FanGraphs 2021 Staff Predictions

Well, after a winter spent fretting over the pandemic and the free agent market’s glacial pace (and what both might mean for baseball), the 2021 season is upon us. We made it. And on this, the morning of Opening Day, we engage in our annual tradition of asking our staff to open themselves up to public ridicule and predict the year in baseball. Some of these predictions will prove to be prescient; others will make their forecaster feel a little silly. Despite the 11th-hour format switcheroo, the FanGraphs staff ended up doing pretty well when it came to last year’s playoff field, though with eight teams in each league advancing to the postseason, the odds were in our favor. Still, with the exception of the Marlins (we thought the Nationals would do a better job defending their World Series title) and the Blue Jays (whither the Angels we picked instead?), we had October pretty well pegged. The 2020 individual awards? A big goose egg! Such is the prognostication business.

Folks from FanGraphs and RotoGraphs weighed in; here are the results.

American League

The American League once again appears to be stratified into the haves and the yet-to-arrives, though our writers see two of the three divisions as competitive at the top. Twenty of our voters submitted ballots with Houston and New York as division winners; their Central votes were split between the Minnesota (12 votes) and Chicago (eight). Meanwhile, four teams received no playoff votes (the Mariners, Rangers, Tigers, and Orioles), while two more (Royals and Red Sox) received just one. I expected Kansas City to be a more popular sleeper pick. I’m don’t think they’re ready to compete in earnest with the AL’s other Wild Card contenders, but they certainly seem to think they are, and it’s always good to have a little zag in a ballot full of zig. Better luck next year, Royals.

The Yankees were the AL’s only unanimous selection and dominated the East divisional vote. But the Blue Jays, who only received Wild Card consideration in last year’s version of this exercise, got four division-winning votes and did well further down the ballot, a recognition of their offseason additions and promising core. There are two ways we might think about the staff’s view of the Rays. On the one hand, we’re clear skeptics, with only three of us picking the reigning AL pennant winner to win their division; losing Blake Snell and Charlie Morton can have that effect. On the other hand, our playoff odds project Tampa Bay to finish fourth in the division, and our crowd’s wisdom puts them ahead of the Red Sox (whose postseason chances are better) by quite a bit, suggesting confidence in the Rays’ vaunted depth and skepticism of a Sox squad still finding its footing after the Mookie Betts trade.

The Astros lost George Springer to free agency and have seen attrition in both their bullpen and rotation this spring (though they did sign Jake Odorizzi to help pick up the slack), which probably explains why the Angels were such popular picks in the West. Their rebuilt rotation no doubt helps, as does having been able to replace Andrelton Simmons with José Iglesias, but if I had to guess, it was the trio of Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, and Shohei Ohtani that moved voters. Here it is probably worth remarking on the relative scarcity of the A’s. That isn’t necessarily surprising; despite winning the division in 2020, Liam Hendriks and Marcus Semien both departed for more lucrative climes this winter, and their playoff odds sit at just 33.1%. Still, that’s better than the Rays’ showing (25.5%) and Tampa received 12 more votes.

Cleveland, which had appeared on 100% of ballots in one form or another since 2016, received just two votes this year. Supplanting them are the White Sox and Twins. We peg Chicago to take the division here (just barely), while in our projections, it is flipped, with Minnesota enjoying a 2.4 win margin and doing even better by the playoff odds (48.8% to win the division verses Chicago’s 31.4%).

