10 takeaways from experts' 2020 predictions

July 23rd, 2020

No matter where you get your predictions for this sure-to-be-crazy truncated 2020 season, know that they are going to be wrong. Maybe they’re made by a computer. Maybe they’re made by a sportswriter. Maybe they’re made by a chicken. But they’re gonna be wrong. The beauty of predictions is not that they are going to be right; it’s that we all get to feel so smart and superior when they turn out to be wrong.

Witness this professional prognosticator, who, previewing the 2019 season, said that “Greg Bird will bat cleanup in the Yankees’ first playoff game” (no), “Amed Rosario will lead the Mets in position player WAR” (he was fourth, which I guess wasn’t too bad) and “Lewis Brinson will play in the All-Star Game” (uh, super no). Expert predictions are always wrong! That’s why they’re so fun.

So, as we rapidly approach Opening Night, we look at two sets of predictions. The first comes from FanGraphs Playoff Odds, using the best analytics you’ll find outside of Brian Kenny’s bookshelf. And the second comes from MLB.com, where we surveyed 55 staffers (including the dope who made the dumb Lewis Brinson prediction). Here are 10 fascinating takeaways from looking at the two sets of predictions, both individually and when we compare them with each other.

1. Don’t expect any particularly insane records
When you have something as unusual as a 60-game season, there’s a temptation to look at particularly excellent (or particularly terrible) teams and expect something absurd to happen. The Dodgers are going to win 45 games! The Orioles won’t get out of single digits! But that’s probably not how this is going to work: Baseball is just too weird and random. The best teams, according to FanGraphs, are the Dodgers, Yankees and Astros, and none of them is projected for more than 36 wins, which averages out to 97 wins over a full season. And the Orioles, the worst team in baseball, still are projected to win 21 games. Sixty-game stretches can lead themselves to crazy results … but they’re not likely to.

2. Don’t count out the Red Sox just yet
With the trade of Mookie Betts (and his subsequent long-term deal with the Dodgers) and the loss of Chris Sale for the year, the Red Sox have been mostly discounted from the playoff chase: Only one of the 55 MLB.com respondents had them even reaching the American League Wild Card Game. But FanGraphs is much higher on them, giving them 35.2 percent odds of making the postseason. That’s better than one-in-three, and is higher than the White Sox, Angels or Cardinals.

3. The numbers like the Cubs a lot more than the humans do
The National League Central is a jumble no matter what. FanGraphs has the difference between the first-place team and the fourth-place team as 1.3 games, and the 55 MLB.com respondents had four teams receiving double-digit votes to win the division. But the Cubs are in opposite spots on each list. FanGraphs has them as the favorite, whereas the MLB.com respondents have them fourth.

4. Everyone’s mostly in agreement in the American League
The three division winners (Yankees, Twins, Astros) and the first Wild Card team (Rays) are the same for both MLB.com and FanGraphs. The only divergence comes from the second Wild Card. FanGraphs likes the Indians for that spot; MLB.com likes the A’s.

5. Humans just can’t quite bring themselves to come around on the Astros
The most likely team to win the World Series, according to FanGraphs, is the Los Angeles Dodgers, at 19 percent. But a clear second place? The Houston Astros, at 15.8 percent. Computers know nothing of any sort of sign-stealing scheme, but humans sure do: Only three of the 55 respondents picked the Astros to win the World Series. I will decline to give their names here so as to spare them of being screamed at on the internet for a couple of days.

6. The computers want to pump the brakes on the Braves
Forty-nine of the 55 MLB.com respondents picked either the Dodgers or the Braves to win the NL. But FanGraphs isn’t so sure: Their Playoff Odds don’t even have the Braves as the NL East favorite. That spot is reserved for the defending World Series champion Nationals, though just barely: They’re at 33.1 percent to win the NL East, just above Atlanta’s 30.3. (The Mets are next at 24.9, with the Phillies and Marlins at 10.6 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively.)

7. Viva la Rangers!
One bold panelist actually predicted the Rangers to win the World Series, which would be pretty amazing. (They would actually be the third team in the last 15 years to win a World Series in the first season at their new stadium, after the 2006 Cardinals and the '09 Yankees.) That is unlikely to go down, says FanGraphs: They give the Rangers a 0.4 percent chance of winning the Series. There are actually six teams given a 0.0 percent chance of winning the Series: The Orioles, Tigers, Mariners, Marlins, Giants and Pirates. For what it’s worth: Two correspondents picked the Rangers to make the World Series. (Neither was me.)

8. Praise to the division long shots
With such a short season like this, you’d think it would lead to some moonshot picks for the division champs: After all, these teams can’t be separated by that much. (There are only 60 games!) But the only real shockers were the one person who picked the Padres to win the NL West and the one person who picked the Royals to win the AL Central. That last one seems particularly wild, but it’s going to be a wild season.

9. The Orioles have a 1-in-10,000 chance of making the playoffs
We’ll never know what the odds would have been had the playoffs been expanded, but FanGraphs gives the Orioles 0.2 percent odds of making the playoffs. So you’re saying there’s a chance! For what it’s worth, that’s the exact same percentage as the Blue Jays’ and Rockies’ odds of winning the World Series.

10. These will all be wrong
Remember: That’s the only thing that matters.


AL East: Yankees
AL Central: Twins
AL West: Astros
AL Wild Card Game: Rays vs. Indians
NL East: Nationals
NL Central: Cubs
NL West: Dodgers
NL Wild Card Game: Braves vs. Brewers

World Series: Dodgers over Astros

MLB.com panelists
AL East: Yankees
AL Central: Twins
AL West: Astros
AL Wild Card Game: Rays vs. A’s
NL East: Braves
NL Central: Reds
NL West: Dodgers
NL Wild Card Game: Nationals vs. Brewers

World Series: Dodgers over Yankees

Will Leitch (Your humble narrator)
AL East: Rays
AL Central: Twins
AL West: Astros
AL Wild Card Game: Yankees vs. Indians
NL East: Braves
NL Central: Cardinals
NL West: Dodgers
NL Wild Card Game: Reds vs. D-backs

World Series: Braves over Rays