On Sunday, Baseball Prospectus posted its current PECOTA standings projections for the 2021 Major League Baseball season. Current projections for the National League Central aren’t sterling. By record alone, the Central will be the worst division in baseball, while the AL Central lags not far behind.
Not one team from the Central is expected to win 90 games, with the Brewers running at the front of the pack with an 89-73 (rounded) record based on all the simulations. Following Milwaukee is the Cubs (85-77), Cardinals (81-81), Reds (79-83), and falling well behind everybody else at 61-101 is the Pittsburgh Pirates. These projections give the Pirates a 0.1 percent chance to win the division – not 0.0 percent, but it might as well be.
Surprisingly, however, PECOTA didn’t think the Pirates would be the worst team in baseball. Through all the simulations, Pittsburgh finished with a 61.1-100.9 win-loss total. The Rockies, however, finished with a 60.3-101.7 win-loss total. If you round both of those records, the Pirates finish 61-101, as mentioned, while Colorado finishes 60-102. Not much of a consolation prize, right?
In my opinion, you’d be hard-pressed to find an analyst that doesn’t think the Pirates will be the worst team in baseball. Many would argue that organizations should be “all or nothing,” which has resulted in the increasingly popular “tanking” maneuver present throughout the major sports. In baseball – unlike in the NBA – the team with the worst record is guaranteed the top pick. If you’re going to be bad, you might as well be the worst. It doesn’t do the organization much good to hover around, say, the 10th worst position in baseball.
Of course, nothing is guaranteed in baseball, so there might not be much difference between the first pick and the second pick. The player getting the most press in this year’s draft is Kumar Rocker, and for good reason, but if the Pirates weren’t the worst team in baseball in 2020, then it wouldn’t have been unfortunate if they had to pick someone else like Jaden Hill out of LSU or Jack Leiter, Rocker’s teammate, out of Vanderbilt. The Pirates seem intent on picking up pitching, so it would make sense for either of those guys to have been the selection in the event that Pittsburgh picked second or third in the draft. It probably would’ve been the case that fans wouldn’t have lost much sleep with any of the aforementioned options. Alas, it appears Rocker will be the pick.
As for the upcoming season and its actual on-field games, don’t expect much from the Pirates. In fact, many fans will likely be more interested in watching this year’s draft versus on the on-field product. Nonetheless, there will still be storylines to watch, as I’ve mentioned before, including Ke’Bryan Hayes’ encore act, whether Bryan Reynolds gets back into formidable shape, and whether or not any other players get moved before the deadline.