2021 Season Preview: Part I

March 30th, 2021 by Kevin

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Welcome to the 2021 DTBL season preview series.  As customary, I will be previewing each of the ten teams using a projection system to spit out some numbers that I will use to predict the final standings for the league and help identify the general strengths and weaknesses of each team.  What might be a little different this year is the amount of credence one should put in these numbers.  There is no precedent for predicting future outcomes following a 60 game season played during a global pandemic.  But we’ll try to do that anyway.

Once again, I am using Fangraphs’ Depth Chart projections, which are a combination of the ZiPS and Steamer projection systems, adjusted to anticipated playing time.  I grabbed these projections just prior to the draft.  So injury and position battle news that has occurred in the past three weeks are not reflected in these numbers.  In the team write-ups, I will try to point out any significant changes to the projections for a team, but the overall numbers that you will see are based on the dataset I grabbed several weeks ago.  If you wish to see Fangraphs’ up-to-date player projections, you can find them here.

The team projections are made up of totals from all 28 players who were on each teams’ roster at the completion of the draft.  Those team totals are then adjusted to an expected 8,285 plate appearances and 1,220 innings pitched.  So this means that some players who may never see the active roster do affect these numbers.  I do it this way because I don’t want to make any assumptions about team’s active roster composition.  And depth does matter since no team has ever made it through a season only needing their original 23 guys.

Normally, I split this preview series into four parts.  However, as you will soon see, there are a weirdly large number of teams who are projected to finish tied in the standings and it didn’t make much sense to split those teams into separate sections.  So this first part will cover four teams, and will be followed by two more parts covering three teams each.  In this first part, we will cover the teams projected to finish in the bottom four spots in the standings:  one team in last place and, incredibly, three teams slated to tie for seventh place.  As you might expect, these projections show a fatal flaw in each team that is sinking their expected standings position.  Last year’s projections actually proved to be surprisingly accurate, correctly tabbing the top two teams, albeit in the wrong order.  But it was way off with the last place pick, which happens to be the same team again this year.  Here are the teams projected to finish in the bottom spots of the standings.


Ben’s Beanballers

Category – Projected Rank (2020 Rank)

  • Batting Average – 7th (1st)
  • Home Runs – 7th (3rd-T)
  • Runs Batted In – 7th (2nd)
  • Runs Scored – 8th (6th)
  • Stolen Bases – 2nd (7th)
  • Earned Run Average – 9th (6th)
  • WHIP Ratio – 9th (6th)
  • Wins – 10th (5th-T)
  • Saves – 9th (6th-T)
  • Strike Outs – 10th (8th)
  • Total Batting Points – 7th (3rd)
  • Total Pitching Points – 10th (7th)
  • Total Points – 10th (4th)


It is pretty amazing how similar the Beanballers 2020 and 2021 projections are, especially considering how wrong they proved to be a year ago.  They were picked to finish last with a below average offense.  Instead, they finished in fourth place with one of the best offenses in the league.  Can they repeat that again this year?  Certainly seems possible, if not probable.  They feature above average hitters at almost every position.  Trea Turner quietly had a huge 2020 season and had as strong a case as anybody to win the MVP award.  He’s projected to hit 25 home runs and steal 35 bases this year, making him one of the best all-around players in the league.  Bo Bichette gives the Beanballers two truly elite shortstops.  Nolan Arenado no longer calls Coors Park home, but he is moving into a pretty solid situation in St. Louis.  Luke Voit led the league in homers last year.  He will begin this season on the injured list, but should still be among the best power hitters in the league.  Should Yoan Moncada bounce back from a disappointing 2020 in which he was clearly compromised during his COVID-19 recovery, this will be an absolutely loaded infield.  The outfield looks pretty strong too, led by Marcell Ozuna and one of last season’s breakout stars, Teoscar Hernandez.  Maybe the biggest key for this team is for Victor Robles to take a step forward, as he has similar five category potential as his Nationals teammate Turner.  It would be pretty disappointing if the Beanballers finish seventh in batting points.  But the big obstacle to overcome will be some pretty dour pitching projections.  If you just look at the ’20 stats of their five projected Opening Day starting pitchers, things look pretty great.  Sandy Alcantara, Chris Bassitt, Zach Davies, Dustin May and Hyun-Jin Ryu all posted ERAs of 3.00 or lower.  But these projections seem to indicate that all five of them overachieved a year ago.  First round pick May is the wild card here, and the Beanballers got great news on him yesterday as he will open the season in the Dodgers rotation.  While the ERA and WHIP of the starters may take a step back, there is room for improvement in strikeouts.  And they hope to get the services of Noah Syndergaard back at some point this summer.  The bullpen has some upside, but Josh Hader is the only safe bet to accumulate a significant number of saves.  If the Beanballers starting pitchers can duplicate their ’20 seasons and the batters come close to their potential, they should easily exceed these low expectations.


