Sure, pitchers and catchers have begun reporting to Spring Training and there’s plenty to be excited about actual baseball being played for the first time in over three months.
As the dust settles on an exciting offseason and we officially turn the page to 2020, the debate rages on about the winter’s winners and how new-look clubs will fare with the regular season just six weeks away.
• Is it spring yet? Here’s the big story for each team
On Monday, we received a more tangible scope on those debates, as Baseball Prospectus released its PECOTA projections for the upcoming season. Established by FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver in 2003, PECOTA is an on-paper system for projecting performance based on roster, playing time, injuries and other factors through many outcome simulations. PECOTA underwent a significant makeover this offseason, which BP outlines further here.
Essentially, PECOTA predicts the most likely outcomes. Projections are merely what the definition suggests, but PECOTA is widely acknowledged as one of the most accurate in the industry.
That said, let’s dive into this year’s measures. Here are six takeaways from the 2020 PECOTA projections:
1) It’s a Dodgers world and we’re all living in it (103 wins)
The Dodgers were already the class of the National League, even before acquiring Mookie Betts. But after trading for the former AL MVP Award winner, Los Angeles has climbed to a 103-win projection and postseason adjusted odds of 99.9% (well ahead of the second-highest Yankees, at 94%). PECOTA projects the Dodgers to win the NL West by 24 games over the would-be second-place Padres, which would be the largest margin from first to second in any division since the strike-shortened 1995 season.
And it’s not just that the Dodgers should dominate their division: No other NL club is projected to win more than 88 games, and nine of the 15 NL clubs are projected to finish within five games of .500.
So, even with L.A. as the runaway favorite, there appears to be plenty of room for middle-tier clubs to creep their way into contention. PECOTA suggests that the NL will have three new postseason clubs, including a pair of new division winners. In total, PECOTA projects four clubs to reach the postseason that did not in 2019.
2) The Astros aren’t going anywhere (98 wins)
The sign-stealing fallout and the Astros’ subsequent response figures to be a defining factor in their 2020 season, but strictly on paper, PECOTA really likes Houston.
Houston’s 98-win projection trails the Yankees’ 99 in the American League, its odds to win its fourth straight AL West title are 88.4% and its projections to do so over the second-place Angels is by 12 games. That’d be the Astros' widest margin since 2017, when the other four clubs in the division each finished below .500.
Personnel-wise, the Astros have experienced more depreciation than upgrade from the roster that went to the World Series just three months ago -- most glaringly by losing Gerrit Cole. And the only significant roster addition is the return of Lance McCullers Jr. to the rotation after Tommy John surgery.
For added context, despite tweaks to PECOTA’s methodology, the Astros were projected to win 99 games in their 107-win 2019.
The Angels, meanwhile, have taken their already solid lineup and given Mike Trout even more protection in the form of Anthony Rendon. Starting pitching remains the club’s glaring void, but fans clamoring to see Trout in the postseason should get their wish, as the Halos are projected to sneak in with the AL’s second Wild Card with 87 wins. Oakland is a hair behind, with just two fewer wins, and despite adding Corey Kluber, Texas isn’t projected favorably at all, with a less than 1% chance of reaching October.
3) The Mets: Your NL East champs (88 wins)
That’s right. The defending World Series champion Nationals aren’t even slated to win their own division, nor are the two-time defending division champion Braves, who have had one of the NL’s more productive offseasons. PECOTA suggests that the Mets will reach the postseason for the first time since 2016, and that they will do so as the division champion.
That certainly indicates that the projections believe in bouncebacks from Edwin Díaz and Jeurys Familia, as well as a strong comeback from free-agent signing Dellin Betances -- all of which could fortify a bullpen that was among the Majors’ worst last season. Couple the relief corps with a rotation that has the potential to be lethal, particularly if Michael Wacha and Rick Porcello recapture their previous forms, and it’s certainly plausible to see the Mets contending this season.
It’s worth noting that the Mets were favored to reach the postseason last year as well, with 89 wins. Even if they fall short of their 47.8% odds to win the NL East, the Mets have a 75.3% chance of reaching the postseason, the second-highest mark in the NL. That’s particularly promising given the bevy of clubs planning to contend in the division.
4) The NL Central will have a new champion for the fourth straight year (86 wins)
Get excited, Reds fans: PECOTA likes your club to win its first division title since 2012.
The Reds were among the most active clubs this offseason by talent acquisition. Free-agent additions Mike Moustakas and Nick Castellanos should add pop to a lineup that got 49 homers from Eugenio Suárez last season. And if Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo match their strong 2019 seasons, Trevor Bauer regains his All-Star status and Wade Miley looks like the pitcher he was before his September spiral with Houston, the rotation should be strong.
Cincinnati’s resurgence also comes at the expense of St. Louis and Milwaukee, which are expected to take significant steps backward, with win projections of just 80 and 79, respectively, on the heels of very quiet winters. The Cubs are slated to sneak into the postseason with the second NL Wild Card spot, with a 51.5% projection of reaching October.
5) The Phils are getting no love (77 wins)
Most surprising about PECOTA’s projections for a proverbial NL contender? The Phillies, who enter a very critical year by their own self profession.
“No questions asked, it is time to win right now,” GM Matt Klentak said recently.
Yet despite signing Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorius, returning Andrew McCutchen from ACL surgery and entering year two of their 13-year commitment to Bryce Harper, the Phils’ PECOTA win total of 77 is only six more than the Marlins, who are still in the early stages of a massive rebuild. Philly’s postseason odds are just 8.9%, fifth lowest in the NL.
6) Red Sox fans shouldn’t totally punt on 2020 (85 wins)
The fallout from the Betts trade has Boston fans shaking their heads, but even after trading arguably the best player in baseball not named Trout, the Sox are still in line for 85 wins, one more than their actual 2019 total.
That’s a far cry from their 108-win World Series season in 2018, and it took no fewer than 96 wins to reach the postseason in the AL last year. Still, Boston’s 28.5% playoff odds indicate that they shouldn’t be forgotten entirely, and they only trail the Angels by two games for the would-be second AL Wild Card spot. A margin of two wins in a 162-game marathon is worth more favorable merit.
Here are the projected postseason clubs, broken down by seeding via their projected records:
1) Yankees: 99-63 (AL East champion)
2) Astros: 98-64 (AL West champion)
3) Twins: 93-69 (AL Central champion)
4) Rays: 87-75 (top AL Wild Card)
5) Angels: 87-75 (second AL Wild Card)
1) Dodgers: 103-59 (NL West champion)
2) Mets: 88-74 (NL East champion)
3) Reds: 86-76 (NL Central champion)
4) Nationals: 87-75 (top NL Wild Card)
5) Cubs: 85-77 (second NL Wild Card)
And here are the postseason odds for every club in descending order:
Red Sox: 28.5%
White Sox: 18.1%
Blue Jays: 3%
Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Seattle. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.