You can't predict baseball, but it's that time of year to start trying to do it anyway.
Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projections for 2021 were released on Tuesday, with projected records and division title odds for all 30 teams. Let's dive in.
Every year, PECOTA forecasts the MLB standings and individual player performance. PECOTA takes teams' depth charts and projects the playing time and stats for all their players, then simulates the season to come up with estimated win totals and playoff chances for every team.
You can see the latest PECOTA projections right here. Here's a breakdown of the 2021 projected standings, division by division.
American League East
- Yankees: 97-65 (81% odds to win division)
- Rays: 86-76 (11%)
- Blue Jays: 85-77 (7%)
- Red Sox: 80-82 (1%)
- Orioles: 66-96 (0%)
PECOTA sees the Yankees as being the beasts of the American League. The Bronx Bombers, with their additions of Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon to the rotation and the re-signing of DJ LeMahieu, have the best projected record of any AL team and the highest chance to win their division.
That's bad news for the defending division champs and pennant winners, the Rays, who are still set up to be playoff contenders but will have to not only deal with the Yankees but fight off a young and talented Blue Jays team that just added George Springer and Marcus Semien. The AL East is the only division in MLB projected to have three teams with 85-plus wins.
- Twins: 91-71 (61% odds to win division)
- Indians: 86-76 (25%)
- White Sox: 83-79 (13%)
- Royals: 71-91 (1%)
- Tigers: 67-95 (0%)
The AL Central looks like it will be there for the taking again in 2021, with another three-way race ramping up between the Twins, Indians and White Sox just like in '20. That trio all finished within a game of each other last year, so it's no surprise that only the AL Central has three teams with a 10% or higher chance of winning the division.
PECOTA likes the Twins to repeat as Central champs for a third straight year, with the Bomba Squad intact behind returning slugger Nelson Cruz and new shortstop Andrelton Simmons there to provide the glovework. But keep an eye on last year's breakout team, the White Sox, who could easily outperform their projections based on the talent they had even before bringing in Liam Hendriks and Lance Lynn.
- Astros: 93-69 (72% odds to win division)
- Angels: 87-75 (24%)
- A's: 80-82 (5%)
- Mariners: 70-92 (0%)
- Rangers: 67-95 (0%)
This could be a good shot for Mike Trout to finally get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2014. Though the Angels aren't projected to win the AL West, they're projected to finish just behind the Astros and to have the best record of any non-division winner in the AL.
It's also interesting that PECOTA thinks Houston will reclaim the top spot it held from 2017-19 despite losing Springer and with Justin Verlander recovering from Tommy John surgery -- but they do still have Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, after all. As for the reigning division champion A's, who are coming off three straight postseason appearances? It doesn't look good. The projections see a big dropoff for them after losing Hendriks and Semien and trading Khris Davis.
National League East
- Mets: 96-66 (77% odds to win division)
- Nationals: 85-77 (10%)
- Phillies: 83-79 (7%)
- Braves: 82-80 (5%)
- Marlins: 68-94 (0%)
Meet the NL East champion Mets. The projections think the Mets will rise to the top of the division for the first time since 2015 after their blockbuster trade for Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco and their signings of James McCann and more. Not only that, PECOTA has the Mets running away with the East, with as big a margin over their next-closest rival (11 wins) as any division in baseball.
But the shocker here is the Braves. The three-time defending division champs are projected to finish … fourth? Even with reigning NL MVP Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuña Jr., Marcell Ozuna, Ozzie Albies, Max Fried, Charlie Morton and Mike Soroka? That's interesting to say the least. PECOTA also sees a bounceback for the Nationals behind superstars Juan Soto and Max Scherzer, a fall back to Earth for the 2020 playoff upstart Marlins, and the Phillies … still being stuck in the middle.
- Brewers: 89-73 (55% odds to win division)
- Cubs: 85-77 (29%)
- Cardinals: 81-81 (9%)
- Reds: 79-83 (6%)
- Pirates: 61-101 (0%)
PECOTA doesn't think Nolan Arenado will be enough for the Cardinals. Even after St. Louis' blockbuster deal for one of the sport's best two-way superstars, the projections see the Cards as a .500 team. That won't get them to the playoffs.
So who will take the Central? The projections think it'll be the Brewers, not the Yu Darvish-less Cubs or Trevor Bauer-less Reds. Milwaukee will likely need a bounceback season from 2018 NL MVP Award winner Christian Yelich for that to happen -- and really, that seems like a pretty good bet.
- Dodgers: 103-59 (78% odds to win division)
- Padres: 96-66 (21%)
- D-backs: 79-83 (0%)
- Giants: 75-87 (0%)
- Rockies: 60-102 (0%)
Everyone has been predicting a juggernaut showdown between the Dodgers and Padres -- and the projections agree. PECOTA forecasts the NL West rivals as finishing with the two best records in the National League. But: edge, Dodgers. The reigning World Series champs are the only team in MLB projected for over 100 wins in 2021, and when you look at their star power and throw Bauer in on top of all that, it's easy to see why.
Hopefully, though, San Diego will give the Dodgers a run for their money after landing Darvish and Blake Snell. On the opposite end ... the Rockies without Arenado? Yikes. They're projected to have the very worst record in the Majors.