FanGraphs 2020 Staff Predictions

You were supposed to read this yesterday. Yesterday, when the playoffs consisted of just 10 teams and Mookie Betts hadn’t yet registered his first hit in Dodger blue. But as with a great deal else about this season, the 2020 playoffs will be something different than we initially expected. Mere hours before the first pitch of last night’s Yankees-Nationals tilt was scheduled to be thrown, ESPN’s Marly Rivera reported that MLB and the MLBPA had approved a deal to expand the postseason. This new structure will only be in effect for the 2020 season, barring further negotiations between the league and the players. The field will now feature 16 teams; every division winner and runner up will make the playoffs, along with the two teams in each league that have the best records beyond those six. They’ll meet in a three-game Wild Card Series that will be seeded thusly:

All of the games in the Wild Card Series will be played in the home ballpark of the more highly seeded team. In the event of regular season ties, mathematical tiebreakers will be used — MLB isn’t exactly keen to play games deeper into the Fall.

David Appelman and Sean Dolinar have already updated our playoff odds to account for the new format (they are wizards). You can poke around here, but the unsurprising takeaway is this: a lot of teams are a lot more likely to play October baseball than they were when yesterday began.

In a lot of ways, that makes this, our annual exercise in humiliation and ridicule, easier. Predictions can be tricky – baseball has a way of serving up surprises over the course of a 162-game marathon, and a 60-game sprint has the potential to tilt dramatically into the bizarre. Last year, 24 of us thought the Phillies were October bound; we thought Vladimir Guerrero Jr. would be the American League Rookie of the Year. We got the Cardinals and Brewers right; we whiffed badly on the Braves. Our parents were quite disappointed. And that was a normal year. But for all the fretting this season’s inherent volatility inspired, the sense that anything could happen went hand-in-hand with the realization that all of this counted a great deal more than it usually would. Each game, each pitch could be the difference. We were already in the stretch run! Now the stakes for each game have been reduced to a more familiar simmer, and with them, the anxiety of revealing oneself to be a real dummy with one’s predictions. Twelve teams have at least a 50% shot of making the postseason. It’s a less frenetic form of excitement, but also a decidedly more democratic one. This might be slightly less fun, but it’ll be that way for more people.

Of course, bizarro playoff format or no, we could still goof things up badly. But as it is our job to predict things, predict them we will. The writers of FanGraphs and RotoGraphs have weighed in; here is how the 2020 season will unfold. You heard it here first.

A quick note: All of the division tables, as well as the aggregate prediction tables at the end of the post, are sortable. Division tables are sorted by how many division winner votes a team received, which often lines up with which team has the most votes in aggregate, but not always.

The National League

In times of great uncertainty, I wonder if it isn’t natural to play it safe. To hew closely to the projections. To pick the Dodgers. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to like about the National League besides Los Angeles, from teams actively trying to improve their rosters in order to win to tight races in the East and Central (here I should mention that the East teams, which have to square off against the Yankees and Rays as well as each other, face a considerably harder strength of schedule than do the Central squads). But while the NL boasts many very good clubs and good number of interesting ones, creating a good deal more parity than in the AL, the Dodgers are a beleaguered forecaster’s dream, appearing on all 22 ballots and netting 21 division winner votes. Their playoff odds prior to last night’s win, but after accounting for the new postseason format, stood at 95%; the then-second place Nationals checked in at 76.7%. Kershaw’s back may be balky, but the Dodgers are the class of the league.

Beyond them, the writers spread their new votes across a number of intriguing young teams, many of which have actively tried to improve. Four teams received no postseason votes, but the East and Central each had four that received at least one to win the division. Comparing this year’s ballot to last year’s is a little tricky, as the sample sizes and populations are different, but the Reds, in first place in the Central on 10 folks’ ballots and in the playoff field on 21, received two votes in 2019; the Padres got one vote last year and 17 this year. The Diamondbacks, then preparing to select an historic draft class, received no votes last season; they got 18 this season.

