Earlier today, Baseball Prospectus released their PECOTA standings projections, and Cleveland’s can be interpreted pretty much any way you want.
PECOTA’s 1,000 simulations put Cleveland, on average, at 85.7 wins (.529 winning percentage) and second in the American League Central. Only the Twins are ahead of them, winning the division in 60.8% of simulations. Cleveland won in 25.1%, and Chicago trailed at 13.4%.
Here are the full AL Central win projections and odds to win the division, courtesy of Baseball Prospectus:
- Twins: 90.6 (60.8%)
- Cleveland: 85.7 (25.1%)
- White Sox: 83.1 (13.4%)
- Royals: 70.8 (0.6%)
- Tigers: 66.6 (0.1%)
As expected, the Royals and Tigers are in the basement of the division again, each knee-deep in rebuilds and with just a fraction of a percent chance of winning. The Royals did make a splash in the offseason by signing Carlos Santana, and for that, they are unlikely to finish dead last in the AL Central.
Just like with any projection system, there are some important caveats that should be considered before you start yelling at Baseball Prospectus on Twitter.
These are projections, not predictions. Projections use some kind of formula and/or simulations to determine their outcomes, and PECOTA is one of the most comprehensive available to the public. It is not an omnipotent being who hates your team in particular. Conversely, predictions are just some people saying what they think will happen.
Both have their purpose (for example, the White Sox are a highly volatile, unknown team and a smart prediction might end up being more accurate than a projection), but neither are infallible nor should they be taken as gospel. Unless you have a six-figure job based on how accurate these projections are, consider them nothing more than something else to talk about in the offseason.
PECOTA is also kind enough to provide mound graphs for their simulations to show where the results of the simulations landed. In Cleveland’s case, they had some higher results than Chicago, but they also have a greater chance of performing to the lower end of their results spectrum than the White Sox do.
That is to say, 2021 is going to be tight.
The Twins’ results are more tightly grouped around their average — meaning less variability — and even they are pretty close to Chicago and Cleveland.
Overall, the AL Central is one of the tighter divisions in baseball. Only the NL Central has a projected winner with a lower percentage chance of winning (the Brewers at 55%). The Twins’ 90.6 projected wins are also the second-lowest among division winners, ahead of the Brewers’ 88.8.
How you want to interpret Cleveland’s 85.7 projected wins depends on how rosy your outlook of 2022 and beyond is.
On the one hand, Cleveland traded away their star player, one of the shortstops in baseball, and will still come away in the Wild Card race and a shot (albeit a long one) at winning the division. This is undoubtedly a retooling year for the team and they may be successfully avoiding a drawn-out rebuilding over several years by constantly churning their roster. Their down year is not likely to be a total trainwreck — teams have rebuilt for years and still never reached 86 wins.
On the other hand, 86 wins would be their first time finishing under 90 since 2015, and it’s all their own doing. Despite having a pitching factory that is the envy of almost every other organization in baseball and two MVP candidates on the field, they have refused to spend and build up the offense to continue to challenge for a World Series. With a competitive payroll, this team should still be blowing out the AL Central, but instead, they are hoping to sneak into the playoffs and hot streak their way to a championship. It’s a disgrace on many levels.
Last year, PECOTA projected Cleveland to finish with 32 wins — just three wins off from their 35-25 final record — and the system was not off by more than eight wins for any team. It, along with just about everyone else, severely underestimated the Rays at a 32-28 record. They finished 40-20 and won the American League pennant.