Your top keepers in fantasy baseball are those players you can rely upon to produce big numbers year over year for a lengthy stretch of time. But the art of the pitching is so unnatural, so physically demanding that reliability should be viewed as a bonus. Do your best to judge pitchers on their skills and assess their future value. If they stay healthy throughout, thank the baseball gods for that good fortune. Here are the top 25 pitchers for keeper leagues. Each player’s age for the 2021 season is in parentheses.
1. Shane Bieber, SP, Cleveland Indians (26 years old)
Among the Big 3 in redraft leagues this year — deGrom, Cole, Bieber — Bieber is the youngest by far. He broke out in 2019 and was almost unhittable in 2020.
2. Gerrit Cole, SP, New York Yankees (30)
Perhaps baseball’s best workhorse, Cole should rack up a lot of wins while on one of MLB’s best teams for the next handful of years.
3. Jacob deGrom, SP, New York Mets (33)
He’s throwing harder than ever and is still just as dominant as in seasons past. But he is getting up there in age.
4. Walker Buehler, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers (26)
You should be happy to invest in an ace in the prime of his career who leads the staff on baseball’s top team.
5. Luis Castillo, SP, Cincinnati Reds (28)
It would be nice if Castillo was on a true contender that gave him a better chance to win more games. But he offers just about everything you could want from an SP1.
6. Lucas Giolito, SP, Chicago White Sox (26)
Giolito was fourth in the league in strikeouts last season. Assuming he can keep his walk rate in check, he should be a high-quality starter for a while.
7. Aaron Nola, SP, Philadelphia Phillies (28)
Nola made improvements in both his K and walk ratios last year. He is a little underrated as an ace.
8. Jack Flaherty, SP, St. Louis Cardinals (25)
He established himself as a top-of-the-rotation arm in his age-23 season. I’m willing to forget last year’s underwhelming campaign.
9. Zac Gallen, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks (25)
He has recorded a sub-3.00 earned run average in each of the past two years, although he didn’t throw a ton of innings in either season. Gallen is another guy who will be great as long as he manages his walks.
10. Trevor Bauer, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers (30)
Bauer is a very good pitcher; he’s just not quite as good as he looked in either 2018 or 2020.
11. Brandon Woodruff, SP, Milwaukee Brewers (28)
Woodruff hasn’t proven that he can throw 170-plus quality innings in a season, but if you look at his last two years (195.1 innings combined), there’s a lot to like in his profile.
12. Tyler Glasnow, SP, Tampa Bay Rays (27)
Glasnow would be higher on this list if he had pitched a full season’s worth of innings in any year. He can absolutely dominate with his fastball-curveball mix.
13. Max Fried, SP, Atlanta Braves (27)
His 2.25 ERA from last year is an outlier, but Fried has plus control and induces a lot of weak contact.
14. Blake Snell, SP, San Diego Padres (28)
He will never again record a sub-2.00 ERA like he did in 2018, but Snell is still a very solid SP2. He should get more run support in San Diego than he ever did in Tampa Bay
15. Yu Darvish, SP, San Diego Padres (34)
Darvish is a tricky case because at 33 years old, he turned in a career year during the shortened 2020 season. Like deGrom, you have to be aware of a sudden fall here, but Darvish’s stuff is still very nasty.
16. Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers (33)
I don’t love putting Kershaw this high on the list given his age and obviously declining stuff. But he has learned how to do more with less and remains one of the most effective starters in baseball.
17. Corbin Burnes, SP, Milwaukee Brewers (26)
You don’t want to overrate Burnes’ 60-inning sample size from last year. That said, he was one of the league’s best pitchers in 2020. It’s worth betting on his upside.
18. Zach Plesac, SP, Cleveland Indians (26)
He has already shown plus stuff and plus command in his 171 MLB innings.
19. Dustin May, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers (23)
The future is so bright for May, who has a nasty repertoire of pitches. The Dodgers will be better off the sooner they cement him into their rotation.
20. Jose Berrios, SP, Minnesota Twins (27)
It feels like we haven’t seen Berrios’ best yet. The good news is there is plenty of time for that to happen.
21. Max Scherzer, SP, Washington Nationals (36)
Like Kershaw, Scherzer’s stuff is not as lively as it once was. However, he may still be a top-10 starter in baseball. His consistent velocities don’t hint at a sudden collapse.
22. MacKenzie Gore, SP, San Diego Padres (22)
Gore should debut in the big leagues this year. He boasts four plus pitches, headlined by a mid-90s fastball and a mid-80s slider that has become his best out pitch.
23. Sixto Sanchez, SP, Miami Marlins (22)
Sanchez shined on the postseason stage last year. Maybe that raises expectations too high too soon for him, but the fact is he should be an ace-quality pitcher in due time.
24. Jesus Luzardo, SP, Oakland Athletics (23)
Luzardo wasn’t terribly impressive over 59 innings last year, but it’s still very early for him. He’s got strikeout stuff and control that belies his age.
25. Stephen Strasburg, SP, Washington Nationals (32)
Not sure how Strasburg will look after his carpal tunnel surgery from last year. But in 2019, he was a Cy Young candidate. He’s a high-risk, high-reward player.