Charlie’s Thunder Choppers

Category – Projected Rank (2020 Rank)

  • Batting Average – 4th (6th)
  • Home Runs – 10th (5th)
  • Runs Batted In – 10th (9th)
  • Runs Scored – 10th (9th)
  • Stolen Bases – 9th (8th-T)
  • Earned Run Average – 3rd (4th)
  • WHIP Ratio – 4th (2nd)
  • Wins – 9th (4th)
  • Saves – 5th (3rd-T)
  • Strike Outs - 2nd (3rd)
  • Total Batting Points – 10th (9th)
  • Total Pitching Points – 4th-T (3rd)
  • Total Points – 7th-T (8th)


Despite losing long time ace Chris Sale to Tommy John surgery, the Choppers maintained their status as having one of the best rotations in the league.  They will roll it back with the exact same group this year, headlined by Shane Bieber and Trevor Bauer who finished first and second in the Cy Young voting a year ago.  Brandon Woodruff is a pretty solid third fiddle as well.  Add in the return of Chris Sale in a few months and you should be looking at one of the best rotations in the league.  It is difficult to decipher what the Choppers might get out of the bullpen though.  Craig Kimbrel is the only certain closer, but he’s coming off two straight poor seasons.  Jordan Hicks and Emmanuel Clase have great arms, but neither pitched in 2020.  Overall, the Choppers should be among the leading teams in pitching points.  It’s with the bats that these projections don’t paint a rosy picture.  But I think it is worth pointing out that this methodology doesn’t favor teams with the Choppers current roster construction.  They have three catchers, giving that position a greater piece of the total offensive projection compared to most teams, diluting the overall numbers.  But even with that said, they don’t have any hitters with eye-popping projected numbers.  Pete Alonso is a good bet to be their top offensive producer.  Two other sluggers that are slated to be big contributors are Franmil Reyes and Joey Gallo.  Gallo is a polarizing player due to being a batting average drain, but he can carry a team in the power categories.  The Choppers used their first two draft picks on keystone corner youngsters Ke’Bryan Hayes and Alec Bohm.  Both could be a big part of an offensive resurgence for this team, should that come to be.  Following two straight seasons of disappointing production at the plate, the Choppers are hoping to end that streak this year.  If they do, the pitching staff will certainly be up to the task of making this a much better campaign for this franchise.


Kelly’s Cougars

Category – Projected Rank (2020 Rank)

  • Batting Average – 8th (3rd)
  • Home Runs – 9th (7th)
  • Runs Batted In – 8th (4th)
  • Runs Scored – 9th (2nd)
  • Stolen Bases – 8th (1st)
  • Earned Run Average – 6th (9th)
  • WHIP Ratio – 7th (8th)
  • Wins – 5th (7th)
  • Saves – 3rd (3rd-T)
  • Strike Outs - 3rd (7th)
  • Total Batting Points – 9th (2nd)
  • Total Pitching Points – 6th (8th-T)
  • Total Points – 7th-T (5th-T)


