 K/BB
Two-way superstar and 2021 AL MVP, Shohei Ohtani, is the clear top starting pitcher in leagues that he is one player (batter and pitcher), allowing fantasy managers to benefit from his hitting and pitching stats. Solely as a pitcher, I would have Ohtani ranked around the early 30’s because of his increased risk of injury playing both sides of the ball.
2. Gerrit Cole – New York Yankees (8.83, 3 | 17)
2021 Stats: 16-8 W-L, 181.1 IP, 3.23 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 243/41 K/BB
2022 Projections: 14-8 W-L, 199 IP, 3.29 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 263/52 K/BB
Gerrit Cole had somewhat of a down season last year, revealing the height of his floor. If Cole has an underwhelming season again (for his standards), fantasy managers will still be getting amazing production, making him the safest starting pitching option heading into next season, with the help of his elite strikeout numbers (35.7% K% since the start of 2018) and volume.
3. Corbin Burnes – Milwaukee Brewers (9.75, 4 | 17)
2021 Stats: 11-5 W-L, 167 IP, 2.43 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 234/34 K/BB
2022 Projections: 13-8 W-L, 174 IP, 2.99 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 230/50 K/BB
Reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, Corbin Burnes, is coming off an incredible (1.63 FIP, lowest since Pedro Martinez in 1999), and possibly sustainable (.309 BABIP, 2.61 SIERA), season in which he was the second-best starter on a per-inning basis. Even still, he is expected to continue his dominance, projecting to be one of two players with a sub-3.00 ERA.
4. Max Scherzer – New York Mets (17.03, 5 | 36)
2021 Stats: 15-4 W-L, 179.1 IP, 2.46 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 236/36 K/BB
2022 Projections: 13-8 W-L, 189 IP, 3.13 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 252/46 K/BB
The new owner of the highest contract AAV ($43.3 million), Max Scherzer, is as elite as his signing value suggests, and considering the amount they’re paying him, the New York Mets are sure to push the three-time Cy Young Award winner to his limits. Other than experiencing arm fatigue during last year’s NLCS, Scherzer has been one of the most durable (31.5 starts/yr from 2009-21, not including ‘20) and elite SPs in the MLB over the last decade and should continue that trend heading into his age-37 season.
5. Zack Wheeler – Philadelphia Phillies (22.66, 15 | 29)
2021 Stats: 14-10 W-L, 213.1 IP, 2.78 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 247/46 K/BB
2022 Projections: 14-10 W-L, 203 IP, 3.32 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 221/50 K/BB
After leading the MLB in innings pitched and taking a big step into acedom, Zack Wheeler is one of the sturdiest and most efficient pitchers (third in P/IP in ‘21) heading into 2022. If Wheeler continues to be a workhorse and has success similar to last season he will easily be a top-ten starting pitcher for fantasy, and even if he reverts back to his pre-2021 form (190 IP/3.65 ERA/24% K%), he will still be a top-30 starter because of the innings he provides while pitching to solid, if not elite, ratios.
6. Jacob deGrom – New York Mets (22.42, 12 | 36)
2021 Stats: 7-2 W-L, 92 IP, 1.08 ERA, 0.55 WHIP, 146/11 K/BB
2022 Projections: 12-6 W-L, 152 IP, 2.32 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 228/33 K/BB
Jacob deGrom looked like the most dominant pitcher of all time in the first half of last season, but was unable to stay healthy the rest of the year, dealing with elbow and shoulder issues stemming from snapping off ridiculously nasty pitches. A return to health next season would see deGrom retaking the top starting pitcher title, so it will be important to watch how he recovers during Spring Training to decide whether or not to take the risk on his amazing talent.
7. Walker Buehler – Los Angeles Dodgers (14.49, 3 | 27)
2021 Stats: 16-4 W-L, 207.2 IP, 2.47 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 212/52 K/BB
2022 Projections: 13-9 W-L, 198 IP, 3.80 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 214/56 K/BB
The biggest knock on Walker Buehler during his early career was that he didn’t provide enough innings. Buehler will be counted on to eat innings for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2022 after becoming one of four pitchers to reach the 200-inning threshold this past season and continuing to mow down batters, making him one of the safest early-round draft picks.