You won’t have seen our pre-expanded playoff predictions (best laid plans and what not), but the shifts in voting are interesting, especially when thinking about the NL’s relative parity. Possessed of just two Wild Card spots, our staff still liked the Reds and Braves to win their respective divisions, but the three additional spots really opened things up for the Padres and Diamondbacks — two teams with exciting farm systems on the cusp of real contention, though San Diego is further along — as well as the Brewers, who our Depth Charts view as pretty middling in a lot of places, even as they are excellent in spots. Arizona and San Diego picked up 13 and nine votes respectively, while Milwaukee snagged 10. The Diamondbacks’ and Padres’ surge speaks to both the presence of the Dodgers and the almost-there quality of their rosters; with eight playoff spots, almost-there might well be good enough. Meanwhile, the Brewers’ bump is a reminder that someone must place second in the Central. Beyond those three, the Cubs, Cardinals, Mets and Phillies combined for 15 more votes than they did in the traditional Wild Card world. Our writers even worked their way into a tie that would need breaking, setting St. Louis and Chicago on a (mathematical) collision course. How dramatic.

Staff Predictions: NL West
Team Division Champ Division Runner-Up WC Series 1 WC Series 2 Playoffs
Los Angeles 21 1 0 0 22
San Diego 1 11 1 4 17
Arizona 0 10 2 6 18
San Francisco 0 0 0 0 0
Colorado 0 0 0 0 0

Staff Predictions: NL Central
Team Division Champ Division Runner-Up WC Series 1 WC Series 2 Playoffs
Cincinnati 10 5 4 2 21
Milwaukee 6 8 3 3 20
Chicago 4 3 5 0 12-T
St. Louis 2 6 2 2 12-T
Pittsburgh 0 0 0 0 0

Staff Predictions: NL East
Team Division Champ Division Runner-Up WC Series 1 WC Series 2 Playoffs
Atlanta 11 7 3 0 21
Washington 6 10 2 1 19
New York 4 4 0 2 10
Philadelphia 1 1 0 2 4
Miami 0 0 0 0 0

The American League

Much like the NL, this year’s American League predictions made for an interesting comparison to last year’s. While the teams likely to play in October seemed as obvious as ever, there was a bit more disagreement about how the AL’s powerhouses would get there than there had been in 2019. A whopping 96.8% of our writers picked the Astros to win the West in 2019, while “only” 72.7% did in the pre-expansion version of this year’s exercise. We were less confident in Minnesota’s ability to emerge victorious in the Central (54.5%) than we had been in Cleveland’s in 2019 (78.1%). And we saw the AL East as a near-coin flip between the Yankees and Rays, where it had been firmly in New York’s grasp the season prior.

Now things are a touch more stratified, at least in the aggregate. Four teams — the Astros, White Sox, Yankees and Rays — appeared on every voter’s ballot, while the Twins received 21 votes, the A’s 20, and the Indians 19. The aggregate vote totals can be a little misleading, though. We have Minnesota as a comfortable favorite to win the division or come in second, so even though the team appears on one fewer ballot than the White Sox do, I think we can say that we view their playoff chances as more meaningful.

Six teams received no playoffs votes in our initial polling, a number that dropped to four with the addition of three more playoff teams. The biggest beneficiaries of the expanded format were the Angels, who went from having no votes at noon yesterday to 19 by the time the day was done, and the aforementioned White Sox, who fared better in our initial polling than Los Angeles but still managed to pick up 14 votes (Oakland and Cleveland were the other big gainers, picking up 11 and eight votes, respectively). Some of Los Angeles and Chicago’s support came in the division runner up spot, but the bulk of it was further down ballot, with 11 and 14 votes across the two remaining Wild Card Series spots respectively.

