MLB Betting: 2021 American League Preview

MLB Betting: 2021 American League Preview

This article is part of our MLB Betting series.

The 2021 MLB season is now upon us and while bettors will be thinking about the first game of the season, the World Series and everything in between, it's important to have a measure of all the teams competing before placing. Read on for a team-by-team preview of the MLB American League.

When evaluating over/under win totals and eventually division, pennant, and World Series winners, I try and ask the following questions:

Did they over or underachieve last year?

Did they have key injuries or no injuries?

What did the team do in the offseason to improve or decline?

What did the rest of the division do in the offseason?

Are they going to be buyers or sellers come July?

In this article, I've answered the above questions for each of the teams in the MLB American League to help get a better understanding of which Over/Under totals offer value and which teams might be in with a realistic chance of making it to the postseason.

AL East

New York Yankees

2019 W-L record:103-59 (.636)

2020 W-L record: 33-27 (.550)

2021 O/U win total: 95.5 (.592)

2021 Projected WAR: 50.0 (2nd)

Hitting – 27.7(3rd)

Pitching – 22.4 (1st)

  • Starting – 16.9 (3rd)
  • Relief – 5.4 (1st)

Key Acquisitions/Prospects: Jameson Taillon, Corey Kluber

Key Losses: James Paxton, J.A. Happ, Adam Ottavino

Outlook: The Yankees enter the 2021 season as the favorites in the American League. The issue with the Yankees is going to be health. Can Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton stay healthy enough over the course of the season to make a difference? The same question is there with the starting pitching as Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon, and Luis Severino all carry a prolonged injury history. Everyone has depth in March, but how long that depth lasts is another story. The Yankees have been able to overcome a lot of the health issues in the past but the AL East is much more competitive so any over win total is a pass for me especially in the midst of COVID. 

Tampa Bay Rays

2019 W-L record:96-66 .593

2020 W-L record: 40-20 .667

2021 O/U win total: 85.5 .530

2021 Projected WAR 33.7 (14th)

Hitting – 18.9 (13th)

Pitching – 14.8 (13th)

  • Starting – 10.3(22nd)
  • Relief – 4.5(5th)

Key Acquisitions/Prospects: Michael Wacha, Wander Franco, Rich Hill, Chris Archer

Key Losses: Charlie Morton

Outlook: While I do rely heavily on projected WAR to determine my over/under plays, when it comes to the Rays and A's I throw them out the window because of how they build their teams as small-market clubs.  The Rays were a .593 team in 2019 and .667 in 2020 and the roster is just as good if not better from a team that made it to the World Series. I am being very selective on over plays, but this one has a good buffer of at least 6-7 wins built-in. The Rays are not reliant on a few players and if Wander Franco ends up in the lineup midseason I like them even more.

The Bet - RAYS OVER 85.5 WINS

Toronto Blue Jays

2019 W-L record:67-95 (.414)

2020 W-L record: 32-28 (.533)

2021 O/U win total: 86.5 (.537)

2021 Projected WAR 40.8 (6th)

Hitting – 25.1(5th)

Pitching – 15.7(9th)

  • Starting – 12.2 (11th)
  • Relief – 3.5 (10th)

Key Acquisitions/Prospects: George Springer, Marcus Semien, Kirby Yates, Steven Matz, Nate Pearson, Robbie Ray

Key Losses: N/A

Outlook: You have to give the Jays a lot of credit. They took the hit for several years and built up their farm system to be one of the best in baseball and now are reaping the rewards. Because they have so much salary flexibility with young players, they signed some high-priced free agents to fill in the gaps. I am leary about projecting a team to take the leap before they have done it, especially when their pitching staff still has some question marks. They play in a very tough division and I think their win total of 86.5 is about right, but I'm leaning for them to go slightly under as the Yankees, Rays, and Red Sox all look to be better.

