9 intriguing takeaways from 2023 MLB projections: Are we underestimating the Dodgers and Yankees?

Pitchers and catchers are reporting, which means it’s time to check our rising expectations for the MLB season with a neutral computerized observer. The PECOTA projection system, operated by Baseball Prospectus, has been delivering harsh truths for years, evaluating players and teams with an objective eye that our human brain cannot match.

PECOTA’s initial look for the 2023 season, including forecast position And player lines – became available this week, just in time for spring training. Projection systems are not “predictions” and in many ways they are designed to be conservative; they’re not going to predict a season with 65 homers, and picking a team with 100 wins is rare, though most seasons have it. Instead, think of these outputs as trendlines or bell curves, the most likely path forward suggested by far more data and far more history than you can keep in your head at one time.

Taken as they are, the numbers can help calibrate our understanding of the main storylines and pennant races, in a sometimes counterintuitive way. Here are nine of the most intriguing takeaways from PECOTA’s look at the 2023 MLB season.

Dodgers, not Padres, are NL West favorites

It seemed like the San Diego Padres had finally caught up with the Los Angeles Dodgers on paper this winter. After beating the juggernaut in the 2022 postseason, ambitious team owner Peter Seidler and freelance executive AJ Preller redoubled their efforts by adding Xander Bogaerts to a core that already included Juan Soto, Manny Machado and the soon-to-be-returned Fernando Tatis Jr. The Dodgers, meanwhile, mostly stood still as Trea Turner left town.

As far as top talent goes, the Padres can now match or even surpass the Dodgers. But PECOTA still sees a gap in the other 20 spots in the roster. The Dodgers have some uncertainty about second base and left field, but they could use half a dozen or more viable major league options. The Padres may not have two good ideas for outfield depth other than expected starters. Until Tatis returns from suspension, they will throw the dice at 42-year-old Nelson Cruz and 37-year-old Matt Carpenter as everyday options.

Over the course of 162 games, 25th, 30th, and even 35th in the organizational depth chart take on a lot of importance. Recent history tells us that no team maximizes these players more than the Dodgers, the kings of the regular season.

Both teams, according to PECOTA, are clear favorites to reach the playoffs..

Juan Soto may be the best hitter in baseball

Playing for a pathetic Washington Nationals team, then a cloud of trade rumors, and then a pressured Padres team, Soto had a bad year, by his standards, in 2022. 452 in slugging, which means he was the eighth best hitter in baseball in park-adjusted OPS+. Hard times.

PECOTA believes the glory days are returning in a big way as Soto begins his first full season in San Diego. The system envisions a 24-year-old just two years away from what could be a terrific free agent as the top player in baseball. As always, its products are based on percentages. His .433 OBP prediction is a ridiculous 52 points ahead of the next best pick, Freddie Freeman’s .381.

Do the Mets finally have an edge over the Braves?

History says no, but PECOTA knows nothing about the New York Mets’ penchant for the morbid and absurd. And he may not know more than the rest of us about the Atlanta Braves’ penchant for calling new stars out of the land of Georgia.

Don’t worry too much about projected total wins (95.8 for the Mets, 90.6 for the Braves). Let’s talk about the likelihood of winning the NL East – something the Braves have done for five straight years and the Mets haven’t done since 2015. Phillies chance 17.8%.

The Mets have huge top-level rotation talent in Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, but are also arguably more injury and aging prone than the Braves with Max Freed and Spencer Strider or the Phillies with Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler. .

The discrepancy between what you might have thought — that the savvy Braves would once again be running neck and neck with a bombastic Mets payroll — and what PECOTA sees? The system doesn’t quite sit well with Braves center fielder Michael Harris II as a striker, suggesting a major step back into a sub-par batting line due to a lack of patience and less than rosy results on ground balls. It’s also worth noting that Freed, the Braves’ ace who doesn’t like walking or homer, regularly posts ERAs that beat scores like DRA or FIP. A projected 3.38 ERA, if realized, would be his worst performance since 2019.

How favored are the Yankees?

AL East looks like an intimidating duel between at least three capable opponents. Of course, it looked like that last year as well, and Aaron Judge’s New York Yankees thundered to the championship by seven games. PECOTA believes the real battle could turn around again for second place.