Staff Predictions: AL West
Team Division Champ Division Runner-Up WC Series 1 WC Series 2 Playoffs
Houston 16 6 0 0 22
Oakland 5 11 2 2 20
Los Angeles 0 5 4 7 16
Texas 1 0 2 2 5
Seattle 0 0 0 0 0

Staff Predictions: AL Central
Team Division Champ Division Runner-Up WC Series 1 WC Series 2 Playoffs
Minnesota 14 6 1 0 21
Chicago 3 7 7 5 22
Cleveland 5 9 2 3 19
Kansas City 0 0 0 0 0
Detroit 0 0 0 0 0

Staff Predictions: AL East
Team Division Champ Division Runner-Up WC Series 1 WC Series 2 Playoffs
New York 12 10 0 0 22
Tampa Bay 10 12 0 0 22
Toronto 0 0 3 2 5
Boston 0 0 1 1 2
Baltimore 0 0 0 0 0

Individual Awards

Perhaps unsurprisingly, we had a hard time making up our minds when it came the NL MVP. With the exception of Nick Castellanos, who projects for 0.6 WAR per our Depth Charts, the rest of our selections exist across a one win spectrum from Cody Bellinger at the high end (2.4 WAR) down to Fernando Tatis Jr. (1.4 WAR).

Staff Predictions: NL MVP
Player Votes
Christian Yelich 4
Ronald Acuña Jr. 4
Cody Bellinger 3
Mookie Betts 3
Nick Castellanos 3
Juan Soto 2
Fernando Tatis Jr. 2
Ketel Marte 1

Jacob deGrom’s back scare wasn’t enough to chase our writers off in their quest to award him a third consecutive Cy Young; Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux currently share the record for most consecutive Cy Youngs won at four. More exciting here to me is the emergence of Jack Flaherty, who had a 0.91 ERA and 2.22 FIP in 15 incredible second half starts last year. Dan Szymborski has Flaherty pegged to 1-in-98 odds of breaking Bob Gibson’s 1968 ERA record in this shortened season, sixth in baseball. Those aren’t short odds, but they aren’t preposterously long either.

Staff Predictions: NL Cy Young
Player Votes
Jacob deGrom 7
Jack Flaherty 5
Luis Castillo 2
Yu Darvish 2
Stephen Strasburg 2
Walker Buehler 1
Chris Paddack 1
Max Scherzer 1
Julio Urías 1

Just as deGrom’s briefly balky back wasn’t enough to put a damper on his Cy Young chances, Gavin Lux’s demotion wasn’t enough to pull baseball’s No. 2 overall prospect off our writer’s prediction ballots.

Staff Predictions: NL RoY

It isn’t that other players can’t with the AL MVP. Mookie Betts did it in 2018, Jose Altuve the year before; Josh Donaldson managed it in 2015. Miguel Cabrera had his run. It’s just that even with the injuries, it’s hard to pick against Mike Trout because he’s the best player in baseball going into any given season. Even one like this.

Staff Predictions: AL MVP
Player Votes
Mike Trout 11
Francisco Lindor 3
Bo Bichette 1
Alex Bregman 1
Matt Chapman 1
Nelson Cruz 1
Rafael Devers 1
Josh Donaldson 1
Aaron Judge 1
Gleyber Torres 1

Gerrit Cole wasn’t the Cy Young last season because of Justin Verlander. He became the most highly compensated pitcher in baseball history last winter because he’s an incredible talent. We expect that to carry the day in 2020.

Staff Predictions: AL Cy Young

Luis Robert signed an extension with the White Sox before he’d ever logged a major league at-bat, a sign that the team expects the game’s No. 7 overall prospect to perform and perform well. We agree, as it turns out.

Staff Predictions: AL Roy

We’ll wrap things up there. As we always do, we’ll check in when the season concludes to see who was right and who was wrong. You mileage may vary on the new playoff format. But me, I think I’m fine with it now that the playoff odds are sorted. It’ll be another strange artifact of 2020, and some not-so-good teams might get through, but in the end, that’s ok. Any version of this season played safely through to completion is a success, and any postseason set-up that puts Mike Trout closer to the field come October is alright with me.