8. Brandon Woodruff – Milwaukee Brewers (17.78, 10 | 28)
2021 Stats: 9-10 W-L, 179.1 IP, 2.56 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 211/43 K/BB
2022 Projections: 13-9 W-L, 187 IP, 3.41 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 220/52 K/BB
The final pitcher in the first tier, Brandon Woodruff, just keeps getting better, improving his ERA for the second straight season in 2021 with the help of increased curveball usage (+9.5% usage from ‘20 to 16.1%) and effectiveness (6.8 pVAL in ‘21, -0.9 in ‘20), giving him another weapon to pair with his elite fastball (22.7 pVAL). As Woodruff gets closer to becoming a pitcher that fantasy managers can count on for 190+ innings, his value will only increase, giving him top-five starting pitcher upside heading into next season.
9. Sandy Alcantara – Miami Marlins (40.41, 19 | 66)
2021 Stats: 9-15 W-L, 205.2 IP, 3.19 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 201/50 K/BB
2022 Projections: 12-11 W-L, 200 IP, 3.59 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 201/60 K/BB
The flame-throwing righty, Sandy Alcantara, was one of my favorite pitchers to draft last season, and it paid off as he followed the Wheeler blueprint of pairing hard four-seamers and sinkers with a nasty slider and a surprising changeup. Alcantara is one of two pitchers projected to reach 200 innings (with Wheeler), noting that he will provide the volume fantasy managers will need to offset his reduced opportunity to rack up wins on a Miami team with a poor offense.
10. Shane Bieber – Cleveland Guardians (29.19, 18 | 49)
2021 Stats: 7-4 W-L, 96.2 IP, 3.17 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 134/33 K/BB
2022 Projections: 12-10 W-L, 193 IP, 3.36 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 232/54 K/BB
2020 AL Cy Young Award winner, Shane Bieber, is sure to be a divisive topic of conversation after struggling to stay healthy in his Cy Young title defense. With as much upside as any pitcher in this tier, the only worries heading into this season will be whether or not Bieber faces difficulties acclimating to the post-sticky stuff environment (just six IP after the enforcement) and whether or not he’s still dealing with the injury that forced him out for so long — Steamer suggests a return to form.
11. Lucas Giolito – Chicago White Sox (39.73, 16 | 66)
2021 Stats: 11-9 W-L, 178.2 IP, 3.53 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 201/52 K/BB
2022 Projections: 12-10 W-L, 184 IP, 4.00 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 208/60 K/BB
I was really high on Lucas Giolito last draft season, ranking him as the fourth-ranked starting pitcher, and although he didn’t perform at the level I expected him to, I don’t think much has changed. Giolito will be a workhorse for the White Sox next season and I think his floor (about 180 IP/3.75 ERA/200 Ks) is closer to his 2021 level of production than his projection proposes.
12. Aaron Nola – Philadelphia Phillies (41.66, 24 | 64)
2021 Stats: 9-9 W-L, 180.2 IP, 4.63 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 223/39 K/BB
2022 Projections: 13-10 W-L, 192 IP, 3.57 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 224/54 K/BB
I had Aaron Nola ranked right after Giolito last draft season and his year also didn’t play out as I expected. There are a lot of metrics that support a rebound season from Nola in 2022 (low WHIP, low LOB% [66.8%], 3.37 FIP, xFIP, & xERA, 3.26 SIERA, career-best K-BB%, & a low projected ERA), and I see a big bounce-back for the Phillies’ co-ace.
13. Robbie Ray – Seattle Mariners (45.08, 26 | 62)
2021 Stats: 13-7 W-L, 193.1 IP, 2.84 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 248/52 K/BB
2022 Projections: 12-11 W-L, 191 IP, 3.68 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 251/71 K/BB
Having just won the 2021 AL Cy Young Award and signed a huge contract with the Seattle Mariners (five-year, $115 million), there will be high expectations of Robbie Ray next season. Even though I don’t expect Ray to repeat last year’s performance, I’m willing to draft the lefty as my ace because he is almost guaranteed to provide innings and strikeouts (career 29.2% K%), and as long as he maintains the approach change that coincided with his success (fastballs in the zone), his move to a more pitcher-friendly ballpark should offset his inevitable regression.
14. Julio Urias – Los Angeles Dodgers (32.49, 21 | 58)
2021 Stats: 20-3 W-L, 185.2 IP, 2.96 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 195/38 K/BB
2022 Projections: 13-9 W-L, 187 IP, 3.89 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 196/51 K/BB
A large part of Julio Urias’ production in 2021 was the valuable innings he provided for a Los Angeles Dodgers team that dealt with multiple injuries and a suspension in their rotation, as the young lefty surpassed the 100-inning threshold for the first time in his career. With the departures of longtime ace, Clayton Kershaw, and trade acquisition, Max Scherzer, as well as the doubt still swirling around the return of Trevor Bauer, Urias should be counted on again to be a key member of the Los Angeles rotation where his ERA should trend closer to his 3.73 xFIP, but will still be accompanied by solid strikeout numbers and good control (21.1% K-BB, 11th among qualified starters).
