Projecting the Cactus/Grapefruit League Standings

While we don’t yet know for sure whether there will be a 2020 baseball season, any resumption of baseball will likely involve a year that looks like nothing that has come before. Among the many proposals out there, ranging from the tinkering to the radical, is one to eliminate the traditional AL/NL league structure for this year in the so-called Arizona-Florida plan. Teams would play at their Cactus and Grapefruit League spring training facilities (along with Chase Field, Tropicana Field, and Marlins Park), facing off against the teams in that state. Basing teams in the spring training leagues has the benefit of working with existing team facilities, and, as Ben Clemens wrote for the site earlier today, addresses some of the broadcast and climate difficulties, though of course it is as dependent on the widespread availability of testing as the Arizona plan.

Assuming that we go with the highly unusual Cactus/Grapefruit season, the races will naturally look very different than we’re accustomed to. The spring training league assignments adhere more generally to an east/west alignment than an AL/NL one, so many of the traditional rivalries would take on a very different character in 2020.

With a little bit of work, I was able to realign ZiPS to project the outcome of these new league races. Naturally, there’s a little bit of speculation required to formalize this strange new 2020 MLB. I’ve engaged in such speculation because, well, that’s my job!

For the new 2020, I’m assuming that both leagues use the designated hitter, as Bob reported. While the DH/Pitcher hitting battle still rages among baseball fans, in such an unusual season, when pitchers are already having a very odd training schedule, there’s a lot to recommend a universal DH rule, at least temporarily. Without pre-existing divisions, I’m also going to assume that we’d be seeing division-less leagues in 2020. Also, no interleague play, given that the whole idea of spring training leagues is to avoid lots of travel.

Any postseason under this arrangement is unlikely to be smaller than the current slate of ten teams, so I’ve told ZiPS to project standings based on 15-team leagues with three teams receiving one-game “byes” while two Wild Card teams play a one-game, winner-take-all matchup. From a structural standpoint, this allows a postseason of similar character as the typical postseason.

How many games will be played is still unknown, so I’m assuming a 112-game season. With 15 teams in a league, this enables each team to play every other team four times at home and four times on the road.

So, how do the projections look?

2020 Cactus League Standings
Team W L GB PCT LG% TOP 3% WC% PLAYOFF%
Los Angeles Dodgers 71 41 .634 59.9% 86.7% 8.7% 95.4%
Cleveland Indians 62 50 9 .554 9.5% 39.5% 23.1% 62.6%
Oakland Athletics 61 51 10 .545 8.7% 38.0% 22.7% 60.8%
San Diego Padres 61 51 10 .545 6.5% 31.6% 22.7% 54.3%
Chicago Cubs 60 52 11 .536 4.4% 24.4% 21.2% 45.6%
Milwaukee Brewers 58 54 13 .518 2.7% 17.6% 18.9% 36.6%
Cincinnati Reds 57 55 14 .509 2.3% 15.1% 17.5% 32.7%
Arizona Diamondbacks 57 55 14 .509 2.0% 14.2% 16.8% 31.0%
Chicago White Sox 57 55 14 .509 2.0% 14.1% 16.7% 30.7%
Los Angeles Angels 56 56 15 .500 1.9% 13.1% 16.3% 29.4%
Texas Rangers 52 60 19 .464 0.2% 3.0% 6.5% 9.5%
Colorado Rockies 50 62 21 .446 0.1% 1.3% 3.8% 5.1%
Kansas City Royals 48 64 23 .429 0.0% 0.7% 2.6% 3.4%
San Francisco Giants 48 64 23 .429 0.0% 0.6% 2.3% 2.9%
Seattle Mariners 42 70 29 .375 0.0% 0.0% 0.2% 0.2%

This realignment is quite beneficial for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Even with 14 “divisional” opponents instead of four, the Dodgers still remain in a very strong position. In fact, it even improves somewhat, with the team projected with a 60% chance of leading the Cactus League in wins compared to 44% in the National League and a few of the NL Wild Card finishes becoming Cactus League byes. Perhaps it would serve as a small token of compensation for never getting to see Mookie Betts in Dodger Blue at Chavez Ravine?

Overall, the Cactus League looks like a middle-class one. The Dodgers are the only 2019 division winner in the league and only two other 2019 playoff teams, the Brewers and Athletics, would play in Arizona. Only the Mariners project to assume true doormat status in what looks to be a very competitive Cactus League. How do things look in Florida?

