They don’t play the games on a spreadsheet, but at least one Excel file expects a great pennant run from New York.
Both the Yankees and Mets were projected by Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA as the runaway favorites for their respective divisions. The famed MLB forecast system sees the Bronx Bombers rebounding from an uneven 2020 with a 97-win campaign — best in the American League and 11 games better than the reigning pennant-winning Rays.
The Amazins’ big moves have them cruising to an East title with 95 wins, at least according to PECOTA.
PECOTA was created in 2003 and uses historical performance, age, injuries, and historical comparisons to forecast the results of individual players and teams. (Disclosure: this reporter host a podcast with Baseball Prospectus, which created and maintains the tool.)
With a few days before pitchers and catchers report, the Yankees had a fairly quiet offseason, with star infielder DJ LeMahieu’s likely to be the most consequential move. LeMahieu, who has been the Yanks’ best position player since joining them before the 2019 season, is projected to hit 22% better than the league average according to Baseball Prospectus DRC+, and have the second-best Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) at 4.6, just a shade under Aaron Judge.
The system predicts bouncebacks from a number of Yankees beset by injuries and ineffectiveness, including a 28-home run campaign from Giancarlo Stanton across 523 plate appearances — which would be his largest total since 2018, his first year in pinstripes.
Gary Sanchez, a two-time All-Star that has been miserable at the plate and the field in two of the last three seasons, is expected to have post a .756 OPS, which the system believes will be 2% above average in 2021 when accounting for Yankee Stadium’s friendly dimensions and the strength of his competition. Though that would be a modest total compared to his best seasons — Sanchez is a career .823 OPS hitter — it would nonetheless be a huge boost from his minuscule .618 OPS during the pandemic-shortened 2020.
Meanwhile, though the Yankees have made some major shakeups in their rotation, PECOTA is a big believer in the new-look staff. All of their projected starters, save for top-prospect Clarke Schmidt, are projected to perform above the league average according to Deserved Runs Average (DRA-). Of note are Corey Kluber (14% above average) and Jameson Tallion (16%), two arms added to the Yankees’ staff despite coming off serious injury — PECOTA sees both as meaningful contributors to the middle of the rotation.
PECOTA also values the Mets’ much busier offseason, highlighted by the Francisco Lindor (.827 OPS, 3.7 WARP) addition to the infield. All eight of the Mets’ regulars are expected to at least hold their own, with Pete Alonso leading the lineup with a 40-home run resurgence, reaffirming his place among the league’s best first baseman.
On the pitching end, the same formulas see Jacob deGrom being, well, Jacob deGrom (2.39 ERA) but this time, the two-time Cy-winner is backed by more than enough pitching from his rotation mates. Carlos Carrasco (3.37 ERA), Marcus Stroman (4.16 ERA) and Noah Syndergaard (3.26 ERA over 97 innings once he returns from Tommy John elbow surgery) look to form a fearsome foursome that can carry the team to their first division title since their pennant-winning 2015 season, with PECOTA predicting 10 games of distance between them and the second-place Nationals.
Where are the Braves, you may ask? PECOTA isn’t as high on their division title streak, pushing the eventual champion Dodgers to a seven-game nailbiter, or adding potential-ace Charlie Morton to their young and talented rotation. Again: that’s why they play the games.
If the math is right, the Mets should have their hands full in October with the Dodgers and Padres — both teams that added recent Cy-winners in Trevor Bauer and Blake Snell, respectively — projected to have same or better finishes. At 103 wins, the reigning champs hold the only 100-win PECOTA projection in the league, a testament to the talent Los Angeles has accumulated even when analyzed by a conservative-leaning projection system.
But even without an expanded postseason seeding, the Amazins’ have as good a chance as anyone to being in it to the very end.