2020 Staff Predictions: National League
Author Name West Central East West 2 Central 2 East 2 WC Series 1 WC Series 2 MVP Cy Young RoY
Alex Chamberlain LAD CIN ATL ARI MIL WSN SDP PHI Soto Urías Bart
Ariel Cohen LAD CIN ATL ARI MIL NYM CHC WSN Soto Strasburg Keller
Ben Clemens LAD CIN NYM ARI STL ATL WSN MIL Betts deGrom Carlson
Birchwood Bros LAD MIL WSN SDP STL ATL CIN ARI Tatis Flaherty Kieboom
Craig Edwards LAD STL WSN ARI CHC ATL CIN MIL Yelich Flaherty Lux
Dan Szymborski LAD CIN ATL SDP MIL WSN CHC STL Acuña Strasburg Lux
David Appelman LAD CHC WSN SDP MIL ATL CIN NYM Bellinger DeGrom Gore
David Laurila LAD CIN PHI SDP STL ATL MIL ARI Castellanos Paddack Lux
Eric Longenhagen LAD MIL ATL ARI STL NYM CHC CIN Marte Flaherty Keller
Jake Mailhot LAD MIL ATL SDP CIN WSN CHC ARI Bellinger Buehler Lux
Jason Martinez SDP CHC NYM LAD CIN WSN ATL ARI Tatis Darvish Carlson
Jay Jaffe LAD CIN ATL SDP CHC WSN MIL NYM Acuña Flaherty Lux
Jeff Zimmerman LAD MIL WSN ARI CIN ATL STL SDP Yelich Darvish Carlson
Jon Tayler LAD CIN ATL SDP MIL WSN ARI STL Acuña Scherzer Lux
Justin Mason LAD CIN WSN SDP MIL NYM ATL ARI Yelich DeGrom Gore
Meg Rowley LAD STL ATL SDP CIN WSN ARI MIL Acuña Flaherty Keller
Mike Podhorzer LAD CHC ATL ARI MIL PHI CIN SDP Yelich DeGrom Akiyama
Paul Sporer LAD CIN WSN ARI STL ATL MIL SDP Castellanos Castillo Akiyama
Rachael McDaniel LAD MIL ATL SDP STL WSN CHC ARI Betts deGrom Lux
Rian Watt LAD MIL ATL SDP CHC NYM WSN CIN Betts deGrom Lux
Shelly Verougstraete LAD CIN NYM ARI MIL WSN ATL PHI Castellanos deGrom Kieboom
Tony Wolfe LAD CHC NYM ARI CIN WSN STL SDP Bellinger Castillo Lux

2020 Staff Predictions: American League
Writer West Central East West 2 Central 2 East 2 WC Series 1 WC Series 2 MVP Cy Young RoY
Alex Chamberlain HOU MIN TBR LAA CHW NYY OAK TOR Lindor Maeda McKay
Ariel Cohen HOU CHW TBR OAK MIN NYY CLE LAA Devers Cole Robert
Ben Clemens HOU MIN NYY OAK CHW TBR BOS CLE Trout Berrios Robert
Birchwood Bros OAK CLE NYY HOU MIN TBR CHW BOS Judge Cole Robert
Craig Edwards HOU CLE TBR LAA MIN NYY CHW OAK Trout Lynn Whitley
Dan Szymborski HOU CLE NYY OAK MIN TBR CHW TEX Trout Cole Robert
David Appelman HOU MIN NYY OAK CLE TBR CHW LAA Trout Cole Robert
David Laurila OAK CHW TBR HOU MIN NYY LAA CLE Chapman Giolito Luzardo
Eric Longenhagen HOU MIN TBR LAA CHW NYY CLE OAK Correa Cole Robert
Jake Mailhot HOU MIN NYY OAK CLE TBR CHW LAA Bregman Cole Robert
Jason Martinez TEX CHW NYY HOU CLE TBR LAA TOR Gleyber Cole Robert
Jay Jaffe HOU MIN NYY OAK CLE TBR LAA CHW Trout Cole Luzardo
Jeff Zimmerman HOU CLE TBR OAK CHW NYY MIN TEX Cruz Greinke Pearson
Jon Tayler HOU MIN NYY OAK CLE TBR CHW LAA Trout Cole Robert
Justin Mason HOU MIN TBR LAA CLE NYY TEX CHW Trout Morton Robert
Meg Rowley HOU MIN NYY OAK CHW TBR TEX LAA Trout Cole Robert
Mike Podhorzer HOU MIN NYY LAA CLE TBR OAK CHW Trout Cole Robert
Paul Sporer OAK MIN TBR HOU CLE NYY TOR CHW Donaldson Clevinger Singer
Rachael McDaniel OAK MIN NYY HOU CHW TBR LAA CLE Lindor Cole Pearson
Rian Watt OAK CLE NYY HOU MIN TBR CHW LAA Trout Cole Robert
Shelly Verougstraete HOU MIN TBR OAK CLE NYY TOR CHW Lindor Clevinger White
Tony Wolfe HOU MIN TBR OAK CHW NYY TOR LAA Bichette Clevinger Robert

