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Projection models love the 2021 Twins

Don’t listen to the White Sox hype machine

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Minnesota Twins
If Byron Buxton and Josh Donaldson can stay (relatively) healthy in 2021, look out.
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Allow me to be the voice of reason: the Minnesota Twins are the favorites to win the Americal League Central.

Yes, the Chicago White Sox are good. But we already knew that. They made the playoffs last year, in fact, and the Twins needed the final day of the regular season to clinch the division. Oh, and the White Sox have improved over the winter. Something about adding a pair of former Twins pitchers who decided to be good after leaving Minnesota.

Well, Chi-town, enjoy your leftover Twinkies, because the Twins are still the favorites in the division.

Let’s start with the obvious: the law of averages and relative health may make a huge difference.

Natural improvement over 2020

The Twins never had more than three pitchers in their intended starting rotation healthy throughout the 2020 campaign. Yes, going from Jake Odorizzi to J.A. Happ is a step backward, but going from 2020’s injured version of Odorizzi and another partial-season of Michael Pineda to Happ and a full-season Pineda is much closer to a wash, if not a win.

The bullpen has far more upside than it did a year ago, with the exciting arm of Jorge Alcala presumably available for a full season and other young arms on their way to the big leagues. The addition of Alex Colome to the back end of the ‘pen is key, too.

Josh Donaldson, Mitch Garver, Jorge Polanco, and Byron Buxton had disappointing seasons last year. All should be healthier, with the wild card always being the potential of something resembling a full campaign for Buxton. If that happens, look out.

Another way to look at it: Donaldson, Garver, Buxton, and Luis Arraez combined to appear in just 122 of 240 potential games, or 50.8 percent. That’s nearly half of the Opening Day lineup appearing in half of the team's contests.

That matters. A lot.

Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA

Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA rankings are a widely-respected standings forecast, and this year’s addition hates the Whities.

According to PECOTA, the Twins project to win 91 games and have an impressive 61 percent chance of earning their third consecutive A.L. Central title. And not only that, but the Sox are projected to win just 83 games and are given only a 13 percent chance of winning the division, behind Cleveland’s 86-game win projection and 25 percent shot at the Central title.

All caveats apply to this being a projection system, of course. But again, consistency, relative health, and a deep roster all matter.

FanGraphs’ Playoff Odds

FanGraphs’ Playoff Odds don’t project win totals, but instead assign the likelihood of teams to win their respective divisions, earn a wild card spot, and make the playoffs.

The Twins are still the favorites here, with a 65.1 percent chance at a postseason berth, which is the seventh-highest mark in the majors and third in the American League, behind the Yankees and Astros.

FanGraphs gives the Twins a 46.5 percent chance at winning the Central and an 18.6 percent at the wild card. The White Sox clock in at 60.1 percent to make the playoffs, 39.9 percent to win the division, and 20.2 percent to get a wild card spot. Cleveland is much further down than they are in PECOTA’s projections, with marks of 17.6 percent, 8.2 percent, and 9.4 percent in the same respective categories.

What does all of this mean?

It’s simple: the Twins are still the favorites to win the American League Central.

Yes, the White Sox did more to improve their roster than the Twins did this offseason. But the Twins didn’t get worse, and provided they avoid the continuation of horrible luck, should be healthier in 2021. They also won the division each of the last two years, so it isn’t as if they were the ones who had to gain ground.

The national narrative, however, is going to surround the exciting, up-and-coming White Sox and their new/old Hall-of-Fame manager, Tony LaRussa. (By the way, let’s not forget about that storyline ... could be fun.)

It’s going to be a fun race, with Cleveland likely to remain in the mix as a pesky quasi-contender on the fringes of the postseason conversation. But make no mistake, this all about the Twins and the White Sox, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Central division title come down to the last weekend of the regular season once again.