MLB Power Rankings: Which Teams Defied Preseason Expectations the Most?

Emma Baccellieri
Sports Illustrated

Welcome back to SI’s MLB Power Rankings. As the season winds down, for this week’s edition, we’re looking at the teams whose performance has veered the most dramatically from their preseason projections. (We’re using Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA, from the day before Opening Day, comparing by winning percentage.) To the list!

30. Detroit Tigers (45-107; Last Week: 30)

The Tigers were, of course, projected to be bad. But they weren’t projected to be this bad. Detroit was expected to be a run-of-the-mill struggling team (66-96), with bad hitting and mediocre pitching, rather than… near historically bad, with statistical misery across the board. (Yes, they’re still on track to set a record for most strikeouts in a season.) The projections were, at least, correct that the team would finish in last place in the AL Central.

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29. Baltimore Orioles (49-104; Last Week: 29)

28. Miami Marlins (53-99; Last Week: 28)

Much like Detroit, this is another team who was expected to be bad and somehow ended up being markedly worse. In Miami’s case, though, this is almost entirely due to its performance at the plate. The Marlins’ 78 OPS+ (.670 OPS; and remember, 100 OPS+ is average, so the Marlins are 22% worse at the plate than an average team) is among the worst in recent memory, which creates this unfortunate list of worst team hitting performances in the quarter-century since the birth of the franchise:

27. Kansas City Royals (56-98; Last Week: 26)

Kansas City fits the same bad-to-worse mold as the previous two teams. Here, however, worse-than-expected pitching was the primary culprit. For the first time since 2006, they have a staff ERA above 5.00, with dull spots scattered across both rotation and ‘pen. The Royals’ strikeout-to-walk ratio is the lowest in baseball—which is truly remarkable, considering that the Orioles’ pitching staff exists. 

26. Seattle Mariners (65-88; Last Week: 25)

25. Toronto Blue Jays (62-91; Last Week: 27)

24. Pittsburgh Pirates (65-88; Last Week: 22)

The projections had Pittsburgh down to finish just under .500; for a while, that looked not only reasonable but modest. (Remember late April, when the team briefly took over first place in the NL Central?) But that was before the Pirates’ pitching staff established themselves as the worst in the National League, with an 83 ERA+ and not even a single member of the rotation able to put up a league-average performance.

23. Chicago White Sox (66-86; Last Week: 24)

22. Colorado Rockies (66-87; Last Week: 23)

The Rockies didn’t necessarily seem like they’d be good entering the season—their offseason didn’t seem to set any direction for the team—but it seemed hard to imagine that they’d be truly bad. The projections put them at 84-78; with Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, and Charlie Blackmon, plus a pitching staff that had the potential to be solid with Kyle Freeland, German Marquez, and Jon Gray, the situation looked as if it had to be at least okay-ish. And it was not. It was decidedly, remarkably, almost wondrously far from okay-ish. (Even with the most generous definition of “ish” you can give.) 

21. San Diego Padres (69-84; Last Week: 20)

The Padres have plenty of young talent, and a significant group of them took this season to prove that they’re legit. Fernando Tatis Jr. looked like a front-runner for Rookie of the Year before he was shut down with a back injury; Chris Paddack and Dinelson Lamet put together strong records in the rotation. But others are still developing (Luis Urias, Manuel Margot, Nick Margevicius) while some more established talent struggled, too (Ian Kinsler, Wil Myers), and the team ultimately failed to reach its projected win total of 81.

20. Los Angeles Angels (69-84; Last Week: 21)

19. Texas Rangers (74-79; Last Week: 17)

18. Cincinnati Reds (72-81; Last Week: 19)

17. San Francisco Giants (74-79; Last Week: 18)

16. Philadelphia Phillies (78-73; Last Week: 15)

15. Arizona Diamondbacks (78-75; Last Week: 16)

14. Boston Red Sox (80-72; Last Week: 14)

13. New York Mets (79-73; Last Week: 12)

12. Chicago Cubs (82-71; Last Week: 11)

11. Milwaukee Brewers (83-70; Last Week: 13)

10. Washington Nationals (83-68; Last Week: 9)

9. St. Louis Cardinals (86-67; Last Week: 10)

8. Tampa Bay Rays (90-63; Last Week: 8)

7. Cleveland Indians (90-63; Last Week: 7)

6. Oakland A’s (92-61; Last Week: 6)

No team was underestimated more by the projections than the A’s. Oakland was expected to finish just south of .500, in a lackluster third place. Instead, it’s emerged as one of the best teams in the AL. With a breakout season from Marcus Semien, sustained excellence from Matt Chapman, and a series of modest but extremely successful midsummer additions to the pitching staff (hello, Homer Bailey, Tanner Roark, and Jake Diekman), the A’s seem like the real deal. (And, for the record, they surpassed their projected win total of 77 back in August. Take that, PECOTA.)

5. Atlanta Braves (94-60; Last Week: 4)

The Braves don’t have the biggest swing from their projected winning percentage—but they do have the biggest swing from their projected spot in the standings. Atlanta was expected to come in fourth in the NL East, ahead of only Miami, albeit in a crowded division that was predicted to see the top four teams settle above .500. While the last part of that has been proven true, Atlanta is the one that has come out in first

4. Minnesota Twins (94-59; Last Week: 5)

After Oakland, Minnesota has outperformed expectations by the greatest margin. The projections had second place for the Twins in the AL Central, behind the Indians, but the team had other plans in mind. Namely: Minnesota’s projected slugging percentage was .427 (or, in other words, the same number we’ve seen this year from the Blue Jays), while its real-world answer has been a best-in-baseball .494, with a record-breaking home run total to boot. (And we’ll take this opportunity to brag that SI’s preseason predictions had the Twins in first.)

3. New York Yankees (100-54; Last Week: 3)

2. Los Angeles Dodgers (98-55; Last Week: 2)

The projections correctly had the Dodgers in first place in the NL West—but with a week and a half left to go in the season, the team’s already comfortably surpassed its predicted win total of 93. These expectations were lofty, but L.A. exceeded them and made it look easy. But it certainly helps when you have this strong of a system for player development; the team has called up plenty of rookies this year, and just about every one has thrived near immediately.

1. Houston Astros (100-53; Last Week: 1)

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