Staff Predictions: AL West
Team Division Wild Card 1 Wild Card 2 Playoffs
Houston 22 5 1 28
Los Angeles 15 3 5 23
Oakland 1 0 1 2
Seattle 0 0 0 0
Texas 0 0 0 0

Staff Predictions: AL Central
Team Division Wild Card 1 Wild Card 2 Playoffs
Chicago 19 1 11 31
Minnesota 18 8 7 33
Cleveland 1 0 1 2
Kansas City 0 0 1 1
Detroit 0 0 0 0

Staff Predictions: AL East
Team Division Wild Card 1 Wild Card 2 Playoffs
New York 31 6 1 38
Toronto 4 8 5 17
Tampa Bay 3 6 5 14
Boston 0 1 0 1
Baltimore 0 0 0 0

National League

Well this is going to be fun. Two National League teams received unanimous support from our voters… and they’re in the same division. It isn’t just that the Dodgers and Padres are deep and talented and set to face off 19 times; it’s that between them, they also netted 37 of votes for the first Wild Card. The Braves and Mets have a similar relationship with the second Wild Card, with the two teams claiming 33 of the votes for the last playoff spot. Indeed, of all the teams to receive a Wild Card vote, only one went to a team — the Marlins — that hadn’t also gotten at least one division vote.

Things are less rosy at the bottom of the NL West, where all three of the remaining teams failed to secure a single playoff vote; the same is true of the Pirates in the Central. Speaking of the Central, the concentration of votes in the Brewers and Cardinals might suggest a race like that in the East, but a quick glance at Wild Card columns speaks to the difference. Someone has to win the division, of course, and it isn’t as if Central is devoid of talented players, or lacked for the acquisition of a star player this offseason (hello, Nolan Arenado!). But the division didn’t receive a single Wild Card vote, suggesting our staff was aware of the top teams’ projected win totals (82.8 for the Brewers, 80.7 for the Cardinals) and the mediocrity of the others and saw more deserving squads elsewhere.

The super team phenomena is even stronger here than in the NL, but something about it sits a little differently, perhaps due to the spirit behind the division rivalries.

Staff Predictions: NL West
Team Division Wild Card 1 Wild Card 2 Playoffs
Los Angeles 31 7 0 38
San Diego 7 30 1 38
Arizona 0 0 0 0
Colorado 0 0 0 0
San Francisco 0 0 0 0

Staff Predictions: NL Central
Team Division Wild Card 1 Wild Card 2 Playoffs
Milwaukee 19 0 0 19
St. Louis 15 0 0 15
Cincinnati 2 0 0 2
Chicago 2 0 0 2
Pittsburgh 0 0 0 0

Staff Predictions: NL East
Team Division Wild Card 1 Wild Card 2 Playoffs
Atlanta 17 1 16 34
New York 15 0 17 32
Washington 4 0 2 6
Philadelphia 2 0 1 3
Miami 0 0 1 1

Individual Awards

It isn’t terribly surprising to see Mike Trout occupy the top spot here; he boasts baseball’s best projection, whether by ZiPS or Steamer. It is a little surprising to see Ohtani in second place, but then if he’s able to pull off a healthy, productive season as a two-way player, seven votes might seem light. After all, those home runs went awfully far and that splitter looked awfully good this spring.

Cole struggled with the long ball last season (his 1.73 HR/9 was a career worst) and his peripherals were less sterling than usual, but I’m willing to chalk that up to the vagaries of the short season. Lucas Giolito actually projects better by ZiPS than Cole, though they’re separating by a 10th of a win, just as they’re separated by just one vote here.

Staff Predictions: AL Cy Young

Randy Arozarena posted a .281/.382/.641, 176 wRC+ line in 76 PA last year, then followed it up with a .377/.442/.831, 239 wRC+ postseason showing that was actually 10 PA longer. It probably won’t look quite like that again this season, but Arozarena plus regression is still a hell of a player. I should note that there was one ballot with Arozarena as both the MVP and ROY, a feat achieved only twice in MLB history: Fred Lynn in 1975 and Ichiro Suzuki in 2001.

Staff Predictions: AL ROY

In his brief major league career, Juan Soto has posted a .295/.415/.557, 152 wRC+ line and accrued 11 WAR; he’s 22. Jay Jaffe recently wrote about his Cooperstown trajectory, and some MVP hardware would surely help the cause. Behind him is a murderer’s row of the game’s best young talent. We’re so lucky to be watching baseball right now.

