After all of the hype surrounding the New York Yankees and the improved Toronto Blue Jays, it was the Tampa Bay Rays – the American League’s leading innovators – that wore the league’s crown in 2020’s shortened season.

But in classic Tampa Bay fashion, the Rays have retooled their roster, trying to remain financially flexible while they hope to compete in the present and build for the future.

Now, the Yankees again appear ready to take the next step, while the Blue Jays nip at their heels. Let’s take a closer look at the 2021 AL East chase and reveal who the favorites are according to our adjusted team rankings. 

Adjusted team rankings (ATR) aren’t a projection, but rather a single ranking system calculated using a model that combines each player’s 2020 raw value data and adjusted for 2021 rosters. Raw value+ (RV+) examines how a hitter performs throughout each pitch of an at-bat rather than just the end result, while raw value- (RV-) does the same from a pitcher’s perspective.

Team leaders in RV+, RV-, BIP+ and command+ are from the 2020 season among qualified players.

New York Yankees (33-27)

2020 MLB ATR 2021 MLB ATRRaw Value+ BIP+ Raw Value- Command+
[no-pill]4th[no-pill]7thLuke Voit (158)Luke Voit (194)Gerrit Cole (62)Gerrit Cole (100)

Despite signing Gerrit Cole last offseason, the Yankees failed to win a second consecutive AL East crown and were defeated by the rival Rays in the postseason. So, Brian Cashman did what any Yankees general manager would do and reloaded, re-signing D.J. LeMahieu (136 RV+), signing Corey Kluber and acquiring Jameson Taillon from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Kluber and Taillon add experience and effectiveness to a rotation lacking much of both behind Cole, and LeMahieu rejoins a lineup that ranked fourth in the majors in raw value (115), with sluggers including Luke Voit, Aaron Judge (144 RV+) and Giancarlo Stanton (167 RV+). And while they may not have the deepest roster in the American League, the Bronx Bombers at their peak are as good as anyone. 

2. Toronto Blue Jays (32-28)

2020 MLB ATR 2021 MLB ATR Raw Value+BIP+ Raw Value- Command+
[no-pill]13th[no-pill]15thTeoscar Hernandez (146)Teoscar Hernandez (218)Hyun Jin Ryu (76)Hyun Jin Ryu (114)

Similar to the San Diego Padres, the Blue Jays are becoming a blueprint for how to rebuild a roster into a contender. After appearing in back-to-back ALCS in 2015 and 2016, Toronto went through a three-year down period, shortened by the development of four young prospects with significant baseball lineage: Vlad Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Now, the Blue Jays offense is among the best in baseball, adding Marcus Semien (65 RV+), who struggled last year but finished third in AL MVP voting in 2019, to the likes of George Springer, Teoscar Hernandez, Guerrero Jr. (102 RV+), Bichette (122 RV+), Biggio (93 RV+) and Gurriel Jr. (135 RV+). The only thing that could hold them back is pitching, where Hyun Jin Ryu remains as the only reliable starter. Toronto pitchers as a whole ranked 18th in RV- in 2020, behind the San Francisco Giants and just ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals. But top prospect Nate Pearson (90 RV-) has shown flashes of greatness, and Robbie Ray, Tanner Roark and Steven Matz make up a capable, albeit unremarkable, back of the rotation.

3. Tampa Bay Rays (40-20)

2020 MLB ATR 2021 MLB ATR Raw Value+BIP+ Raw Value- Command+
[no-pill]10th[no-pill]18thBrandon Lowe (125)Willy Adames (153)Tyler Glasnow (78)Ryan Yarbrough (104)

The Rays rolled through the playoffs to reach the second World Series in franchise history last year, lost in six games to the Los Angeles Dodgers and then proceeded to trade away ace Blake Snell and let another key starting pitcher walk in free agency. Rays fans were understandably frustrated, but should we have expected anything less from a franchise known to develop prospects and pursue reclamation projects? Luis Patiño has the stuff to become a future top-of-the-rotation star, and Brandon Lowe, Willy Adames, Randy Arozarena (140 RV+), whose RV+ would’ve ranked in the top 30 in MLB had he made enough plate appearances lead a strong core that’s positioned well for the future. Austin Meadows (58 RV+) hopes to bounce back from a rocky 2020.

4. Baltimore Orioles (25-35)

2020 MLB ATR 2021 MLB ATR Raw Value+BIP+ Raw Value- Command+
[no-pill]21st[no-pill]20thPedro Severino (116)Pedro Severino (115)John Means (48)John Means (108)

The Orioles likely don’t deserve the amount of criticism and ridicule that they receive. The roster is as deficient as it is today because of poor mismanagement from the previous administration, having handed out big contracts to players that didn’t deserve them and failing to invest in the international free-agent market that has aided many of baseball’s top teams. As for 2021, Baltimore welcomes back Trey Mancini, who missed the 2020 season while battling stage III colon cancer. Players like John Means – whose 48 RV- ranked third among qualified pitchers behind Jacob deGrom and Trevor Bauer – Ryan Mountcastle (98 RV+), Austin Hays (86 RV+), Cedric Mullins (61 RV+) and Dean Kremer (97 RV-), who could all be a part of the next great O’s team, will be the focal point of the season. Look for prospects like Yusniel Diaz, Michael Baumann, Zac Lowther and, maybe, Adley Rutschman to make their MLB debuts. 

5. Boston Red Sox (24-36)

2020 MLB ATR 2021 MLB ATRRaw Value+BIP+ Raw Value- Command+
[no-pill]28th[no-pill]26thXander Bogaerts (119)Rafael Devers (154)Martin Perez (92)Martin Perez (111)

What a weird few years it’s been for the Red Sox. They win the World Series in 2018; they get accused of and punished for cheating in the 2019-20 offseason, leading to the firing of their manager, Alex Cora; they finish in last in the AL East in 2020 under Ron Roenicke; they rehire Cora ahead of this season. Oh, and somewhere in there, they decided to trade away the face of their franchise in Mookie Betts, who promptly went and won a World Series. Chris Sale is still recovering from Tommy John surgery, so the rotation falls into the hands of Martín Pérez, Eduardo Rodriguez (who opted out of the 2020 season due to complications from COVID-19) and Nathan Eovaldi (95 RV-). Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi are also gone from the outfield, so Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers (107 RV+) are tasked with anchoring a lineup that welcomes plenty of new faces. Devers is a key part of Boston’s future, and after his RV+ dipped from his 2019 mark (135), the Red Sox will need him to bounce back. Boston won’t be in the gutter for long, but 2021 could be just as frustrating as 2020. 

Taylor Bechtold contributed. Data modeling by Lucas Haupt. Depth chart animations by Paul Connors.