MLB

World Series contender tiers: How far away from winning it all is your favorite MLB team?

  • Sports reporter, Kansas City Star, 2002-09
  • Writer, Baseball, Baseball Prospectus
  • Co-author, Pro Basketball Prospectus
  • Member, Baseball Writers Association of America
  • Member, Professional Basketball Writers Association

In a fundamental sense, every team enters a new MLB season with the same goal: win the World Series. That’s what they say, anyway.

Realistically, we know this isn’t exactly true. We can buy that every team wants to win the World Series, even if some of them don’t seem to act like it. But we also know that championship teams take years to build and not every team is always quite ready to make a run at the game’s ultimate prize.

With the 2021 season finally upon us, I’m going to wrap up the weeks of preseason forecasts and projections by setting some basic expectations for the new season. Using each team’s 2021 probabilities of winning the next World Series, based on the forecasts from my projection system, and sorting forecasts into buckets, I’ve separated the clubs into tiers. Six tiers, to be exact.

The first three tiers include every team with at least a 0.5% shot at winning the title. These teams begin the season at least somewhat in win-now mode. Their ETA for contention is right now, or at least very soon. Teams that rank lower in these tiers might have to pivot during the season as their chances unravel. For now, we can assume the short-term goal is to win it all. Seventeen of the 30 teams fall into one of these three tiers.

The final three tiers introduce a bit of a wrinkle. Rather than just lump 13 teams into a pile and declare that they have virtually no shot at a 2021 title, I’ve taken a stab at declaring when their next shot at the big prize could realistically arise. Next year? Next decade?

Of course, projecting one season is a task so complex that if you wanted to call me a fool for even trying, I would have a hard time arguing with you. So projecting beyond that is … let’s just call it subjective, since the season just started and we’re trying to be kind here. I do have reasons for slotting teams where I do, and I’ll go into those as I comment on each club.

Let’s wade into the tiers, to see where your team landed.

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