15. Chris Sale – Boston Red Sox (47.85, 26 | 93)
2021 Stats: 5-1 W-L, 42.2 IP, 3.16 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 52/12 K/BB
2022 Projections: 11-8 W-L, 157 IP, 3.57 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 193/46 K/BB
Having been a traditional top-ten starting pitcher before last year’s Tommy John surgery, Chris Sale will have to work his way back into the good graces of fantasy drafters as he attempts to become the ace he was prior to the injury. Although Sale didn’t pitch much last season, he still showed elite swing-and-miss stuff (12.8% SwStr%), and I see him getting back to the level he produced at for more than a half-decade with the help of a normal offseason and his arm getting more comfortable pitching in major league action again.
16. Jack Flaherty – St. Louis Cardinals (62.00, 42 | 96)
2021 Stats: 9-2 W-L, 78.1 IP, 3.22 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 85/26 K/BB
2022 Projections: 12-10 W-L, 177 IP, 3.73 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 194/59 K/BB
Jack Flaherty also had a diminished sample size as a result of injuries last season, and at just 26-years old, he should have more than enough juice to bounce back in 2022. With more maturity and the best defense in baseball behind him, Flaherty will have a lot going for him in his attempt to get back to the form he showed as recently as 2019, where he struck out 231 batters with a 2.75 ERA across 196.1 innings, and while I don’t see him achieving that high of an innings total, I do expect him to produce a great ERA and strikeout numbers.
17. Max Fried – Atlanta Braves (69.95, 43 | 94)
2021 Stats: 14-7 W-L, 165.2 IP, 3.04 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 158/41 K/BB
2022 Projections: 13-9 W-L, 185 IP, 3.56 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 185/53 K/BB
2021 World Series Champion, Max Fried, is closer to the end of the third tier, and although his ceiling isn’t as high as his fellow tier members because of his reduced strikeout rate, I think he is one of the closest guarantees to produce elite ratios. His production from 2021 is a bit misleading, as he struggled to get his footing in the first half, pitching to a 4.71 ERA in 72.2 innings as he dealt with nagging injuries, but in his return from the All-Star break, Fried was one of the best pitchers in baseball, recording a 1.74 ERA in 93 innings of work, and I believe he’ll pitch a lot closer to his second half (2.74 FIP) than his first (4.04 FIP) in 2022.
18. Lance Lynn – Chicago White Sox (61.68, 44 | 90)
2021 Stats: 11-6 W-L, 157 IP, 2.69 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 176/45 K/BB
2022 Projections: 12-10 W-L, 187 IP, 3.99 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 202/58 K/BB
Lance Lynn will be one of the safest picks in 2022 drafts because he should reintroduce the volume (as he did in ‘19 and ‘20) that made him one of the best pitchers in the American League prior to this last season, where he struggled with inefficiency, but made up for it with elite ratios. Steamer projects Lynn to once again be an innings-eater while reverting him back to the high-threes ERA pitcher he was from 2017-19 (3.93 xFIP from 2019-21 supports this projection), and I’m willing to bet he provides innings and good enough ratios, making him a non-stressful pick at his ADP.
19. Joe Musgrove – San Diego Padres (81.32, 60 | 113)
2021 Stats: 11-9 W-L, 181.1 IP, 3.18 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 203/54 K/BB
2022 Projections: 12-9 W-L, 182, 3.62 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 197/53 K/BB
It may come as a surprise to some that Joe Musgrove finished 2021 as a top-20 pitcher in all formats, considering that he wasn’t in the news much after throwing a no-hitter in early April, but he still finished the season with impressive numbers. After showing promise with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2020, the San Diego Padres pushed Musgrove to evolve into an even better version of himself, as they helped him lean into his off-speed pitches more (+13% usage to 73.1% from ‘20), putting the fastball on the backburner (-12.2% usage to 26.9% from ‘20). If he continues utilizing and tweaking that approach, he should remain a top-20 starting pitcher for fantasy once again, with the potential to jump even higher with some fortunate luck.