This is starting to feel as automatic as Clayton Kershaw used to. Not that deGrom always wins the Cy Young — he doesn’t. But he very often feels like he should, or at least could. And he’s throwing harder now.

Much like Arozarena, there are elements of Hayes’ game that seem unsustainable. He almost certainly won’t slug .682 or run a .450 BABIP again. But the seventh ranked prospect on Eric Longenhagen’s pre-season Top 100 is, “a potential Gold Glove defender who continues to progress offensively with an improved approach and more power.” Sounds pretty award-worthy.

That’s the whole shebang. Each voter’s full ballot for each league is below. These tables, like the ones above, are sortable. We’ll check in on how close to right we were when the season wraps up, and look forward to writing about all of the ways we end up being surprised in the meantime. We hope you’ll tag along. Happy Opening Day, everyone!

2021 Staff Predictions: American League
Author Name West Central East WC1 WC2 MVP Cy Young ROY
Alex Chamberlain HOU MIN NYY CHW TOR Trout Ryu Arozarena
Alex Sonty LAA CHW NYY HOU MIN Trout Bieber Vaughn
Ariel Cohen HOU CHW NYY MIN TOR Devers Glasnow Dalbec
Ashley MacLennan LAA CHW TBR NYY MIN Trout Giolito Arozarena
Ben Clemens HOU CHW NYY BOS MIN Bregman Giolito Vaughn
Brendan Gawlowski LAA CLE NYY TOR CHW J Ramírez Cole Arozarena
Carmen Ciardiello HOU MIN NYY LAA CLE Trout Cole Vaughn
Chad Young HOU MIN NYY LAA TBR Stanton Maeda Trammell
Chet Gutwein LAA CHW NYY HOU MIN Ohtani Ryu Skubal
Dan Szymborski HOU MIN NYY TBR CHW Trout Giolito Arozarena
Dave McDonald HOU CHW NYY TBR MIN Arozarena Bieber Arozarena
David Laurila LAA CHW NYY MIN TBR Ohtani Maeda Dalbec
Devan Fink LAA CHW NYY MIN HOU Ohtani Giolito Kelenic
Dylan Higgins LAA MIN TOR NYY CHW Ohtani Bieber Vaughn
Eric Longenhagen OAK CHW TBR NYY LAA Trout Luzardo Arozarena
Jake Mailhot LAA MIN NYY HOU CHW Trout Cole Kelenic
Jason Martinez LAA MIN TOR NYY CHW Rendon Cole Arozarena
Jay Jaffe LAA CHW NYY TOR MIN Trout Cole Arozarena
Jeff Zimmerman HOU CHW TBR MIN NYY Stanton Greinke Kirilloff
Jeffrey Bellone LAA CHW NYY HOU TOR Trout Cole Kelenic
Jon Becker HOU MIN NYY TOR LAA Trout Giolito Dalbec
Jon Tayler HOU MIN NYY TBR CHW Trout Cole Arozarena
Justin Choi HOU MIN NYY TBR LAA Rendon Bieber Vaughn
Justin Mason LAA CHW NYY MIN TBR Trout Cole Kelenic
Justin Vibber LAA CHW NYY HOU MIN Trout Bieber Kirilloff
Kevin Goldstein HOU CHW NYY MIN TOR Trout Cole Arozarena
Lucas Kelly HOU CHW NYY TOR TBR Ohtani Giolito Arozarena
Luke Hooper HOU MIN NYY LAA CHW Trout Giolito Kelenic
Matthew Roberson HOU CHW NYY MIN KCR Trout Glasnow Madrigal
Meg Rowley LAA MIN NYY TOR CHW Trout Giolito Arozarena
Mike Podhorzer HOU MIN NYY TOR LAA Trout Bieber Arozarena
Nicklaus Gaut LAA MIN TOR NYY CHW Trout Bieber Arozarena
Owen McGrattan HOU CHW NYY TBR OAK Trout Cole Arozarena
Paul Sporer HOU MIN NYY TOR LAA Ohtani Lynn Arozarena
RJ McDaniel HOU CHW NYY MIN TOR Ohtani Giolito Arozarena
Sara Sanchez HOU MIN TOR NYY CHW Trout Giolito Franco
Tess Taruskin HOU MIN NYY TBR CHW Trout Cole Kelenic
Tony Wolfe HOU MIN NYY TOR TBR Springer Maeda Arozarena

