Power Ranking Every MLB Division for 2021 Season
Welcome to that wondrous time of year when pitchers and catchers start reporting for spring training, thereby marking the (albeit unofficial) end of the Major League Baseball offseason.
Because every division got shaken up during the winter, we thought we'd take a fresh look at where all six of them stand going into the 2021 season.
We looked to Baseball Prospectus' and FanGraphs' projections for guidance, yet we also consulted our own sense of which teams are or aren't well-equipped for the coming campaign. In any case, we sought to count down to the division with the best balance of superteams and secondary contenders.
Let's get to it, starting with the obvious dregs of the National League.
6. National League Central
PECOTA W-L%: .488
FanGraphs W-L%: .467
Though all but one of its five members made the playoffs in 2020, the sorry state of the NL Central at the outset of 2021 is hard to deny.
Despite the St. Louis Cardinals' blockbuster trade for Nolan Arenado, the NL Central's winter was more so defined by an exodus of talent. Yu Darvish, Raisel Iglesias and others got traded, while reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer headlined a long list of departing free agents.
Given that they suggest that not a single team will finish above .500, FanGraphs' projections encapsulate the worst-case scenario for the NL Central in 2021. And it might come true, as even the "good" teams in the division are littered with red flags.
Because both the Milwaukee Brewers (Christian Yelich and Keston Hiura) and Chicago Cubs (Kris Bryant and Javier Baez) have several bounce-back candidates, either could beat expectations. If Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt live up to their billing as a dynamic duo, so could the Cardinals.
It's harder to have faith in the Bauer-less Cincinnati Reds, and the Pittsburgh Pirates look even more downtrodden after last year's MLB-worst 19-41 record. And no matter how the Brewers, Cubs and Cardinals fare, not one of the three looks like a realistic World Series contender.
5. American League West
PECOTA W-L%: .491
FanGraphs W-L%: .499
In the Houston Astros and Oakland Athletics, the American League West has recently housed two of the Junior Circuit's top powerhouses.
Alas, both clubs are diminished. The Astros (George Springer) and A's (Marcus Semien and Liam Hendriks) both lost key players to free agency, and the former will remain without veteran ace Justin Verlander as he recovers from Tommy John surgery in 2021.
On the plus side, the Astros will have Yordan Alvarez back from knee troubles and can expect better things from Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa after they struggled in 2020. The A's also have bounce-back candidates in Matt Chapman and Matt Olson, and at least one major breakout candidate in left-hander Jesus Luzardo.
The Los Angeles Angels, meanwhile, still have Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and other core members of an offense that was elite down the stretch of 2020. They also have new toys on the mound, including Iglesias, Jose Quintana and Alex Cobb.
Whether the Astros, A's or Angels are World Series material is debatable, but each is a safe bet for a winning record in 2021. The Seattle Mariners might at least salvage a .500 mark if their youth movement continues to progress, which would leave the woeful Texas Rangers as the AL West's lone afterthought.
4. American League Central
PECOTA W-L%: .488
FanGraphs W-L%: .506
Clearly, Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs don't see eye-to-eye on the AL Central. That largely comes down to their disparate takes on the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland.
For our part, we're high on the White Sox. Reigning AL MVP Jose Abreu and other core members of an offense that blasted an AL-high 96 home runs in 2020 are back, and what was already a quality staff has a new ace (Lance Lynn) and closer (Hendriks).
Any club with those weapons has a shot at the World Series, though the road to the AL Central title arguably still goes through the Minnesota Twins. Though the two-time defending division champs didn't have a great winter, they at least brought back slugger Nelson Cruz and made some savvy moves to shore up their depth.
As for Cleveland, well, what was already a lousy offense is absent Francisco Lindor. Given that the club also parted ways with ace Carlos Carrasco and closer Brad Hand, it looks doomed to be an also-ran behind Chicago and Minnesota.
Though the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers are long-shot contenders, neither team is completely without merit. Mike Minor is just one of several low-risk, high-reward newcomers on the Royals, while the Tigers are sitting on a goldmine of young talent.
3. American League East
PECOTA W-L%: .514
FanGraphs W-L%: .520
Perhaps the division's lofty projections overstate its overall quality, yet there's little doubt that the battle for the AL East title will be a wild one in 2021.
The New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays have questions in their rotations after their respective aces, Gerrit Cole and Hyun Jin Ryu. Yet after the former re-signed DJ LeMahieu and the latter inked Springer and Semien, both clubs should bury their respective issues under mountains of runs.
Are the Tampa Bay Rays as good as last year's pennant-winning team? Considering that aces Blake Snell and Charlie Morton are gone, probably not. Yet they have a way with pitchers, and nobody should underestimate what a full year of Randy Arozarena could mean for their offense.
Following their last-place finish in 2020, the Boston Red Sox arguably played it too safe this winter. But they're definitely deeper, and that may be good enough to make a playoff run if Eduardo Rodriguez stays healthy and Rafael Devers and J.D. Martinez recapture their 2019 form.
With a youth movement taking shape, even the Baltimore Orioles aren't hopeless. So even sans an ironclad superteam, the lack of a weak link puts the AL East among the league's top divisions.
2. National League West
PECOTA W-L%: .509
FanGraphs W-L%: .500
The NL West contained the two best teams in the Senior Circuit last season, yet both are looking better this year.
The San Diego Padres are arguably the offseason's biggest winners after adding three aces in Snell, Darvish and Joe Musgrove, plus a variety of depth pieces highlighted by Korean star Ha-Seong Kim. Otherwise, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado still lead one of the league's top offenses.
It was the Los Angeles Dodgers, however, who went an MLB-best 43-17 and won the World Series last season. They've since undergone changes, but they retained Justin Turner for their Mookie Betts-led offense and scored Trevor Bauer for their already dynamite pitching staff.
Though neither figures to challenge the Dodgers or Padres, either the Arizona Diamondbacks or San Francisco Giants could pursue a wild-card berth in 2021. Ketel Marte is but one of many bounce-back candidates on the former, while the latter has a sneaky-good offense and a replenished pitching staff.
Even with Arenado, the Colorado Rockies were slated to be the ugly duckling of the NL West. Now that he's gone, their chances of competing in 2021 are thinner than the Rocky Mountain air.
1. National League East
PECOTA W-L%: .510
FanGraphs W-L%: .510
Regarding the NL East, perhaps the big question is whether the New York Mets are for real.
Our vote is yes. Their offense led MLB in OPS+ last year, and it added Lindor and James McCann. Their pitching staff also has Carrasco and Marcus Stroman behind Jacob deGrom, plus three of last year's nine most strikeout-happy relief pitchers in Trevor May, Edwin Diaz and Miguel Castro.
Yet the Mets will have their hands full with Atlanta. Marcell Ozuna is back in an offense that ranked second in home runs last year, and what was one of MLB's worst rotations is looking good with Max Fried, Ian Anderson, Charlie Morton, Drew Smyly and a recovering Mike Soroka (torn Achilles) in place.
At the least, the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies will be wild-card contenders for 2021. The Nats have baseball's best hitter in Juan Soto, plus a handful of new toys. The Phillies retained J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius and have reformed a bullpen that posted an MLB-worst 7.06 ERA in 2020.
Though the Miami Marlins are projected to bring up the rear, that was also the case last year before they made the playoffs on the strength of their young pitching. They have a shot at competing again, in which case the NL East might not have even one losing team in 2021.