The Official ZiPS 2020 Projected Standings

We made it! It took a four-month journey through a still-raging pandemic and some still-burning baseball economic issues, but Opening Day of the weirdest season we’re likely to see in our lifetimes is here. The 2020 season is not a marathon, but a sprint, so we’re already in the home stretch. We’re not starting at square one, of course; if this were Monopoly, the bank would be out of hotels and everyone playing the game would hate each other, especially that jerk who has Boardwalk and Park Place.

Projecting such a season presents some unique challenges a prognosticator doesn’t normally face. It’s not projecting the individual players’ production that’s the problem so much as all the stuff around it. How many players will miss time due to the league’s COVID-19 protocols? How do we adjust for injuries when teams will play just 37% of the games, but players’ recovery from hamstring and elbow woes won’t be similarly prorated? Will top prospect talent have the same short-term upside when they’re riding the bench or practicing at their team’s alternate site that they would if they were playing actual games in the minors? How will the strange, crowdless games and the stresses of keeping up social distancing guidelines affect play?

No, I’m actually asking! I can make educated guesses that I hope aren’t preposterous, but I don’t actually know the answers to these questions. For someone who models stuff, it’s a maddening situation. But it’s a challenge I can’t avoid given that projecting stuff is, well, a big part of my job! But you’re not here to commiserate with me, humor my self-indulgent wordsmithing, or dig out where I make a reference to the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, so let’s go straight to the final projected standings.

Because MLB and the MLBPA have reportedly decided to revisit the seemingly abandoned playoff expansion for this season, just a day before the start of the season, these may not be the final final projections. Once more unto the breach.

ZiPS Projected Standings – AL East
Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win% No. 1 Pick
New York Yankees 37 23 .617 44.8% 20.8% 65.6% 8.8% 0.0%
Tampa Bay Rays 35 25 2 .583 34.8% 22.5% 57.3% 6.9% 0.1%
Boston Red Sox 30 30 7 .500 14.5% 18.6% 33.1% 2.9% 0.7%
Toronto Blue Jays 27 33 10 .450 5.6% 10.9% 16.4% 1.1% 3.6%
Baltimore Orioles 20 40 17 .333 0.4% 1.1% 1.5% 0.1% 24.7%

Gerrit Cole is a gigantic upgrade for the Yankees, but in a 60-game season, it’s hard to find too much daylight between New York and a team as deep as the Tampa Bay Rays. The team is helped by getting most of its roster healthy for the start of the season — Luis Severino obviously excluded — but it still loses a massive chunk off its playoff probability due to the volatility of a short season and the slightly tougher schedule that coastal teams are projected to get compared to the central teams. That doesn’t matter so much for divisional standings, but it certainly does for the Wild Cards.

It still feels jarring to see the Orioles with a 1.5% chance of making the playoffs, but we don’t have a lot of experience with seasons this short; our brains just aren’t tuned that way. They’re still a long shot, but I’m all for something preposterous happening.

2020 ZiPS Projected Standings – AL Central
Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win% No. 1 Pick
Minnesota Twins 35 25 .583 40.1% 17.6% 57.7% 7.0% 0.1%
Cleveland Indians 34 26 1 .567 32.1% 18.2% 50.3% 5.6% 0.1%
Chicago White Sox 31 29 4 .517 19.6% 16.8% 36.4% 3.4% 0.6%
Kansas City Royals 26 34 9 .433 5.9% 8.6% 14.5% 1.0% 4.5%
Detroit Tigers 23 37 12 .383 2.4% 3.9% 6.3% 0.4% 11.3%

The White Sox do take a hit with Michael Kopech electing to opt-out, but it’s a rather small one. That’s not to say his upside isn’t tremendous (though his downside it, too), but adding Dallas Keuchel and Gio González significantly improved the depth of the rotation from last season. Carlos Rodón isn’t really an addition in the strictest sense, but getting him back from Tommy John basically has the same effect.

The shorter season helps the Sox, but it also makes the Royals and Tigers considerably more viable in terms of their postseason competitiveness. The Royals aren’t a remotely “good” team, but deciding not to move all their talent during their rebuild does give them a short-term benefit, even if I think it hurts the team long-term. Hanging onto Whit Merrifield and Jorge Soler helps a lot when you only need to beat the competition for two months.

The Tigers still have a lousy offense, but even before adding Jonathan Schoop and C.J. Cron, they’d have been hard-pressed to match last year’s level of incompetence, and there’s legitimate upside in their pitching.

2020 ZiPS Projected Standings – AL West
Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win% No. 1 Pick
Houston Astros 35 25 .583 43.9% 15.9% 59.8% 7.5% 0.1%
Oakland A’s 33 27 2 .550 30.4% 17.8% 48.2% 5.2% 0.2%
Los Angeles Angels 30 30 5 .500 15.8% 14.4% 30.2% 2.6% 1.0%
Texas Rangers 28 32 7 .467 8.4% 10.3% 18.7% 1.4% 3.0%
Seattle Mariners 22 38 13 .367 1.5% 2.5% 4.0% 0.2% 15.5%

I suppose in means there’s some small bit of justice in the world that the Astros will go into 2020 with a less comfortable grip on the AL West than in past seasons. Their edge over the Oakland A’s is paper-thin, and an injury or two in the rotation might be all it takes to send the team’s pitching careening into a tailspin. The A’s have their own injury problems, of course, but most of this year’s projected rotation was injured or suspended for parts of last year, so they’re used to having to fill-in around those players.

