Ranking the 5 Best and Worst Lineups in MLB for 2021 Season

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterMarch 8, 2021

Ranking the 5 Best and Worst Lineups in MLB for 2021 Season

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Major League Baseball may have deadened the actual baseball for the 2021 season, but there will nonetheless be 30 lineups full of hitters trying to do as much damage as possible.

    Here's which lineups will...and won't.

    We've identified which five teams we think have the best starting lineups and the five that we think have the worst. We made our picks by considering both the quantity and the quality of good hitters in each lineup. In other words:

    • The more good hitters the team has, the better
    • The better those good hitters are, all the more better

    We're going to count them down nesting doll style as we work our way toward the absolute best and absolute worst lineups in MLB for the 2021 season.

5th-Worst: Miami Marlins

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Go-To Lineup

    • 1. LF Corey Dickerson (L)
    • 2. CF Starling Marte (R)
    • 3. 1B Jesus Aguilar (R)
    • 4. RF Adam Duvall (R)
    • 5. 3B Brian Anderson (R)
    • 6. SS Miguel Rojas (R)
    • 7. 2B Isan Diaz (L)
    • 8. C Jorge Alfaro (R)

    Though the Miami Marlins made the playoffs in 2020, it wasn't so much thanks to their offense.

    Said offense was below average in terms of both its 92 OPS+ and its 4.4 runs per game, and it was especially poor at getting the ball over the fence. Marlins hitters slugged only 60 home runs throughout the 60-game season, which ranked toward the bottom of the league.

    Having Starling Marte around for a full season will help, as will newcomer Adam Duvall. But perhaps not as much as the Marlins are hoping. At 32, Marte is likely past his prime years. And whatever power Duvall provides is going to come with a .300-ish on-base percentage.

    One positive that can be said of Miami's offense is that its only true holes are at second base and catcher. But while the other six are filled with capable major league hitters, none of them is going to scare any self-respecting pitcher.

5th-Best: New York Mets

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Go-To Lineup

    • 1. CF Brandon Nimmo (L)
    • 2. 2B Jeff McNeil (L)
    • 3. SS Francisco Lindor (S)
    • 4. RF Michael Conforto (L)
    • 5. 1B Pete Alonso (R)
    • 6. LF Dominic Smith (L)
    • 7. 3B J.D. Davis (R)
    • 8. C James McCann (R)

    By way of its 5.8 runs per game and 103 home runs, Atlanta had the best offense in the National League East last year. And now, pretty much all its key players are back for 2021.

    The catch, though, is that Atlanta's offense is a top-heavy affair with a subpar hitter at third base (Austin Riley) and a defense-first rookie in center field (Cristian Pache). So we can't help but favor the New York Mets, who have good hitters from top to bottom.

    The Mets actually led the majors with a 122 OPS+ in 2020. And while Robinson Cano (suspension) is now out of the mix, in is Francisco Lindor and James McCann. Especially if Lindor reverts to his 2017-2019 form—i.e., a 122 OPS+ and 34 homersthat's a net positive.

    With hitting coach Chili Davis back in the dugout, this should also be a bounce-back year for Pete Alonso. If so, even the dead ball might not keep him from his second 50-homer season in three years.

4th-Worst: Baltimore Orioles

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Go-To Lineup

    • 1. CF Austin Hays (R)
    • 2. LF DJ Stewart (L)
    • 3. RF Anthony Santander (S)
    • 4. DH Trey Mancini (R)
    • 5. C Chance Sisco (L)
    • 6. 1B Ryan Mountcastle (R)
    • 7. SS Freddy Galvis (S)
    • 8. 3B Rio Ruiz (L)
    • 9. 2B Yolmer Sanchez (S)

    The Baltimore Orioles actually managed a solid 104 OPS+ in 2020, but that was with significant contributions from Jose Iglesias (160 OPS+) and Renato Nunez (121 OPS+).

    Both are them are gone now, and in their respective places are Freddy Galvis and Yolmer Sanchez. Each boasts a career OPS+ in the low 80s (see here and here), so it's hard to envision any scenario in which that isn't a net loss for the O's.

    Fortunately, some of Baltimore's incumbents are solid. Ryan Mountcastle still has rookie eligibility after breaking through with a 140 OPS+ last year. Anthony Santander had a 138 OPS+ in his own right. Trey Mancini, who had a 135 OPS+ and 35 homers in 2019, is back after missing 2020 with colon cancer.