Meg is the managing editor of FanGraphs and the co-host of Effectively Wild. Prior to joining FanGraphs, her work appeared at Baseball Prospectus, Lookout Landing, and Just A Bit Outside. You can follow her on twitter @megrowler.

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2 years ago

I think my brain just exploded after seeing 3 Nick Castellanos MVP votes.

Jimmy von Albademember
2 years ago
Reply to  KJL

How in the world that happens on the preeminent baseball analytics site is beyond me. Makes less than 0 sense.

2 years ago

They’re picking who they think will win, not who they think they would vote for at the end of the season if they had a vote.

Jimmy von Albademember
2 years ago
Reply to  TKDC

Either way, it’s an absurd pick. He’s moving to a friendly ballpark, but with a career high OPS of .863 and generally atrocious defense, there is a vanishingly small chance he approaches the tier of Betts/Acuña/Bellinger.

2 years ago

I think it is because of the 51 games he had as a Cub last year. If he does that again this year, he will definitely be in the conversation. I don’t think it’s likely, but you can see where that is coming from as an outside the box pick. If they think he will really feast on NL Central pitching, it’s possible.

That said, I’m guessing some other guys had similar stretches last year that we just don’t notice because they don’t separate out easily in partial season searches.

Jimmy von Albademember
2 years ago
Reply to  68FC

His xwOBA actually decreased last year. This very site had articles about how there was really no underlying change. As a Cub he walked all of 4.4% of the time and his batted ball metrics changed only marginally. The main driver was simply his absurd 23.2% HR/FB. On a sabermetrics-focused site, I don’t see a justification for believing he will put up an MVP season.

2 years ago
Reply to  68FC

@68FC I agree that that was probably the line of thinking they took, theres just no logic in it. The other guys on the list have multiple seasons where they hit better than Castellanos’ 154 wRC+ over 51 (!) games.

Hes also the worst defender on the list. And it does matter. Hes never going to provide memorable defensive highlights that resurface in voters minds at the end of the year.

2 years ago

Look do I think Casty is going to win MVP? No. But it’s beyond boring to see the same 5 guys over and over.

If you want to see the most likely players to win the MVP by the numbers then just sort the player projections by WAR.

Pretty sure Sporer has previously said he prefers to pick outside the usual suspects in these kinds of things and honestly it’s nice to see some fresh names that analysts may be high on. I doubt those voters actually believe Casty has the highest percentage likelihood of winning, but they think the chance is non-zero and that’s more interesting than saying Yelich IMO.

Part of the Casty pick is certainly a belief that his defense will continue to improve (as it already has been) and that he’ll maintain some of the additional success he had with the Cubs on the offensive side.

Smiling Politely
2 years ago
Reply to  TKDC

And also…for fun? Does Jason Martinez really think that SDP and TEX will each win their divisions? Maybe, but perhaps it’s something like “this is not the most likely outcome, but this could plausibly happen, and i kinda want to see it!”

2 years ago

I think he’s a Padres fan

2 years ago

Exactly, Fangraphs offers both team and player projections if you simply want to look at the math.

2 years ago
Reply to  KJL

I’m assuming each of the people who picked Castellanos probably thought ‘I am the only one who would pick this dark horse. Nobody is going to judge me too harshly for this risky choice but if Castellanos somehow manages to get a top 5 MVP vote, I look like a genius.’

2 years ago
Reply to  tung_twista

I just want to note for posterity, despite the heat that the Castellanos picks got, 11 games in, his 259 wRC+ is looking like a good pick.