The Bet - JAYS UNDER 86.5 WINS

Boston Red Sox

2019 W-L record: 84-78 (.519)

2020 W-L record: 24-36 (.400)

2021 O/U win total: 80.5 (.500)

2021 Projected WAR 33.9 (13th)

Hitting – 20.0 (12th)

Pitching – 13.9 (17th)

  • Starting – 11.0 (17th)
  • Relief – 2.9 (14th)

Key Acquisitions/Prospects: Alex Cora (Manager), Enrique Hernandez, Nick Pivetta, Adam Ottavino, Jeter Downs, Bobby Dalbec, Jarren Duran, Franchy Cordero, Hunter Renfroe, Garrett Richards

Key Losses: Jackie Bradley Jr, Andrew Benintendi

Outlook: If there is one team that would want the mulligan for 2020 COVID-19, it is the Boston Red Sox. Alex Cora was suspended for his part in TrashGate, Rafael Devers never got in shape, and JD Martinez lost the ability to watch his at-bats during the game. Fast forward to 2021, and the Red Sox look and feel motivated to get back on the winning side of the ledger.  Their win total has them finishing .500 and I think they will surpass that. Devers got back into shape and JD looks like the old JD. The emergence of Bobby Dalbec, Jarren Duran, and Jeter Downs will be key for them to make a playoff bid.

The Bet– RED SOX OVER 80.5 WINS

Baltimore Orioles

2019 W-L record: 54-108 (.333)

2020 W-L record: 25-35 (.417)

2021 O/U win total: 64.5 (.401)

2021 Projected WAR 17.6 (28th)

Hitting – 9.7 (27th)

Pitching – 8.0 (30th)

  • Starting – 5.9 (30th)
  • Relief – 2.0 (20th)

Key Acquisitions/Prospects: Adley Rutschman, Ryan Mountcastle

Key Losses: Alex Cobb, Hanser Alberto, Renato Nunez

Outlook: The Orioles did improve their win percentage from .333 to .417 last year, but with no significant free agent moves in the offseason I cannot see them finish above last place in the AL East and avoid being one of the worst teams in the league. While there is some hope coming in the minors, the depth just isn't there and you have to wonder how long they will continue in this fashion.  Their win total of 64.5 is right around what I would expect them to do.

AL Central

Chicago White Sox

2019 W-L record:72-89 (.447)

2020 W-L record:35-25 (.583) 

2021 O/U win total: 91.5 (.567)

2021 Projected WAR 39.8 (8th)

Hitting – 21.7 (9th)

Pitching – 18.1 (5th)

  • Starting – 13.4 (6th)
  • Relief – 4.6 (3rd)

Key Acquisitions/Prospects: Liam Hendriks, Andrew Vaughn, Adam Eaton, Lance Lynn

Key Losses: N/A

Outlook: The White Sox come into the 2021 season with a +3 win total over the Twins. The White Sox are a lot like the Padres and Blue Jays in that the expectations are very high. The leap from .447 ball in 2019 to .567 in 2021 is a big one even though they were at .583 through 60 games last year. The starting rotation depth is a question mark and I am more confident in the Twins, who have proven themselves.

Minnesota Twins

2019 W-L record:101-61 (.623)

2020 W-L record:36-24 (.600)

2021 O/U win total: 88.5 (.549)

2021 Projected WAR 40.2 (7th)

Hitting – 25.4 (4th)

Pitching – 14.8(12th)

  • Starting – 11.8(12th)
  • Relief – 3.1(11th)

Key Acquisitions/Prospects: Matt Shoemaker, Andrelton Simmons, Alex Colome, J.A. Happ, Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach

Key Losses: Jake Odorizzi, Eddie Rosario, Trevor May

Outlook: The Twins are one of my strongest win total and future plays in 2021. Their win total is .549 vs. .623/.600 over the last 2 seasons and they are just as good if not better.  They added starting pitching depth with Shoemaker and Happ along with Alex Colome in the bullpen. The division is still weaker with the Tigers, Royals, and Indians behind them. With the White Sox getting a lot of the public love here, the Twins are falling under the radar.

