Predictable? Not so much: Challenging MLB Projections

The newest MLB projections had me scratching my head.

Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA MLB projections were released last week. While they’re known to have a few surprises each year, they are typically fairly accurate. To say that I was taken aback by some of the rankings would be an understatement, to say the least.

AL East
  1. NY Yankees (97-65)
  2. Tampa Bay Rays (86-76)
  3. Toronto Blue Jays (85-77) 
  4. Boston Red Sox (80-82)
  5. Baltimore Orioles (66-96)

I don’t have a huge problem with the projections for this division. I actually agree with the predicted order of finish. The two things that stand out to me about these projections: I think the Yankees are rated a little high and the Rays and Blue Jays too low.

I don’t think they’re off by much, I’d give the Yankees 93-95 wins. I’d go with 90-93 wins for the Rays and 87-90 wins for the Jays. In other words, I believe this division will be a much more closely contested division than the folks at Baseball Prospectus.

And I know it’s not as gutsy to go with a range of wins, but, sue me.

AL Central
  1. Minnesota Twins (91-71)
  2. Cleveland (86-76)
  3. Chicago White Sox (83-79)
  4. Kansas City Royals (71-91)
  5. Detroit Tigers (67-95)

When Cleveland traded star shortstop Francisco Lindor and starter Carlos Carrasco, some assumed they were punting on the season.

I wasn’t one of those people. However, their offseason was enough to have me drop them to third in the division.

The White Sox came into 2020 with considerable expectations and actually led this race for much of the season. They added Lance Lynn, Adam Eaton, and Liam Hendriks plus new/old manager Tony LaRussa. That’s why it was so surprising to see them ranked third, barely above .500.

The Twins have won this division the last two seasons and should be in the race this year. I believe this will be the closest pennant race. I predict the White Sox will be just a bit better.

For what it’s worth, I also thought the Royals had a decent, under-the radar offseason and will be 5-7 wins above these projections.

AL West
  1. Houston Astros (93-69)
  2. L.A. Angels (87-75)
  3. Oakland A’s (80-82)
  4. Seattle Mariners (70-92)
  5. Texas Rangers (67-95)

I realize that the Astros were one game away from playing in the World Series in 2020. They also had a losing record in the regular season and lost George Springer to the Blue Jays in free agency. Getting Justin Verlander and Yordan Álvarez back from injury seems to be the rationale for the win total.

It seems like every year there’s a buzz around the Angels. This is the year they finally figure it out, get some pitchers and take advantage of having Mike Trout. While I liked some of the moves they made this offseason, I see their ceiling being third place and an outside shot at a wild card.

Picking Oakland to win this division may not be popular but I’m doing it. Losing Marcus Semien, Hendricks, and Khris Davis will hurt but getting Elvis Andrus back should help. I’m counting on them having one of the better bullpens and a bounce-back season from Matt Olson.

NL East
  1. Mets: 96-66
  2. Nationals: 85-77
  3. Phillies: 83-79
  4. Braves: 82-80
  5. Marlins: 68-94

Now, this is the division that I had the biggest problem with. I was absolutely living for the Mets offseason but for me, it was not enough to supplant Atlanta.

The New York Mets had a fabulous offseason.

The Braves have won this division the last three years and have won nearly 60 percent of their games during that span. The projections question the continued effectiveness of Mike Soroka, who will be coming off a torn right Achilles tendon. While there is also some doubt as to whether or not Ian Anderson, Freddie Freeman, and Marcell Ozuna can repeat last season’s performances.

The Phillies and Nationals both had a nice offseason but to put them ahead of Atlanta was just pure disrespect. My vision for them is battling for third place.

I also don’t see the Marlins being complete bottom feeders. I am picking them to finish last but it wouldn’t surprise me if they made a run to a wild card spot.

NL Central
  1. Brewers: 89-73
  2. Cubs: 85-77
  3. Cardinals: 81-81
  4. Reds: 79-83
  5. Pirates: 61-101

When the Cardinals pried Nolan Arenado from Colorado, most industry experts pegged them as the favorites in this division. It was also enough for me to pick them to win it.

Many people believe the Cubs are in a rebuilding phase and won’t be competitive this season. Sure, losing Yu Darvish, Kyle Schwarber and others hurts but I think they’ll be in the mix.

Picking the Brewers to win threw me for a loop. They’ll be ok but I see them finishing with closer to 80 wins than 90.

This will be the weakest division and the Reds could hang around and make it a legit four-team race.

NL Central
  1. Dodgers: 103-59
  2. Padres: 96-66
  3. D-backs: 79-83
  4. Giants: 75-87
  5. Rockies: 60-102

Much like the AL East I don’t have a huge problem with the projections for this division.