Los Angeles and Texas both have serious holes, but they’re also close enough to .500 to be dangerous under the right conditions. I’m sure the Angels were holding their collective breath about whether Mike Trout would opt-out of the 2020 season — it’s hard to see a lot of playoff paths without him in the lineup, even in a season where his 2.9 projected WAR is enough to lead the league.

2020 ZiPS Projected Standings – NL East
Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win% No. 1 Pick
Washington Nationals 34 26 .567 34.6% 17.8% 52.4% 5.4% 0.1%
Atlanta Braves 33 27 1 .550 32.4% 17.9% 50.3% 5.0% 0.1%
New York Mets 31 29 3 .517 18.7% 16.2% 34.9% 2.9% 0.7%
Philadelphia Phillies 28 32 6 .467 10.6% 12.6% 23.3% 1.6% 2.3%
Miami Marlins 25 35 9 .417 3.7% 5.7% 9.4% 0.5% 8.0%

With Yasiel Puig‘s contract falling apart after he contracted COVID-19, the Braves gave back the small fraction of a win that had edged them over the Nationals in the standings. As can be seen in the divisional probabilities, that one-game projection is just about nothing. What is definitely not nothing is Marcus Stroman’s calf injury. The Mets had picked up a game since the last ZiPS run from small adjustments in their relative strength of schedule (and the Braves slightly weakening), but lost it again thanks to Stroman’s injury. Given that the injury just happened, I’m assuming at this time that he’ll only be out for a month. If he’s out for the season, which is certainly possible, you can subtract another win here.

The Marlins are one of the more fascinating teams in this shortened season. The rotation has interesting upside, enough that the teams could be, well, if not dangerous, then dangerousish, at least if they get some offensive production, which is far from guaranteed.

2020 ZiPS Projected Standings – NL Central
Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win% No. 1 Pick
Chicago Cubs 32 28 .533 27.4% 14.5% 41.9% 3.8% 0.4%
Milwaukee Brewers 31 29 1 .517 22.7% 13.8% 36.6% 3.1% 0.7%
St. Louis Cardinals 31 29 1 .517 22.1% 13.9% 36.0% 3.1% 0.8%
Cincinnati Reds 31 29 1 .517 21.5% 13.7% 35.2% 3.0% 0.8%
Pittsburgh Pirates 26 34 6 .433 6.3% 6.9% 13.2% 0.8% 5.9%

I’m kinda disappointed that the Blue Jays aren’t going to be playing their games at PNC Park. I made them a hat and everything!

The NL Central remains the favorite to be the most wide-open division in baseball. There’s no team that has the appearance of a juggernaut, and each roster has a significant hole or two, which makes race-watching fun. I picked the Reds in our staff predictions that will run later today, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see any of the other non-Pittsburgh teams take the division. ZiPS gives the Cubs a slight edge, but just look how close everyone is to 25%! Well, everyone except the Pirates.

2020 ZiPS Projected Standings – NL West
Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win% No. 1 Pick
Los Angeles Dodgers 38 22 .633 56.6% 15.3% 72.0% 9.3% 0.0%
San Diego Padres 32 28 6 .533 22.5% 20.4% 42.9% 3.8% 0.3%
Arizona Diamondbacks 30 30 8 .500 12.8% 16.3% 29.1% 2.2% 1.4%
Colorado Rockies 26 34 12 .433 4.9% 8.8% 13.7% 0.8% 5.0%
San Francisco Giants 26 34 12 .433 3.2% 6.2% 9.3% 0.5% 8.0%

A 60-game season means that none of the divisions are likely to be laughers, but the Dodgers probably have the easiest path. ZiPS likes the Padres for a second year in a row, even though 2019 did not work out as well as the computer hoped. My non-statistical concern for the Padres, going back to one of my questions at the top, is just how much short-term upside a Mackenzie Gore-type has if he’s not playing in minor league games.

ZiPS projects the Rockies and Giants to have the same win total, but sees much more upside for Colorado than San Francisco, as can be seen in the divisional/Wild Card probabilities. Simply put, the Rockies have some actual stars on the roster, which the Giants don’t, and that goes a long way when it comes to having positive (if still unlikely) outcomes. I have no real faith that the Rockies know how to find secondary talent that is above replacement level (Chris Owings! Matt Kemp!), but it’s at least possible.

With ZiPS out of the way, all that is left is for someone to officially say “Play ball!” Make sure to join us for our Opening Day chats this evening once they do.

We hoped you liked reading The Official ZiPS 2020 Projected Standings by Dan Szymborski!

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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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King Flops
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King Flops

1.5%?? So you are saying THERE IS A CHANCE? What would the Orioles playoff odds be if the playoffs are expanded to 16 teams?

WARrior
Member
Member
WARrior

They are, and now Trout has a real chance. If the ZiPS projections actually were borne out, LAA would tie the Red Sox for the 2d WC.