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FanGraphs 2021 Staff Predictions | FanGraphs Baseball

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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

TeamDivisionWild Card 1Wild Card 2Playoffs
Los Angeles153523

Staff Predictions: AL Central

TeamDivisionWild Card 1Wild Card 2Playoffs
Kansas City0011

Staff Predictions: AL East

TeamDivisionWild Card 1Wild Card 2Playoffs
New York316138
Tampa Bay36514

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

TeamDivisionWild Card 1Wild Card 2Playoffs
Los Angeles317038
San Diego730138
San Francisco0000

Staff Predictions: NL Central

TeamDivisionWild Card 1Wild Card 2Playoffs
St. Louis150015

Staff Predictions: NL East

TeamDivisionWild Card 1Wild Card 2Playoffs
New York1501732

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.

Staff Predictions: AL MVP

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.

Staff Predictions: NL MVP

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.

Staff Predictions: NL Cy Young

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.

Staff Predictions: NL ROY

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 NameWestCentralEastWC1WC2MVPCy YoungROY
Alex ChamberlainHOUMINNYYCHWTORTroutRyuArozarena
Alex SontyLAACHWNYYHOUMINTroutBieberVaughn
Ariel CohenHOUCHWNYYMINTORDeversGlasnowDalbec
Ashley MacLennanLAACHWTBRNYYMINTroutGiolitoArozarena
Ben ClemensHOUCHWNYYBOSMINBregmanGiolitoVaughn
Brendan GawlowskiLAACLENYYTORCHWJ RamírezColeArozarena
Carmen CiardielloHOUMINNYYLAACLETroutColeVaughn
Chad YoungHOUMINNYYLAATBRStantonMaedaTrammell
Chet GutweinLAACHWNYYHOUMINOhtaniRyuSkubal
Dan SzymborskiHOUMINNYYTBRCHWTroutGiolitoArozarena
Dave McDonaldHOUCHWNYYTBRMINArozarenaBieberArozarena
David LaurilaLAACHWNYYMINTBROhtaniMaedaDalbec
Devan FinkLAACHWNYYMINHOUOhtaniGiolitoKelenic
Dylan HigginsLAAMINTORNYYCHWOhtaniBieberVaughn
Eric LongenhagenOAKCHWTBRNYYLAATroutLuzardoArozarena
Jake MailhotLAAMINNYYHOUCHWTroutColeKelenic
Jason MartinezLAAMINTORNYYCHWRendonColeArozarena
Jay JaffeLAACHWNYYTORMINTroutColeArozarena
Jeff ZimmermanHOUCHWTBRMINNYYStantonGreinkeKirilloff
Jeffrey BelloneLAACHWNYYHOUTORTroutColeKelenic
Jon BeckerHOUMINNYYTORLAATroutGiolitoDalbec
Jon TaylerHOUMINNYYTBRCHWTroutColeArozarena
Justin ChoiHOUMINNYYTBRLAARendonBieberVaughn
Justin MasonLAACHWNYYMINTBRTroutColeKelenic
Justin VibberLAACHWNYYHOUMINTroutBieberKirilloff
Kevin GoldsteinHOUCHWNYYMINTORTroutColeArozarena
Lucas KellyHOUCHWNYYTORTBROhtaniGiolitoArozarena
Luke HooperHOUMINNYYLAACHWTroutGiolitoKelenic
Matthew RobersonHOUCHWNYYMINKCRTroutGlasnowMadrigal
Meg RowleyLAAMINNYYTORCHWTroutGiolitoArozarena
Mike PodhorzerHOUMINNYYTORLAATroutBieberArozarena
Nicklaus GautLAAMINTORNYYCHWTroutBieberArozarena
Owen McGrattanHOUCHWNYYTBROAKTroutColeArozarena
Paul SporerHOUMINNYYTORLAAOhtaniLynnArozarena
RJ McDanielHOUCHWNYYMINTOROhtaniGiolitoArozarena
Sara SanchezHOUMINTORNYYCHWTroutGiolitoFranco
Tess TaruskinHOUMINNYYTBRCHWTroutColeKelenic
Tony WolfeHOUMINNYYTORTBRSpringerMaedaArozarena

2021 Staff Predictions: National League

Author NameWestCentralEastWC1WC2MVPCy YoungROY
Alex ChamberlainLADMILNYMSDPATLSotodeGromKim
Alex SontyLADMILATLSDPWSNBettsdeGromS. Sánchez
Ariel CohenLADMILNYMSDPATLSotodeGromHayes
Ashley MacLennanLADSTLATLSDPNYMTatisdeGromHayes
Ben ClemensLADSTLNYMSDPATLBettsDarvishCarlson
Brendan GawlowskiLADCINATLSDPPHITatisDarvishStephenson
Carmen CiardielloLADSTLATLSDPNYMSotoFlahertyHayes
Chad YoungLADSTLATLSDPNYMBellingerdeGromAnderson
Chet GutweinLADMILATLSDPNYMAcuñadeGromHayes
Dan SzymborskiLADSTLNYMSDPATLSotodeGromS. Sánchez
Dave McDonaldLADMILATLSDPNYMSotoBauerHayes
David LaurilaSDPSTLATLLADMIAAcuñadeGromHayes
Devan FinkLADMILPHISDPNYMHarperdeGromS. Sánchez
Dylan HigginsSDPMILNYMLADATLBettsdeGromHayes
Eric LongenhagenLADSTLATLSDPNYMT. TurnerStromanHayes
Jake MailhotLADSTLATLSDPNYMAcuñaDarvishHayes
Jason MartinezSDPSTLNYMLADATLArenadodeGromHayes
Jay JaffeLADMILNYMSDPATLAcuñadeGromAnderson
Jeff ZimmermanLADCHCPHIATLSDPSeagerdeGromAnderson
Jeffrey BelloneLADSTLNYMSDPATLAcuñadeGromS. Sánchez
Jon BeckerLADMILNYMSDPATLSotodeGromHayes
Jon TaylerLADSTLATLSDPNYMAcuñadeGromHayes
Justin ChoiLADMILNYMSDPATLTatisNolaAnderson
Justin MasonLADMILWSNSDPATLSotodeGromHayes
Justin VibberSDPMILNYMLADWSNSotoBauerAnderson
Kevin GoldsteinLADMILATLSDPNYMSotodeGromAnderson
Lucas KellyLADSTLNYMSDPATLTatisdeGromPache
Luke HooperLADMILWSNSDPATLSotoWoodruffHayes
Matthew RobersonSDPSTLNYMLADATLTatisdeGromS. Sánchez
Meg RowleyLADMILATLSDPNYMTatisdeGromHayes
Mike PodhorzerLADMILNYMSDPATLSotodeGromHayes
Nicklaus GautLADCINWSNSDPNYMSotodeGromHayes
Owen McGrattanLADMILATLSDPNYMBettsdeGromCarlson
Paul SporerLADMILWSNSDPNYMSotoBuehlerCarlson
Sara SanchezSDPCHCATLLADNYMSotoHendricksS. Sánchez
Tess TaruskinLADMILATLSDPNYMAcuñadeGromHayes
Tony WolfeSDPSTLATLLADNYMSotodeGromHayes

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