20. Jose Berrios – Toronto Blue Jays (71.83, 47 | 102)
2021 Stats: 12-9 W-L, 192 IP, 3.52 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 204/45 K/BB
2022 Projections: 13-10 W-L, 196 IP, 3.90 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 200/55 K/BB
One of the biggest trade acquisitions at last year’s deadline, Jose Berrios, is an extremely predictable player, and although his status as a prospect in the minors and his age may suggest a higher ceiling than he’s shown, I don’t agree. I see his ceiling being a lot more similar to his 2021 performance than some unforeseen improvement. I like Berrios as a top-20 starting pitcher for fantasy because of his solid floor (190 IP/3.90 ERA/1.20 WHIP/200 K) and his ability to avoid free passes (career 7.4% BB%), but his undulating performances, as well as the move to a less pitcher-friendly stadium, are sure to catch up with the righty at some point next season, reducing the potential for him to take another step forward — expect the 28-year old to be one of the most rock-solid starting pitchers, but don’t buy-in hoping for a Cy Young-caliber season, because it’s not happening.
21. Kevin Gausman – Toronto Blue Jays (56.80, 29 | 80)
2021 Stats: 14-6 W-L, 192 IP, 2.81 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 227/50 K/BB
2022 Projections: 13-9 W-L, 188 IP, 3.87 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 204/53 K/BB
New Blue Jays free-agent starting pitcher acquisition, Kevin Gausman, has a lot to overcome to repeat the success he had for the San Francisco Giants in 2021, making it tough to take a chance on him at his current ADP. Not only is Gausman coming off of a career-best season pitching for a team that works wonders with veteran starters, but he is also moving to a more hitter-friendly ballpark and tougher division, struggled in the second half (77.1 IP, 4.42 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 27.7% K%), recently signed a big contract (five-year, $110 million), and relies on a volatile secondary pitch in his splitter (36.6% usage), meaning that a lot will have to go right for him to come close to the ace-level season he posted last year.
22. Charlie Morton – Atlanta Braves (91.80, 63 | 116)
2021 Stats: 14-6 W-L, 185.2 IP, 3.34 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 216/58 K/BB
2022 Projections: 12-8 W-L, 169 IP, 3.40 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 196/52 K/BB
Since morphing into a different pitcher with the Houston Astros back in 2017, Charlie Morton has been one of the most solid and consistent veteran aces in the MLB. Entering his age-38 season, many drafters will likely avoid the right-hander expecting the regression that usually comes with pitchers of his age, but I’m buying in with the expectation that he has at least one more ace-caliber season in his arm because he still has elite fastball velocity (95.3 mph, highest since 2018) and had supportive underlying metrics (3.31 xFIP, third-lowest of career and 20.9% K-BB%, second-highest of career).
23. Luis Castillo – Cincinnati Reds (75.10, 32 | 102)
2021 Stats: 8-16 W-L, 187.2 IP, 3.98 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 192/75 K/BB
2022 Projections: 12-10 W-L, 192 IP, 3.78 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 209/71 K/BB
Luis Castillo struggled immensely in the first couple of months of 2021, posting a 6.29 ERA (24.1 IP) in March/April and an even worse 8.04 mark (28 IP) in May, ultimately causing his end-of-season line to look more underwhelming than his recent seasons. Whether it be a result of cold weather or just Castillo needing more time to get into a rhythm, he has struggled in the early going of seasons constantly, making it hard to bank on the righty to avoid that occurrence, but I still think he will be an effective pitcher, though if he doesn’t get his early-season jitters out of the way while pitching in Great American Ballpark, he could get roughed up for an extended period again.
24. Freddy Peralta – Milwaukee Brewers (56.25, 40 | 88)
2021 Stats: 10-5 W-L, 144.1 IP, 2.81 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 195/56 K/BB
2022 Projections: 11-9 W-L, 163 IP, 3.82 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 208/68 K/BB
Rounding out the fourth tier, Freddy Peralta will be a highly-debated player because of his breakout 2021 season and the lack of volume that came with it. I won’t be buying in at his ADP, as I’m concerned that he won’t reach the volume needed to make him an elite fantasy starting pitcher, but I still think he will provide great ratios and amazing strikeout numbers as a result of a newfound slider (7.1 pVAL, 26.4% usage) that became a key component of his arsenal.
25. Logan Webb – San Francisco Giants (55.93, 37 | 106)
2021 Stats: 11-3 W-L, 148.1 IP, 3.03 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 158/36 K/BB
2022 Projections: 12-10 W-L, 189 IP, 3.38 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 189/57 K/BB
Right-handed starter, Logan Webb, will be one of the most difficult pitchers to project in 2022 as a result of his incredible breakout campaign and the success he continued to have when it mattered most, in the postseason. Although there isn’t data backing it up, I’m a believer in the “sophomore slump”, as rookies usually face an adjustment phase as the league figures out how to attack them, and Webb has yet to face many hardships, making me think twice about drafting a pitcher with such a short track record, even though his projection suggests a top-20 season.