    Even still, there's just not a lot of upside around those three. It also bears mentioning that the O's are set to waste at-bats on Chris Davis, who's been the worst hitter in MLB since 2018.

4th-Best: Chicago White Sox

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    Eric Risberg/Associated Press

    Go-To Lineup

    • 1. SS Tim Anderson (R)
    • 2. RF Adam Eaton (L)
    • 3. C Yasmani Grandal (S)
    • 4. 1B Jose Abreu (R)
    • 5. LF Eloy Jimenez (R)
    • 6. 3B Yoan Moncada (S)
    • 7. CF Luis Robert (R)
    • 8. DH Zack Collins (L)
    • 9. 2B Nick Madrigal (R)

    We went back and forth on whether to hand this spot to the Chicago White Sox or the Toronto Blue Jays, both of whom have lineups anchored by established veterans and up-and-coming youngsters.

    But ultimately, it was hard to deny the White Sox after they led the American League with 96 home runs and scored 5.1 runs per game in 2020. Doing the bulk of that damage were eventual AL MVP Jose Abreu, Tim Anderson and Eloy Jimenez, who had a .312/.354/.570 batting line and 43 homers between them.

    The White Sox also upgraded in switching out Nomar Mazara for Adam Eaton, and both Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert will have 30-30 potential if they stay healthy and consistent in 2021.

    Want still more upside? Very well. In Nick Madrigal, the White Sox likely have a future batting champion set to bat ninth. And while Zack Collins is their DH for now, top prospect Andrew Vaughn clearly wants that job.

3rd-Worst: Texas Rangers

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Go-To Lineup

    • 1. CF Leody Taveras (S)
    • 2. SS Isiah Kiner-Falefa (R)
    • 3. DH Willie Calhoun (L)
    • 4. RF Joey Gallo (R)
    • 5. 2B Nick Solak (R)
    • 6. 1B Nate Lowe (L)
    • 7. LF David Dahl (L)
    • 8. C Jose Trevino (R)
    • 9. 3B Rougned Odor (L)

    The Texas Rangers offense was very bad last year. As in, second-to-last in both runs per game and OPS+ bad. Yeah, that bad.

    Granted, there are some reasons to hope for better things from Texas' offense in 2021.

    The list begins with Joey Gallo, who was a 40-homer slugger in 2017 and 2018 and an elite hitter in limited action in 2019. The Rangers also picked up a major wild card when they traded for Khris Davis, who was also a 40-homer guy with the Oakland Athletics in 2016 and 2018.

    But while Willie Calhoun, David Dahl and Nate Lowe also have upside in their own right, there's ultimately no ignoring that none of the Rangers' key hitters had a good year in 2020. That's to say that underneath the club's high offensive ceiling is a very, very low offensive floor.

3rd-Best: San Diego Padres

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Go-To Lineup

    • 1. CF Trent Grisham (L)
    • 2. SS Fernando Tatis Jr. (R)
    • 3. 3B Manny Machado (R)
    • 4. 1B Eric Hosmer (L)
    • 5. LF Tommy Pham (R)
    • 6. RF Wil Myers (R)
    • 7. 2B Jake Cronenworth (L)
    • 8. C Austin Nola (R)

    With newcomers Ha-Seong Kim and Victor Caratini set to come off the bench in 2021, the San Diego Padres are a true rarity: a team whose lineup looks exactly the same now as it did at the end of last season.

    Fortunately for them, this is not a bad thing.

    In Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado, San Diego's lineup revolves around a tandem that went off for a .290/.368/.576 line and 33 home runs in 2020. Wil Myers, Trent Grisham, Eric Hosmer, Jake Cronenworth and Austin Nola also had good seasons, as each topped a 120 OPS+.

    Because a healthy Tommy Pham is a 20-20 candidate, the Padres offense should be even better in 2021 than it was in 2020. Which would be pretty good, considering that last year's unit ranked third in both OPS+ and runs per game.

2nd-Worst: Colorado Rockies

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Go-To Lineup

    • 1. LF Raimel Tapia (L)
    • 2. SS Trevor Story (R)
    • 3. RF Charlie Blackmon (R)
    • 4. 3B Ryan McMahon (L)
    • 5. 1B C.J. Cron (R)
    • 6. CF Sam Hilliard (L)
    • 7. 2B Brendan Rodgers (R)
    • 8. C Elias Diaz (R)

    Colorado Rockies? More like the Colorado Rock-Bottom-ies.

