A tweet from Major League Baseball alerted me to Fangraphs projected standings and playoff odds for the 2021 season. Things can and will change before the season begins because a lot is still going to take place before then – trades, signings, injuries – that will change the odds at least a little bit. But as of today, a day before pitchers and catchers are set to report for spring training in Goodyear for the Cincinnati Reds, the odds for Cincinnati to make the playoffs are sitting at 18.3%.
That’s roughly 1 out of 5. The projected won/loss record for the Reds is 78-84. That isn’t great. But if we want to try to find the bright side it’s that the team projected to win the division by Fangraphs model, it’s the Cardinals, at 82-80 (technically 81.5-80.5, but baseball doesn’t work that way). Even with a projected losing record, the division outright stinks and no one is seemingly out of the race except for the Pirates, who don’t actually seem to even be trying to pretend to be a big league team this year.
The National League Central is just different from the other divisions in baseball. The AL East, AL Central, NL East, and NL West all have two teams that have a projected playoff odds number of at least 54%. In the AL West the Astros are at 68.7% and the Angels are at 34.6%. In the NL Central the Cardinals are at 35.8%, the Brewers at 35.7%, the Cubs are at 22.4%, and the Reds are at 18.3%. From an odds perspective, the Central division is the most competitive division in baseball. It’s just that it’s because no team is actually good.
Of course, not every projection system has a similar outlook. While Fangraphs also has the Reds finishing in fourth place, like both Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA and Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections do, and they both also project 78 or 79 wins, the gap between Cincinnati and the team in first place is much larger. PECOTA has the Reds finishing 10 games back of the Brewers, while ZiPS currently has the Reds finishing seven games behind the Cardinals.
What sticks out a lot here is that the projection systems all seem to feel similarly about the Cincinnati Reds – they’re a slightly below .500 team as things stand right now. There’s some disagreements on what the individual players will perform like from projection system to projection system, but at the end the overall team just doesn’t stand out. The upside is there for quite a bit more than 78 wins, but it seems that to get there as a team that a lot of things will need to go right with both the pitching and the offense.