I will say this: I don’t think the Dodgers or the Padres will reach those gaudy win totals. I also see a flip-flop with the Giants and Diamondbacks with the former finishing around .500. I’m also gonna go out on a limb and say that the Rockies won’t lose 100+ games.

Game On!

The MLBPA rejected MLB’s proposal for a 154-game season. The two sides were able to come together on health and safety protocols.

So now we’re in store for a full, 162-game slate beginning on April 1st. Spring Training games were pushed back one day (?!) and will get underway on February 28th. Teams begin reporting on February 17th (pitchers and catchers) and all teams will report by the end of the week.

The MLB season will go ahead as scheduled.
Jays Jots

While the majority of the heavy lifting for the Blue Jays may be done, there have been minor tweaks recently. They signed reliever David Phelps, who had previously spent part of 2019 with the club. In a corresponding move, they designated Shun Yamaguchi for assignment.

Toronto also signed Joe Panik to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. Finally, the team finally pulled the plug on the Derek Fisher experiment. He was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for cash considerations and a player to be named later.

Slow Grind

The lack of activity at the onset of the hot stove season has made for a exciting flurry of action in recent weeks. Here are some of the moves that will be impactful to the upcoming campaign:

  • Kansas City Royals landed outfielder Andrew Benintendi in a three-team trade with the Red Sox and Mets
  • Veteran sinkerball specialist Steve Cishek has joined the Houston Astros.
  • Super utility player Marwin Gonzalez agreed to a contract with Boston.
  • The Detroit Tigers added some bite with the acquisition of power-hitting outfielder Nomar Mazara.
  • Jake Arrieta and the Chicago Cubs are reuniting on a one-year deal.
Last Minute Deals

I feel like some sort of salesperson, but there are still some good players on the free agent or trade market. Teams are scrambling to have their roster set for the imminent start of Spring. The Los Angeles Dodgers dealt two relievers to the A’s and the Marlins respectively.

Dodgers get: INF Sheldon Neuse, RHP Gus Varland
A’s get: LHP Adam Kolarek, OF Cody Thomas

Dodgers get: LHP Alex Vesia, RHP Kyle Hurt
Marlins get: RHP Dylan Floro

L.A. also came to terms with pitcher Walker Buehler and third baseman Justin Turner.

The San Diego Padres continued to add to their bullpen. They have signed Mark Melancon and Keone Kela.

The Tampa Bay Rays have signed pitchers Rich Hill and Colon McHugh. Classic Rays.

Yusmeiro Petit and Sergio Romo were brought in to bolster Oakland’s ‘pen.

The Minnesota Twins plucked another former Jays pitcher, inking Matt Shoemaker.

Speaking of former Jays, the Mets added a pair recently in Jonathan Villar and Kevin Pillar (if their names sound like they rhyme, you’re saying them wrong, it’s VEE-R and PILL-R)

Tidbits

So glad to see the Cardinals finally signed Yadier Molina, who’ll be back for his 18th season with the team.

The Los Angeles Angels avoided arbitration with Shohei Ohtani. The two sides agreed to a 2-year, $8.5M contract. He captured the imagination of baseball fans everywhere with his historic rookie season. It’d be good for the sport if he could come close to replicating that success as a hitter and pitcher.

The Brewers are hoping to revive the career of Jordan Zimmerman. The right-handed pitcher signed a five-year, $110 million contract with Detroit in 2015 and has pitched to a 5.63 ERA since.

Love the Benintendi trade for Kansas City. A perfect fit for the team and ballpark.

Interesting article on why the projections are so down on Atlanta.

MLB will slightly alter the baseballs used in 2021.

James Paxton is returning to the Seattle Mariners.

Somewhat surprised to see Pillar sign with the Mets, considering they just signed Albert Almora. Pillar will bring a hustle and grittiness to Flushing that will be refreshing.

Not surprised at all that Shoemaker didn’t re-sign with Toronto. You may remember, that he was yanked from the Jays wild-card series against the Rays despite dealing through three innings.

Adieu

The next time you’ll hear from me, teams will be well into their Spring Training workouts. I may have these projections upside down but I could find nothing, nowhere that could change my mind.

Make sure to check out the BellyUp Sports website. You can read my other articles here including previous editions of MLB Hot Stove Roundup or follow me on Twitter here.

Graeme Wallace

About Graeme Wallace

I'm a lifelong sports fan originally from Toronto, currently living in Hamilton. Baseball and hockey were my favourite sports when I was a kid but I gravitated towards basketball and football as I grew into my adolescent years. I love constantly tracking the stories that are never-ending and am not afraid to share a hot take.

View all posts by Graeme Wallace →

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