This seems like an extremely pessimistic forecast for a team that finished in the top half of the standings a year ago.  Particularly glaring is the projection of the Cougars having the second worst offense in the league following a year in which they were second best.  Granted, they spent most of their draft capital on pitchers, taking just two position players in the first seven rounds.  However, there was a good reason for that.  They had an outstanding offense a year ago.  Perhaps it is unsurprising that reigning co-MVP Jose Abreu is expected to take a step back.  But shortstops Trevor Story and Gleyber Torres are just starting to hit their primes.  The third base duo of Eugenio Suarez and Kris Bryan would seem to be strong bounceback candidates, at least in terms of batting average.  The outfield lacks superstars, but Anthony Santander was a nice addition to AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis and veterans Charlie Blackmon and Tommy Pham.  The Cougars feature a solid veteran catching combo of Salvador Perez and Yadier Molina.  Perhaps the Cougars will be penalized for not making major additions to the lineup, but this sure doesn’t look like one of the league’s worst offenses.  The pitching projections actually show some improvement.  First round pick Corbin Burnes joins Lucas Giolito, Blake Snell and Sonny Gray to make up a potentially outstanding rotation.  What was a major weakness for them last year now looks like a strength.  The bullpen is pretty solid as well.  But the third place ranking in saves may be a tad optimistic with Nick Anderson likely to miss several months.  Fortunately, they did add one of the best available closers in the draft in Ryan Pressly.  The Cougars success this season will probably ride on the offense being more similar to the ’20 squad than these numbers suggest.  An improved pitching staff could make them very dangerous if that happens.


Kat’s Komodos

Category – Projected Rank (2020 Rank)

  • Batting Average – 3rd (9th)
  • Home Runs – 6th (6th)
  • Runs Batted In – 4th (8th)
  • Runs Scored – 7th (8th)
  • Stolen Bases – 3rd (5th)
  • Earned Run Average – 10th (10th)
  • WHIP Ratio – 8th (10th)
  • Wins – 8th (10th)
  • Saves – 8th (9th)
  • Strike Outs – 9th (10th)
  • Total Batting Points – 3rd-T (8th)
  • Total Pitching Points – 9th (10th)
  • Total Points – 7th-T (10th)


While nobody is going to get too excited about a seventh place projected ranking, there are some very positive signs in these numbers for the Komodos.  The batting projections would mark significant improvement over last year’s squad and the pitching totals are up a little bit as well.  First overall draft pick Luis Robert was potentially the most impactful addition any team made this offseason.  He carries a 30 home run, 25 stolen base projection for this season.  But he’s not the only Komodos hitter with significant power and speed potential.  Jose Ramirez, Cody Bellinger and Starling Marte also fall into that category.  Ramirez finished second in the league in batting PAR in 2020 and is expected to finish in the top five again this season.  Another elite hitter for the Komodos is shortstop Corey Seager.  And then there are a couple of slugger, DH-types:  the ageless Nelson Cruz and last year’s first round pick Yordan Alvarez.  Alvarez could be a huge X-factor after missing almost the entirety of his DTBL rookie campaign due to injury.  Alvarez and Robert essentially give the Komodos two early first round additions to their lineup.  The pitching staff was a major problem last year, finishing in last place in four of the five pitching categories and only bettering one team in saves.  Walker Buehler remains the clear cut staff ace.  But he’s going to need a little more help from his friends this year.  Dylan Bundy is likely to be the next best holdover and Zach Plesac is the most compelling addition to the staff.  They will also feature a trio of crafty lefties:  Dallas Keuchel, Marco Gonzales and J.A. Happ.  Aroldis Chapman is the headliner of a much improved bullpen.  Greg Holland and Mark Melancon could be solid save accumulators and Devin Williams and his filthy stuff will make up for a lack of saves by providing an abundance of strikeouts.  While last year was a season to forget for the Komodos, it may have paid significant dividends by allowing them to add Robert.  With a potentially very strong offense, 2021 should be a much better year.

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