The Bet - TWINS OVER 88.5 WINS; TWINS TO WIN AL CENTRAL

Cleveland Indians

2019 W-L record: 93-69 (.574)

2020 W-L record: 35-25 (.583)

2021 O/U win total: 81.5 (.500)

2021 Projected WAR 31.2 (18th)

Hitting – 17.1 (18th)

Pitching – 14.2 (15th)

  • Starting – 11.1(15th)
  • Relief – 3.1(12th)

Key Acquisitions/Prospects: Andres Gimenez, Amed Rosario, Bobby Bradley, Nolan Jones, Eddie Rosario, Cesar Hernandez

Key Losses: Francisco Lindor, Carlos Carrasco, Carlos Santana

Outlook: The Indians are the pitching development factory of major league baseball. They have lost Mike Clevinger, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer over the last few years and still keep developing stud arms. While the trade of Carrasco and Francisco Lindor hurts the team, they do have one of the deepest farm systems but most are in the lower levels.  My biggest hesitation in taking the Indians over is whether or not they will become sellers in July.

Kansas City Royals

2019 W-L record:59-103 (.364)

2020 W-L record:26-34 (.433)

2021 O/U win total: 72.5 (.450)

2021 Projected WAR 26.6 (20th)

Hitting – 14.8 (19th)

Pitching – 11.8 (25th)

  • Starting – 10.3(23rd)
  • Relief – 1.5 (29th)

Key Acquisitions/Prospects: Michael Taylor, Carlos Santana, Mike Minor, Wade Davis

Key Losses: Ian Kennedy

Outlook: When I first looked at the projected Royals lineup a few weeks ago, I had to do a double-take because my initial response was "This lineup is not bad at all". After going through it a couple more times, I became more confident in what the Royals have been able to do. While most smaller market teams are stuck in long-term rebuilds, the Royals look to have bridged the gap between now and the future.

.450 baseball for a team in the AL Central with this roster is very approachable, and it is not asking for much improvement over 2020. In the Three True Outcome era, the Royals are going against the grain and are going to run and run a lot. It makes sense for them to go the on-base/speed route with their lineup and then on the pitching side you have guys that can go 6 innings, keep the ball in the yard, and hand it over to the bullpen. It would not surprise me if the Royals flirt with .500 all year.

The Bet – ROYALS OVER 72.5 WINS

Detroit Tigers

2019 W-L record: 47-114 .292

2020 W-L record: 23-35 .397

2021 O/U win total: 68.5 .425

2021 Projected WAR 21.1 (26th)

Hitting – 10.3(25th)

Pitching – 10.7 (28th)

  • Starting – 9.7 (27th)
  • Relief – 1.1 (30th)

Key Acquisitions/Prospects: Spencer Torkelson, Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal, Jonathan Schoop, Robbie Grossman, Nomar Mazara, Wilson Ramos, Renato Nunez, Julio Teheran

Key Losses: C.J. Cron  

Outlook: The Tigers do have a better overall team in 2021 vs. 19/20 . But the pitching is still very young and will have a lot of growing pains. The win total suggests an improvement is warranted, but I like the Royals improvement more and they will come at the expense of the Tigers.

The Bet - UNDER 68.5 WINS

AL West

Houston Astros

2019 W-L record:107-55 .660

2020 W-L record:29-31 .483

2021 O/U win total: 87.5 .543

2021 Projected WAR 41.4 (5th)

Hitting – 28.7 (2nd)

Pitching – 12.7 (20th)

  • Starting – 10.7(18th)
  • Relief – 2.0 (25th)

Key Acquisitions/Prospects: Jake Odorizzi

Key Losses: George Springer

Outlook: I was all about fading the Astros in 2020 with TrashGate and all the suspensions/negative outlook and it looked to be correct. But then the Astros transformed into their prior self and made an incredible run in the playoffs. I'm not a fan of the Astros personally especially certain players, BUT I have to respect the talent.  Getting Yordan Alvarez back , having Kyle Tucker the entire year, along with the additions in the starting rotations should get the Stros back to the top of the AL West.