    Though Coors Field helped the Rockies score a sturdy 4.6 runs per game in 2020, they did so with an 80 OPS+ that ranked third from the bottom in MLB.

    With Nolan Arenado, the Rockies would have had a fighting chance at a dramatic improvement in 2021. But he's in St. Louis now, which pretty much leaves Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon as Colorado's only good bets for above-average production in 2021.

    And as good as they are, it won't be enough. Even including newcomer C.J Cron—whose power numbers tend to come with low OBPs—the Rockies simply don't have good hitters penciled into the other six spots in their lineup. Coors Field or no Coors Field, their offense is in for a rough time in 2021.

2nd-Best: New York Yankees

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Go-To Lineup

    • 1. 2B DJ LeMahieu (R)
    • 2. RF Aaron Judge (R)
    • 3. CF Aaron Hicks (S)
    • 4. DH Giancarlo Stanton (R)
    • 5. 1B Luke Voit (R)
    • 6. SS Gleyber Torres (R)
    • 7. LF Clint Frazier (R)
    • 8. 3B Gio Urshela (R)
    • 9. C Gary Sanchez (R)

    The New York Yankees went through some hard times with their lineup in 2020. To wit, Gleyber Torres and Gary Sanchez both had bad years, and Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton played a total of 51 games.

    And yet, the Yankees still cranked out 94 home runs, 5.3 runs per game and a 117 OPS+. Each of those numbers qualified their offense as one of the five best in MLB.

    It's scary to think what the Yankees might do if the things that went wrong in 2020 go right in 2021. Torres and Sanchez have been star-caliber sluggers in the past, after all, and Judge and Stanton comprise the biggest, most powerful pair of teammates in the history of baseball.

    If those things don't go right, well, the players—namely DJ LeMahieu, Luke Voit, Aaron Hicks, Gio Urshela and breakout star Clint Frazier—who allowed the Yankees to salvage elite offensive numbers in 2020 are still around. 

Worst: Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Go-To Lineup

    • 1. 2B Adam Frazier (L)
    • 2. 3B Ke'Bryan Hayes (R)
    • 3. 1B Colin Moran (L)
    • 4. LF Bryan Reynolds (S)
    • 5. RF Gregory Polanco (L)
    • 6. CF Anthony Alford (R)
    • 7. C Jacob Stallings (R)
    • 8. SS Kevin Newman (R)

    Here's how bad the Pittsburgh Pirates offense was in 2020: It ranked dead-last in MLB in on-base and slugging percentage, OPS+ and runs per game.

    After a year like that, maybe the only way to go is up?

    The Pirates will have Ke'Bryan Hayes, who's looking to build on the stellar .376/.442/.682 line that he posted last September. This could also be a bounce-back year for Bryan Reynolds, who was a Rookie of the Year contender in 2019, and Gregory Polanco, who's pretty good when he can stay healthy.

    But while we'll take the bet on Hayes, it's not so easy to be confident in Reynolds, Polanco and, well, everyone else Pittsburgh is slated to rely on in 2021. Even if this offense does improve, it might still be the worst of them all.

Best: Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Go-To Lineup

    • 1. RF Mookie Betts (R)
    • 2. SS Corey Seager (L)
    • 3. 3B Justin Turner (R)
    • 4. CF Cody Bellinger (L)
    • 5. C Will Smith (R)
    • 6. 1B Max Muncy (L)
    • 7. LF AJ Pollock (R)
    • 8. 2B Chris Taylor (R)

    The Los Angeles Dodgers offense was the driving force behind the club's 43-17 record and World Series championship in 2020. It led the majors with 118 home runs and 349 total runs.

    Mookie Betts and Corey Seager should keep raking after teaming up for a .299/.362/.573 line and 31 home runs last year. The Dodgers can also rest easy with Justin Turner, Will Smith, AJ Pollock and Chris Taylor after each did better than a 125 OPS+ in 2020.

    The scariest part, though, is what will happen if Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy shake off their 2020 struggles and hit more like they did in 2019. All they did that year was combine for a .279/.391/.576 line and 82 homers.

    In short, the gang's all back and possibly ready for even better things in 2021.

         

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.