The Shuffle Up: Fantasy baseball starting pitcher draft rankings tiers

If you solve the pitching better than your opponents, the kingdom is yours. But pitchers are the most erratic part of fantasy baseball, the maddening chase. You keep swinging that wide butterfly net, but the butterfly is always outside your grasp.

Here's one set of ranks and guesses. It will look absurd come April — because that's how pitching is.

Players marked with an asterisk are "check status players"; almost always, that means "injury status." If you're looking to attack the weakest competition, focus on pitchers in the AL Central.

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A quick review of the Shuffle Up rules: For every position, I create personal salaries, essentially a way of constructing tiers. The numbers themselves don't matter in a vacuum; what matters is how the players' salaries relate to one another, where the talent clusters and where it drops off. Assume a 5×5 scoring system, as always. Players at the same draft cost are considered even.

The salaries are more my gut feel on a player and not necessarily part of a formula or overall bankroll structure.

Have some disagreements? That’s good! That’s why we have a game. I welcome your respectful disagreement anytime: @scott_pianowski on Twitter/X.

Remember the golden rule: No player takes on extra (or less) value simply because you roster him.

The Big Tickets

Strider is the rare two-pitch starting pitcher (could be three this season) who dominates; his strikeouts went to the moon last year even as his ratios spiked. The 3.86 ERA was probably unlucky; FIP suggests a 2.85 number, best in the National League. Chasing wins at times can feel like a fool's errand, but Atlanta's infrastructure should support Strider nicely.

Burnes comes off a down year, but he trades a so-so team and a homer-friendly park for Baltimore's World Series dreams and a pitcher-cushioning backdrop. Drafting an early pitcher isn't for everybody, but Burnes' current Yahoo ADP of 22.0 feels reasonable.

Kirby doesn't miss enough bats to be at the top of this tier, but his walk rate is microscopic, and he keeps the ball in the park. Generally, I find it stressful to watch most of my fantasy pitchers, but Kirby's style is easy on the eyes (and the nervous system). T-Mobile Park has been the hardest stadium to score in over the past three seasons.

Legitimate Building Blocks

Webb underscores what ground-ball life is generally about; it leads to more hits and an occasional WHIP bump, but ground balls can never be home runs, and they often lead to double-play bailouts. Webb's heavy changeup usage helps him handle left-handed batters, and the San Francisco park has always been a soft landing.

Scott Pianowski's tiered rankings: Catchers | Outfielders | Middle Infielders | Corner Infielders | Starting Pitchers | Relief Pitchers

Webb would be in the higher tier if not for the challenges of the division: The Dodgers lineup is always loaded, Arizona and San Diego can sting you and the Rockies at least threaten you with their home-game gravity. But Webb's floor is very high, and you can't say that about many pitchers in 2024. Mark him as a proactive pick.

Skubal's 2023 season didn't start until July 4, but it's hard to unsee how he dominated down the stretch. Check the last six starts: five wins, 66 strikeouts, eight walks, a 1.88 ERA. Detroit has a legitimate chance to steal a watered-down AL Central, and Skubal is the No. 1 starter this team has been desperately seeking since Justin Verlander left town.

Yamamoto was Japan's best pitcher three years in a row before he signed with the Dodgers, and Japanese pitchers have a good track record in America. Follow the money. Yamamoto's floor is probably what Kodai Senga did last year.

Peralta is known as Fastball Freddy, and while his heater is his dominant pitch by far, his slider and change also graded as plus offerings last year. Durability concerns and occasional bouts with gopheritis need to be mentioned, but drafting Peralta into his age-28 season sounds good to me.

Snell's second Cy Young season was a quirky one, as his expected ERA was 1.52 runs higher than his front-door number. Snell eventually will sign somewhere and have the pressure of a big contract to live up to; it's common for those players to struggle in their first trip around the league (Trea Turner and Marcus Semien are the two most recent examples). Snell is an easy 2024 fade for me.

Talk Them Up, Talk Them Down

Cease fans will point to last year's unlucky BABIP, but you're making a lot of your own mistakes when you walk 10.1% of your batters. All of Cease's primary pitches were less effective last year, and his curve has basically fallen apart the past two seasons. Cease gets a boost after being traded to the Padres, though they now have a fixer-upper job on their hands.

King's wipeout stats were even better as a starter, though he was babied in the role and averaged only 4.5 innings per turn. Yankee Stadium is a little misunderstood as a ballpark — it's very good for home runs but close to neutral for scoring — but Petco Park is still the best pitching environment in the National League, though not as extreme as it once was. King makes sense as a later-round upside ticket.

It's tricky to reconcile what Ragans did last year; he pitched his way out of Texas with a messy 17 relief appearances, but the Royals slotted him in the rotation and enjoyed 12 dynamite starts (2.64 ERA, 1.07 WHIP). Ragans had a walk problem in his September starts, and there's probably a little too much Pumpkin risk here for me to pay full ADP.

Bieber's velocity spike in the spring earned him a $2 bump in the March 15 update.

Some Plausible Upside

Most of your late-round pitching picks should be upside-driven, which puts Pfaadt in the conversation. Home runs ruined his rookie year, but he struck out more than a batter per inning, and he's stepping into an age-25 season. His control has always been excellent, to the point that maybe he's around the plate too much. Better command of a curve or change will probably determine if Pfaadt makes a second-year leap.

[2024 Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings: C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | SP | RP]

Garrett was a common late-round target for me before the shoulder setback. It's possible he might be on the IL to start the season.

Bello's second half collapsed when his home-run rate got out of hand as he struggled to establish a third pitch he could trust. Sequencing is always likely to be a problem when opponents have only two pitches to worry about. At least the change already has polish, which gives Bello a fighting chance against lefties. He's in the wrong park and division to dream of major upside, but the age pocket lines up for a possible step forward.

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