The system gives the Yankees nearly nine games headroom over the Toronto Blue Jays and sees them as the strongest favorite in the division outside of the Houston Astros. Those numbers don’t yet account for Frankie Montas’ shoulder surgery, but the gap between the Yankees and the pack speaks to how much talent manager Aaron Boone will have at his disposal if the stars stay healthy.

Tyler Glasnow is back for revenge

Remember Tyler Glasnow? Really high? Current castles? Casting heavily and producing dominant lines for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2019 and 2021 (admittedly incomplete seasons)? Yes, he returned from Tommy John surgery shortly before the playoffs last season and looked strong – his fastball speed matched his pre-injury form – and PECOTA is willing to believe it.

While some soft pedaling is expected to give him a bit more breathing room, PECOTA forecasts Glasnow with a 2.15 ERA, the second-best of any starter behind Jacob de Grom. If Glasnow really picks up where he left off in 2021, when he had a stellar 2.66 ERA through 14 starts before he falls, the Rays rotation will be a nightmare.

Adley Rutchman is a sophomore MVP candidate to watch.

Seattle Mariners outfielder Julio Rodriguez made such a statement in his first season that it’s not hard to imagine him accomplishing the feat last accomplished by Chris Bryant: winning Rookie of the Year and MVP in consecutive seasons.

But a better choice for that might be Rutchman, the catcher for the Baltimore Orioles, who raced Rodriguez to the very end for the AL Rookie of the Year. Combining elite defensive prowess (in an all-important position) with a mature offensive approach, Rutchman is already a top 10 player in baseball in the eyes of PECOTA — as befits the way he played in the second half of 2022. Rodriguez, for his part, is not expected to be slouching. PEKOTA is simply less confident in his ability in midfield and expects fewer hits.

Masataka Yoshida will become an instant offensive force?

The Boston Red Sox raised eyebrows over the game when they signed Yoshida, a 29-year-old outfielder from Japan’s Oryx Buffaloes, to a five-year, $90 million contract. He cut .335/.447/.561 with 21 home runs in an outstanding final campaign in Japan, and PECOTA expects him to immediately take his place on the MLB leaderboard in base percentage. He walked almost twice as often as in 2022.

Promotions to the majors for Japanese strikers varied greatly. Seiya Suzuki? Pretty good. Shogo Akiyama? Not so much. But cymbal discipline as a leading skill seems like a solid bet. Yoshida’s production would probably have looked very different, but its overall batting line could match Raphael Devers’ newly expanded cornerstone if the predictions are correct. And that would be welcome news for the beleaguered Red Sox front office.

Can the Angels win the battle of the AL West upstarts?

Look, the Houston Astros will probably win the AL West. This well-oiled machine seems to work, almost immune to even the most seismic changes at the shortstop, at the GM or on the mound. But behind the Astros? Everything can be interesting. The Mariners ended their post-season drought in dramatic fashion last season, and young talent is still making it to the majors. The Texas Rangers paid for Jacob de Grom, Nathan Eovaldi and Andrew Heaney a year after signing Cory Seeger and Marcus Semien.

However, the runner-up club PECOTA is the Los Angeles Angels. This season, the team of Mike Trout and Shohei Otani, long tormented by subtlety and wayward organizational priorities, has enough strength to fight. This means they are currently targeting a 54.9% shot in October, compared to 30.6% for the Mariners. And those profligate Rangers? They may be another year or more potential customers; PECOTA estimates its playoff chance at 12.3%.

Chaos in the central divisions

Then there are divisions stuck in the middle. According to PECOTA, AL and NL Central are basically a toss-up. The defending champion Cleveland Guardians and Minnesota Twins (again featuring Carlos Correa) are predicted to be within one win of each other, at a divisional odds of 49% to 47.1%.

In North America, most forecasters (and forecasters) consider the St. Louis Cardinals to be the favorite. But PECOTA has the Milwaukee Brewers in the thick of the race and actually has a slightly better bet to win the division. In particular, the system sees big things for pickup trucker Jesse Winker and young pitcher Aaron Ashby. Cardinals who are accustomed to exceeding expectations will not be intimidated by this. But their pitching…


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