• Michael Ruscoe

My Brain vs. a Computer: The 2021 MLB Predictions

Spoiler Alert: In a shocking move, I pick the Mets

I can't count how many movies feature super-computers destroying mankind. Why in God's name would we let them predict our baseball divisional races?



In one corner, you have the Major League Baseball PECOTA Projections, a complex algorithm that looks at the depth charts of all 30 teams, projects the playing time and statistics for each player, and then simulates the season and comes up with the win totals and the projected standings for each division.


And in the other corner, you have…my brain.


Listen, I live with my brain every day, and I’m telling you right now to go with the algorithm. But, for the sake of argument (and let’s face it, major league baseball has survived for 152 years on the backs of good arguments), here’s what my brain has to say about the PECOTA Projections and which team might be standing atop each division when the regular season ends on October 3:


AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST:

PECOTA Projection: New York Yankees, 97-55 (81% odds to win the division)

MY BRAIN: Probably the Yankees, but don’t sleep on the Toronto Blue Jays.


The Yankees are loaded (and in other news, water is wet). You don’t need the PECOTA algorithm or my brain to tell you that. But it’s not just my healthy, all-American hatred of the Yankees that gives me pause in awarding them the division crown in March. It’s their pitching staff. Besides Gerrit Cole, it seems to be relying on too many high-upside question marks to award it 97 wins before the season even starts. (Corey Kluber is a long hike from his glory days, and Jameson Taillon could be a stud…or not.)


The Blue Jays, on the other hand, have just as many questions in their rotation to go with their hungry young superstars-in-the-making, many of whom I have a soft spot for, having watched them come up through Double-A ball. (Remind me to tell you sometime about the Vladdy Guererro Jr. foul ball that landed in my son’s vanilla chai and blasted it to smithereens on a freezing cold Opening Day.) Yeah, the Yankees will probably take the division (and in other news, the sky is blue). But the team that will push them—and possibly overtake them—is Toronto. (Sorry, Tampa Bay. You’ll have to settle for the NFL and NHL titles.)



AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL:

PECOTA Projection: Minnesota Twins, 91-71 (61% odds to win the division)

MY BRAIN: Chicago White Sox


I personally don’t have a dog in this division’s fight, but I always find something romantic about the White Sox. They’re the red-headed (or in this case, white-headed?) stepchild of a city’s more famous team (I can relate), they’ve had some of the handsomest and some of the funkiest uniforms in baseball history, and they had a riot on their field after blowing up a bunch of disco records back in the ’70s. Unless you’re a Cubs fan, how do you not just admire the White Sox in some deep recess of your brain?


Where were you during the Great Disco Demolition Night Riots of 1979?


And this year, there’s a lot more to like about the team. With Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, and Lance Lynn fronting a rotation backed up with a bullpen headed by Liam Hendriks and a lineup featuring Jose Abreu, Tim Anderson, Yoán Moncada, Elroy Jiménez, and Yasmani Grandal (all led by returning manager and Hall of Famer Tony Larussa), this is going to be a fun team to watch. PECOTA may pick the Twins, but my gut thinks that the Southsiders won’t be singing the blues come October. (Because...you know...they have a lot of blues on the south side of Chicago? Oh, never mind.)



AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST:

PECOTA Projection: Houston Astros, 93-69 (72% odds to win the division)

MY BRAIN: Yeah, probably. Dammit.


One of the many things that the 2020 pandemic took away from me was the opportunity to boo the Astros in person for their role in the cheating scandal that exploded the year before (and this is coming from someone who’s spent many years rooting for the New England Patriots, so you know the Astros scandal was bad). Still, I have to admit, this is a pretty good team, even when they’re not banging on garbage cans to tip off pitches to their hitters, and the rest of the division is regrettably weak. We can cross our fingers for the Angels to pull off some sort of heavenly miracle, but unless it happens, look for the Astros to finish atop the division once more.




NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST:

PECOTA Projection: New York Mets, 96-66 (77% odds to win the division)

MY BRAIN: Yup.


Full disclosure: I’m a Mets fan. A BIG Mets fan. I pick them to win the division every year, the same way I pick Santa Claus to come down my chimney every Christmas Eve: on faith alone. (I should mention that I live in an apartment, and I don’t even have a chimney.)


But this year, I’m picking the Mets, and I’m serious about it. They actually have a team this year. A REALLY good team, led by a great starting rotation that is itself fronted by the best pitcher on the planet in Jacob deGrom—and by June, that rotation will see the return of Carlos Carrasco and Noah Syndergaard. Those arms, backed up with potent offense from Francisco Lindor, Pete Alonso, Michael Conforto, et. al., will carry the Amazin’s to the division title and deliver me a nice, shiny, early Christmas present come October.


Behold the greatness that is Jacob deGrom.



NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL:

PECOTA Projection: Milwaukee Brewers, 89-73 (55% odds to win the division)

MY BRAIN: Honestly, who cares?


Not that I don’t like any of these teams. The Cubs and the Cardinals are as awesome a rivalry as there is in sports, and the Brewers…well, the Brewers have racing sausages. Who doesn’t love sausages? But let’s face it, in 2021, the NL Central is baseball’s most lackluster division. Sure, once the post-season begins, anything can happen, but until then, I’m not really interested.


"And in the categories of Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress...nobody gives a damn." One of the all-time great SNL memes.



NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

PECOTA Projection: Los Angeles Dodgers, 101-59, (78% odds to win the division)

MY BRAIN: San Diego Padres (because why not?)


OK, now we get to the meat of it. If I were a baseball fan living in Southern California, I’d be looking forward to a REALLY fun summer. How much does PECOTA love the Dodgers and the Padres right now? According to the almighty algorithm, the ex-Bums have a 78 percent chance of taking the division, while the Padres have a 21 percent chance. The Diamondbacks, Giants, and Rockies each have…zero percent. If the game were played on paper, they don’t even need to suit up. Sorry, dudes.


The defending champion Dodgers are the Cadillac of baseball right now, a truly great team, and for that reason, I’m going to pick . . . the Padres, as delightfully obnoxious and ridiculously talented a group of ballplayers as has been assembled for the 2021 campaign. (Give ’em Dwight Gooden in his prime, and they could be the ’86 Mets.) I’m an east-coaster, but if it didn’t mean giving up my own team, I would surrender my collection of autographed baseballs to live, say, in Laguna Beach for the summer (roughly halfway between LA and SD) and really take a deep dive into both of these clubs. The Dodgers and the Padres each seem to have more superstars than there are grains of sand on the beach, not to mention enough attitude to fill the Pacific Ocean. How can you not love watching them play—particularly against each other—as they fight for the division crown? Honestly, pick either one of them and it’s a solid bet. In fact, the Dodgers are the Vegas favorites to win the World Series (while the Colorado Rockies are anywhere from 100- to 150-1 longshots if you want to throw away your money).


The greatest head-to-head rivalry in sports is currently located on the I-5 in Southern California. Please enjoy.



Of course, in the end, both PECOTA’s and my predictions mean absolutely nothing—it’s the games that actually count. And there’s never been a time to be more grateful for the return of what should be a full season of baseball, the greatest, most beautiful, most divine sport ever devised by humankind. So, enjoy your summer. Wash your hands (no spitballs), social distance (no high fives), wear your masks (even if you’re not the ump), and let’s PLAY BALL!




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