The annual PECOTA projections from Baseball Prospectus have been released for the 2021 MLB season, and they are very high on the New York Yankees.
The projections have the Yankees at 97.4 wins, the highest projection in the AL, and the second-highest in baseball, only behind the Los Angeles Dodgers at 102.9 projected wins.
New York is also projected to have an 81.1% chance of winning the American League East.
The Tampa Bay Rays are projected to finish second with 86.4 wins, with Toronto, Boston, and Baltimore following in that order.
Many have questioned whether the Yankees got better this offseason and might question the accuracy of these projections. What was my first reaction when I saw them? It absolutely makes sense that the Yankees are projected to perform very well.
It is no secret that the key to the Yankees season is health.
With almost absolute certainty, there will be injuries to key contributors to the team this season; the problem is that there is no way to project injuries reliably. Along with that, even if the Yankees have some injuries, there is no guarantee that they will be as bad as they have been in the past two years. I get that Yankees fans are a bit beaten down and have been trained to expect the worst when it comes to injuries, but the Yankees have dealt with injuries at a historical level the past two years.
Could it happen again? Sure, but maybe there will be fewer injuries after strength and conditioning coach Eric Cressey has had a full offseason to implement his program.
Reports have come out that Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton have lifted fewer weights and have done more yoga this offseason. I will not pretend like I know anything about what will lead to better durability during the season, but clearly, after the last couple of seasons, they need to try something different.
So to the question of whether or not the Yankees have improved on their team that went 33-27 this offseason, on paper, you could argue they might have even got worse, but when you look at the 2020 team on paper, you have to acknowledge how much time nearly every impact player on the team missed.
No one knows how much time any of these players will miss in 2021, but no one should pretend to know.
Tampa Bay Rays
Regarding the rest of the PECOTA projections, it is a surprise to me that the Rays are projected to win less than 90 games. I think they definitely got worse as a team due to Blake Snell and Charlie Morton’s departures, but I think their team is tougher to project because they do unconventional things. It is easy to project who the Yankees will give most of their playing time to, but the Rays seem always to have something up their sleeve.
Tampa Bay churns out pitching like no one else in the league, and it seems like they always have young talented arms coming up ready to pitch for them. So while I think the Yankees are clearly the better team, I would not be surprised if the Rays make the division fight tough again this year.
Chicago White Sox
Another notable projection is the Chicago White Sox in third in the American League Central. Many view the White Sox as the Yankees’ main competition in the American League to get to the World Series. While I think people are sleeping on the Twins a bit and that the White Sox are still an unproven team, I am still surprised to see them projected to win less than 85 games.
While the White Sox were a solid team last year, they played strictly central division teams. Those two divisions are regarded as the two worst in baseball, while the Yankees played a gauntlet of east division teams. Even the Orioles were not an easy win last year. With the return to a 162 game season, the White Sox will play some better teams than they did last year, while the Yankees will have more games against weaker opponents from other divisions.
It goes without saying that these projections are all just a computer model, and the games are played on the field, but they are interesting to look at.
I also think they are a reminder of how much talent the Yankees have to some disappointed with the offseason moves.
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