Will the Braves Be Knocked From Their Throne? How Our Adjusted Team Rankings Size up Baseball’s Deepest Division
Baseball

Will the Braves Be Knocked From Their Throne? How Our Adjusted Team Rankings Size up Baseball’s Deepest Division

The National League East is the division that feels as though anything can happen.

There’s plenty of reasons for that. The Washington Nationals are loaded in the starting rotation, much like they were two years ago when they won the World Series the last time we had a 162-game season. Then there’s the three-time defending division champion Atlanta Braves, who had the eventual World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers on the ropes with a 3-1 series lead in the NLCS before dropping three straight. 

The New York Mets announced their arrival as a contender by acquiring star shortstop Francisco Lindor from Cleveland. They already have perennial Cy Young Award candidate Jacob deGrom and welcome Noah Syndergaard back from Tommy John surgery.

Would it really be a surprise if the Miami Marlins or Philadephia Phillies won the NL East? Maybe, but there’s no debating that the Marlins are a team on the rise after upsetting the Chicago Cubs in the wild-card round last season or that the Phillies have some talent with Bryce Harper, Aaron Nola and J.T. Realmuto. 

Anything can happen indeed. But we’ll attempt to get a clearer picture of how the division lines up according to our 2021 adjusted team rankings (ATR), which aren’t projections, 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.

1. Atlanta Braves (35-25)

2020 MLB ATR2021 MLB ATRRaw Value+ BIP+Raw Value-Command+
[no-pill]5th[no-pill]3rdFreddie Freeman (202)Ronald Acuna Jr. (218)Ian Anderson (57)Josh Tomlin (116)

Atlanta enters 2021 trying to erase the 2020 NLCS from the memories of Braves fans. While they weren’t big spenders in free agency, bringing in Charlie Morton adds a veteran presence to a young rotation that returns Mike Soroka from an Achilles injury and features 2020 standout Max Fried (95 RV-) and 22-year-old Ian Anderson, whose 57 RV- ranked in MLB’s top 10 – as a rookie! At the plate, Atlanta brought back Marcell Ozuna (166 RV+) to rejoin Dansby Swanson (109 RV+), Ronald Acuna Jr. (152 RV+) and 2020 NL MVP Freddie Freeman. It’s a talented roster that should contend for the pennant once again. 

2. New York Mets (26-34)

2020 MLB ATR2021 MLB ATRRaw Value+ BIP+Raw Value-Command+
[no-pill]11th[no-pill]9thDominic Smith (151)Dominic Smith (179)Jacob deGrom (43)Jacob deGrom (109)

Baseball is more fun when the Mets are competitive. An allegiance-dependent statement? Yes.  All of the appeal of New York City with none of the sameness of the Yankees. An objective statement? Perhaps not. But this could be fun. The Mets added Francisco Lindor in a blockbuster deal with Cleveland, receiving Carlos Carrasco as well for the price of numerous young players including Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez. Lindor – who ranked fourth among primary shortstops in RV+ behind Corey Seager, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Trea Turner – will lead a promising lineup consisting of Pete Alonso (110 RV+), Michael Conforto (138 RV+) and Dominic Smith that could very well be worthy of a division title. But the pitching staff, headed by 2020 Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom – owner of MLB’s second-best RV- mark – and Noah Syndergaard, will make or break the Mets season. 

3. Philadelphia Phillies (28-32)

2020 MLB ATR2021 MLB ATRRaw Value+ BIP+Raw Value-Command+
[no-pill]16th[no-pill]10thBryce Harper (182)Bryce Harper (186)Aaron Nola (66)Aaron Nola (119)

Believe it or not, the Phillies have the second-longest playoff drought in MLB. And despite spending tons of money and prospect capital on players like Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto, they haven’t been able to break through. Philadelphia’s core is strong, and as they begin to graduate top prospects like Alec Bohm (130 RV+) and Adonis Medina, it’s entirely possible this roster will be ready to contend in an NL East that is only getting more competitive. They rank 10th in all of MLB in the ATR for a reason. But until they show real promise, there are too many teams in this division – and this league – with deeper lineups, rotations and bullpens.

4. Miami Marlins (31-29)

2020 MLB ATR2021 MLB ATRRaw Value+ BIP+Raw Value-Command+
[no-pill]27th[no-pill]16thJesus Aguilar (128)Jesus Aguilar (135)Sixto Sanchez (64)Pablo Lopez (104)

Were the Marlins the feel-good story of the 2020 season? Of course! Miami made the postseason for the only third time in franchise history, championing the “Bottom Feeders” moniker and upsetting the Chicago Cubs in the wild-card round. Now, were they aided by a 60-game schedule and an expanded playoff field? Of course. This roster is still a few years from being a legitimate contender in the NL, and 2021 will be a developmental season for guys like Sixto Sanchez, Pablo Lopez (64 RV-) – Lopez’s whiff+ of 115 was certainly impressive, and ranks among MLB aces like Yu Darvish and Aaron Nola – and Jazz Chisholm. Perhaps even top prospect J.J. Bleday will make his debut. There’s a future in Miami, and 2020 was just the start.

5. Washington Nationals (26-34)

2020 MLB ATR2021 MLB ATRRaw Value+ BIP+Raw Value-Command+
[no-pill]19th[no-pill]19thJuan Soto (209)Juan Soto (197)Max Scherzer (95)Austin Voth (109)

After winning it all in 2019, the Nats took a step back in 2020, finishing tied for last in the NL East. Injuries and regression to the mean played a factor, meaning that Washington is likely due for improvement in 2021. So a team ranking of 19th seems low, right? The Nationals roster a 22-year-old named Juan Soto, who has established himself as one of the game’s rising stars and best hitters – his RV+ in 2020 was the best in all of baseball – but he’ll need help from Josh Bell (85 RV+), Victor Robles (52 RV+) and Kyle Schwarber (109 RV+), all of whom struggled in 2020. As for the pitchers, the rotation, when healthy, is as strong as it comes, but Washington will need better production from their bullpen following the departure of Sean Doolittle. Free-agent signee Brad Hand should help with that. 


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