2021 Staff Predictions: National League
Author Name West Central East WC1 WC2 MVP Cy Young ROY
Alex Chamberlain LAD MIL NYM SDP ATL Soto deGrom Kim
Alex Sonty LAD MIL ATL SDP WSN Betts deGrom S. Sánchez
Ariel Cohen LAD MIL NYM SDP ATL Soto deGrom Hayes
Ashley MacLennan LAD STL ATL SDP NYM Tatis deGrom Hayes
Ben Clemens LAD STL NYM SDP ATL Betts Darvish Carlson
Brendan Gawlowski LAD CIN ATL SDP PHI Tatis Darvish Stephenson
Carmen Ciardiello LAD STL ATL SDP NYM Soto Flaherty Hayes
Chad Young LAD STL ATL SDP NYM Bellinger deGrom Anderson
Chet Gutwein LAD MIL ATL SDP NYM Acuña deGrom Hayes
Dan Szymborski LAD STL NYM SDP ATL Soto deGrom S. Sánchez
Dave McDonald LAD MIL ATL SDP NYM Soto Bauer Hayes
David Laurila SDP STL ATL LAD MIA Acuña deGrom Hayes
Devan Fink LAD MIL PHI SDP NYM Harper deGrom S. Sánchez
Dylan Higgins SDP MIL NYM LAD ATL Betts deGrom Hayes
Eric Longenhagen LAD STL ATL SDP NYM T. Turner Stroman Hayes
Jake Mailhot LAD STL ATL SDP NYM Acuña Darvish Hayes
Jason Martinez SDP STL NYM LAD ATL Arenado deGrom Hayes
Jay Jaffe LAD MIL NYM SDP ATL Acuña deGrom Anderson
Jeff Zimmerman LAD CHC PHI ATL SDP Seager deGrom Anderson
Jeffrey Bellone LAD STL NYM SDP ATL Acuña deGrom S. Sánchez
Jon Becker LAD MIL NYM SDP ATL Soto deGrom Hayes
Jon Tayler LAD STL ATL SDP NYM Acuña deGrom Hayes
Justin Choi LAD MIL NYM SDP ATL Tatis Nola Anderson
Justin Mason LAD MIL WSN SDP ATL Soto deGrom Hayes
Justin Vibber SDP MIL NYM LAD WSN Soto Bauer Anderson
Kevin Goldstein LAD MIL ATL SDP NYM Soto deGrom Anderson
Lucas Kelly LAD STL NYM SDP ATL Tatis deGrom Pache
Luke Hooper LAD MIL WSN SDP ATL Soto Woodruff Hayes
Matthew Roberson SDP STL NYM LAD ATL Tatis deGrom S. Sánchez
Meg Rowley LAD MIL ATL SDP NYM Tatis deGrom Hayes
Mike Podhorzer LAD MIL NYM SDP ATL Soto deGrom Hayes
Nicklaus Gaut LAD CIN WSN SDP NYM Soto deGrom Hayes
Owen McGrattan LAD MIL ATL SDP NYM Betts deGrom Carlson
Paul Sporer LAD MIL WSN SDP NYM Soto Buehler Carlson
RJ McDaniel LAD STL NYM SDP ATL Tatis deGrom Hayes
Sara Sanchez SDP CHC ATL LAD NYM Soto Hendricks S. Sánchez
Tess Taruskin LAD MIL ATL SDP NYM Acuña deGrom Hayes
Tony Wolfe SDP STL ATL LAD NYM Soto deGrom Hayes

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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Jack Cashionmember
3 years ago

Ben I appreciate you carrying the hopes of Red Sox Nation on your shoulders