The Bet – ASTROS WIN AL WEST

Oakland Athletics

2019 W-L record:97-65 .599

2020 W-L record:36-24 .600

2021 O/U win total: 86.5 .537

2021 Projected WAR 33.6 (15th)

Hitting – 20.9 (11th)

Pitching – 12.7(21st)

  • Starting – 10.6 (19th)
  • Relief – 2.1(22nd)

Key Acquisitions/Prospects: Trevor Rosenthal, Elvis Andrus, Mitch Moreland, Sergio Romo

Key Losses: Liam Hendriks, Marcus Semien, Robbie Grossman, Tommy La Stella, Mike Minor

Outlook: The similarities between the White Sox/Blue Jays/Padres, Brewers/Indians, and the Rays/A's is an interesting dynamic in analyzing how to build a major league roster. The A's did have some key losses, but they look to have been able to replace them with creative measures.  The win total is very underwhelming at .537 and the three teams behind them have not improved significantly. So even with the Astros regaining the division, the A's should be right there with them for the division race and get into the playoffs.

Los Angeles Angels

2019 W-L record:72-90 .444

2020 W-L record:26-34 .433

2021 O/U win total: 83.5 .518

2021 Projected WAR 36.6 (10th)

Hitting – 22.7 (8th)

Pitching – 13.9 (16th)

  • Starting – 11.1(16th)
  • Relief – 2.8 (15th)

Key Acquisitions/Prospects: Jo Adell, Dexter Fowler, Jose Iglesias, Kurt Suzuki, Jose Quintana, Alex Cobb, Raisel Iglesias

Key Losses: Andrelton Simmons

Outlook: The story of the Angels is they never have enough starting pitching and the ones they do have end up hurt. Along with the bullpen instability and lack of lineup protection around Mike Trout. I know some like the Angels as a sleeper this year, but I question the projected hitting WAR (8th). This team is a little better offensively but I don't see how they can pass the Astros or the A's.

Texas Rangers

2019 W-L record:78-84 (.481)

2020 W-L record:22-38 (.367)

2021 O/U win total: 66.5 (.413)

2021 Projected WAR 18.4 (27th)

Hitting – 10.4(30th)

Pitching – 3.8 (14th)

  • Starting – 10.4 (21st)
  • Relief – 3.8 (8th)

Key Acquisitions/Prospects: Leody Taveras, Khris Davis, David Dahl, Nate Lowe, Dane Dunning

Key Losses: N/A

Outlook: It's hard to have any "key losses" when you play .367 ball and field a borderline Triple-A lineup. The Rangers were starting to sink in 2019 and fully submerged in 2020. Their win total suggests an improvement, but I don't see it. They will sell off any pieces come July which could include Joey Gallo and anybody with a pulse in the bullpen.

The Bet - UNDER 66.5 WINS

Seattle Mariners

2019 W-L record:68-94 .420

2020 W-L record:27-33 .450

2021 O/U win total: 72.5 .450

2021 Projected WAR 25.0 (24th)

Hitting – 11.9 (23rd)

Pitching – 13.1 (19th)

  • Starting – 11.2(14th)
  • Relief – 1.8 (27th)

Key Acquisitions/Prospects: Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez, Logan Gilbert, James Paxton, Rafael Montero

Key Losses: N/A

Outlook: I like the direction the Mariners are headed in and you could see them being the next team like the Blue Jays or Padres. They are probably two years away from a major improvement, but it will be a fun year seeing the highly touted prospects make their way up to the majors.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Rathburn
Known as “Rath” in the Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) community, he has helped run operations for two prominent daily fantasy sports startups. Michael has taken his insider knowledge and expertise in daily fantasy sports to the content side. Rath won the 2016 FSWA "Baseball Article of the Year, Online" award and was a finalist for the FSWA Best Baseball Series in 2011.
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