2020 Grapefruit League Standings
Team W L GB PCT LG% TOP 3% WC% PLAYOFF%
New York Yankees 69 43 .616 39.3% 73.4% 15.9% 89.2%
Houston Astros 66 46 3 .589 17.1% 49.8% 23.6% 73.4%
Tampa Bay Rays 64 48 5 .571 11.6% 39.7% 25.0% 64.7%
Minnesota Twins 63 49 6 .563 9.0% 34.4% 24.9% 59.3%
Atlanta Braves 63 49 6 .563 9.1% 34.0% 25.0% 59.0%
Washington Nationals 63 49 6 .563 8.8% 33.4% 25.0% 58.5%
New York Mets 58 54 11 .518 1.6% 10.4% 15.8% 26.1%
Philadelphia Phillies 57 55 12 .509 1.3% 8.7% 14.1% 22.8%
St. Louis Cardinals 57 55 12 .509 1.1% 8.2% 13.4% 21.6%
Boston Red Sox 56 56 13 .500 1.0% 7.0% 12.6% 19.7%
Toronto Blue Jays 50 62 19 .446 0.0% 0.5% 2.4% 3.0%
Pittsburgh Pirates 48 64 21 .429 0.0% 0.3% 1.4% 1.7%
Miami Marlins 47 65 22 .420 0.0% 0.1% 0.9% 1.0%
Detroit Tigers 42 70 27 .375 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1%
Baltimore Orioles 37 75 32 .330 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

With five of six 2019 division winners and seven of the 10 playoff teams, the Grapefruit League is the more bifurcated of the two leagues. Whereas the Dodgers project to have a fairly clear path to dominance, the Yankees suddenly have a whole lot of competition beyond the Rays. There’s a very clear dropoff from the contenders to the slingshots, with the dividing line being drawn after the Red Sox (who aren’t as bad off, even without Sale, as some people imagine). I’m sure MLB would be happy about leaving the traditional Yankees/Red Sox rivalry intact, with the Yankees and Mets as compensation for some of the central division rivalries, like the Cubs and Cardinals, that would be split up.

So, who gets the most playoff benefit? Here are the teams ranked by their playoff probabilities, in percentage points:

2020 Playoff Probability Change
Team Cactus/Grapefruit AL/NL Difference
San Diego Padres 54.3% 45.7% 8.6%
Oakland Athletics 60.8% 52.8% 8.0%
Arizona Diamondbacks 31.0% 23.3% 7.7%
Los Angeles Angels 29.4% 21.8% 7.6%
Cleveland Indians 62.6% 56.2% 6.4%
Chicago White Sox 30.7% 24.4% 6.3%
Texas Rangers 9.5% 6.2% 3.2%
Milwaukee Brewers 36.6% 33.8% 2.7%
Cincinnati Reds 32.7% 29.9% 2.7%
Chicago Cubs 45.6% 43.1% 2.5%
Colorado Rockies 5.1% 3.1% 1.9%
Los Angeles Dodgers 95.4% 93.8% 1.6%
San Francisco Giants 2.9% 1.6% 1.3%
Kansas City Royals 3.4% 2.2% 1.2%
Seattle Mariners 0.2% 0.1% 0.1%
Baltimore Orioles 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Detroit Tigers 0.1% 0.2% -0.1%
Miami Marlins 1.0% 1.4% -0.4%
Toronto Blue Jays 3.0% 3.7% -0.7%
Pittsburgh Pirates 1.7% 3.3% -1.6%
New York Yankees 89.2% 92.0% -2.7%
Boston Red Sox 19.7% 22.5% -2.8%
Philadelphia Phillies 22.8% 27.7% -4.9%
Tampa Bay Rays 64.7% 69.9% -5.2%
New York Mets 26.1% 31.3% -5.2%
Washington Nationals 58.5% 64.8% -6.4%
Houston Astros 73.4% 79.9% -6.5%
Atlanta Braves 59.0% 65.9% -6.8%
Minnesota Twins 59.3% 68.2% -9.0%
St. Louis Cardinals 21.6% 31.0% -9.5%

The west coast teams that are below the top-tier contenders see the largest benefit from this temporary realignment, with a lot of room to jockey for the prime playoff spots behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. The big losers here are the AL powerhouse teams, which mainly have to face off against each other while welcoming the world champion Nationals and the 97-win Braves.

But from another point-of-view, you can say all 30 teams are the big winners. A year with baseball is better than a year without it, and if a format like this allows there to actually be a season, I can’t imagine any baseball fan being against it.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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deb81162
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deb81162

I’m curious if this Grapefruit/Cactus league scenario did in fact happen, what effects of the different location would happen. I would imagine that Cactus league would have higher offensive stats because of the weather and humidity (Lack of it). What would the ball park factors be? In my opinion this is some interesting stuff to look at while nothing is really going on with baseball.

The Ancient Mariner
Member
The Ancient Mariner

Add altitude to the list.

Jack Automatic
Member
Jack Automatic

Balls travel further with humidity, so the offensive advantage would actually be with the Grapefruit league.

“Humidity is a measure of the percentage of water vapor in the air. An increase in humidity has a surprising effect on air density: As humidity increases, air density decreases. In damp air, the large, heavy oxygen and nitrogen molecules are replaced by lighter water molecules, resulting in less density — in essence, lighter air. Physicist Paul Doherty explains it this way: ‘We think of humidity as something that’s added to the air on a hot, muggy day. So you might think that a ball would go farther on a dry day than on a humid day. But for every water molecule that we add to the air, we displace a heavier nitrogen or oxygen molecule. Since the addition of humidity actually makes the air less dense, a ball will go farther on a humid day than it will on a dry day.'”

https://www.exploratorium.edu/baseball/features/how-far-can-you-hit-one.html