Happy Opening Day!
The long wait is finally over. From pitchers and catchers reporting in February, to the World Baseball Classic in March, and six long weeks of Spring Training, the 2023 Major League Baseball season is ready to kick off. Opening Day is tomorrow, but we have one more order of business before we get started.
The staff here at Pitcher List has put our heads and crystal balls together to predict the upcoming season.
We polled 54 members of our Pitcher List staff for their predictions on topics ranging from division winners to conference champions, major award recipients, and more.
Who will win the American League East?
Winner: New York Yankees (25 votes, 46.3%)
Others: Toronto Blue Jays (21 votes), Tampa Bay Rays (7 votes), Baltimore Orioles (1 vote), Boston Red Sox (0 votes)
Nearly half of the votes went to the Bronx Bombers, who are the defending division champs after finishing 99-63 last year. That gave the Yankees a 7-game cushion over the runner-up Blue Jays. The PL staff envision a similar scenario this year since Toronto drew close with 21 votes to win the division. That tracks with popular projection models, as both ZiPS and PECOTA also predict a close race. Fangraphs’ ZiPS has the Yankees with 91 wins and the Blue Jays with 89.
Who will win the American League Central?
Winner: Cleveland Guardians (24 votes, 44.4%)
Others: Minnesota Twins (21 votes), Chicago White Sox (9 votes), Detroit Tigers (0 votes), Kansas City Royals (0 votes)
Cleveland scoffed at the projections last year. Despite being picked to finish third behind the White Sox and Twins, the Guardians went 92-70 and won the division by 11 games. In a role reversal this year, the PL staff is throwing their weight behind the Guardians with 24 votes. Minnesota is just behind with 21 votes, and the White Sox are third with nine. The models are a little more divided. PECOTA has both Cleveland and Minnesota with 88 wins, but gives a slight edge to the Guardians. ZiPS, however, likes the Twins to take the crown with 83 wins, ahead of Cleveland (82) and Chicago (80.)
Who will win the American League West?
Winner: Houston Astros (37 votes, 68.5%)
Others: Seattle Mariners (13 votes), Los Angeles Angels (3 votes), Texas Rangers (1 vote), Oakland Athletics (0 votes)
Despite improvements and busy off-seasons from Seattle, Los Angeles, and Texas, few voters were willing to go against the defending World Series champions. With 37 votes, Houston is the PL staff pick to again win the AL West. The projections also pick the Astros to run away with the division. PECOTA gives Houston nearly a nine-game edge over Los Angeles. The PL staff likes Seattle as a dark horse, and tossed 13 votes to the Mariners.
Who will win the National League East?
Winner: Atlanta Braves (36 votes, 66.7%)
Others: New York Mets (11 votes), Philadelphia Phillies (7 votes), Miami Marlins (0 votes), Washington Nationals (0 votes)
With 36 votes, the Braves were the popular pick to win the NL East. That’s hardly a surprise, since Atlanta has won the division for five straight seasons since 2018. The Mets have spent lavishly and made big moves to disrupt the Braves’ hegemony, but the PL staff isn’t ready to de-throne Ronald Acuña Jr. and company. Only 11 voters picked the Mets to finally ascend to the top, and seven votes went to the Phillies. ZiPS believes the Braves are the best team in baseball with 92 wins this season. PECOTA likes the Mets to win the division with 94 wins, and has Atlanta finishing second with 91.
Who will win the National League Central?
Winner: St. Louis Cardinals (46 votes, 85.2%)
Others: Milwaukee Brewers (8 votes), Chicago Cubs (0 votes), Pittsburgh Pirates (0 votes), Cincinnati Reds (0 votes)
As a whole, the National League drew more consensus out of the PL staff. Nowhere was that more true than in the NL Central, where the St. Louis Cardinals amassed an impressive 85.2% of the vote. With 46 votes, there seems little doubt that the Cards can reign supreme in the division for the second straight season. The projections are not so confident. ZiPS has St. Louis on top with 85 wins, but Milwaukee is challenging with 84. PECOTA believes the Brewers are a better bet with 87 wins to St. Louis’ 85.
Who will win the National League West?
Winner: San Diego Padres (38 votes, 70.4%)
Others: Los Angeles Dodgers (15 votes), San Francisco Giants (1 vote), Arizona Diamondbacks (0 votes), Colorado Rockies (0 votes)
One consistent theme in this poll is that the Dodgers’ day in the sun could be coming to an end. Last year, Los Angeles won 111 games, which was just five short of the MLB record. But attrition hit the Dodgers hard in the offseason with Trea Turner, Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, Tyler Anderson, and Craig Kimbrel all finding new homes. Meanwhile, the Padres loaded up on All-Stars and look poised to take over. With 38 votes, the Padres are the staff pick to win the NL West. While ZiPS also picks the Padres, PECOTA still likes the Dodgers to slip away with the title.
Who will win the American League Championship?
Winner: Toronto Blue Jays (15 votes, 27.8%)
Others: New York Yankees (12 votes), Houston Astros (11 votes), Seattle Mariners (9 votes), Cleveland Guardians (5 votes), Los Angeles Angels (1 vote), Texas Rangers (1 vote)
The Yankees might have the support to win the division, but the Blue Jays had the most votes to emerge in the ALCS. Toronto has long been trying to turn its young, talented core into something more tangible. With 15 votes, the PL staff believes everything is in place to make that happen in 2023. That starts with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, who are both entering their fifth year in the majors. Add a smart mix of power, on-base skills, and defense from George Springer, Alejandro Kirk, Matt Chapman (and others) and you can see the intrigue. Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman, and Chris Bassitt lead the rotation, and the bullpen is stocked with arms.
The Yankees and Astros also were popular picks after meeting in the ALCS last season, but the PL staff is ready to see a changing of the guard.
Who will win the National League Championship?
Winner: TIE – Atlanta Braves & San Diego Padres (19 votes, 35.2%)
Others: New York Mets (5 votes), Philadelphia Phillies (5 votes), Los Angeles Dodgers (4 votes), St. Louis Cardinals (1 vote), San Francisco Giants (1 vote)
The NLCS vote was a two-horse race. The PL staff divided over two-thirds of the vote between either Atlanta or San Diego. This is a familiar spot for both teams. The Padres advanced to the NLCS last year, but fell to the Phillies 4-1. Atlanta won it all in 2021. ZiPS agrees with the PL staff (in theory) and predicts the Braves and Padres to have the top records in the NL. However, PECOTA sees the Dodgers and Mets as the best the NL has to offer.
The Mets and Phillies tied with five votes apiece. The Dodgers, who have played in the NLCS five times since 2016, had just four votes.
Who will win the 2023 World Series Championship?
Winner: San Diego Padres (13 votes, 24.1%)
Others: Toronto Blue Jays (7 votes), Atlanta Braves (6 votes), Houston Astros (5 votes), New York Yankees (5 votes), New York Mets (5 votes), Philadelphia Phillies (4 votes), Seattle Mariners (3 votes), Los Angeles Dodgers (3 votes), Cleveland Guardians (2 votes), San Francisco Giants (1 vote)
The San Diego Padres are one of just six major league teams without a World Series Championship. The PL staff is ready to see that list fall to five after giving 13 votes to the Padres to win their first title. With one of the best lineups in baseball, a rotation featuring Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, and Joe Musgrove, and a bullpen led by Josh Hader, all the pieces are in place. San Diego advanced to the NLCS last season, but won just one game against the Phillies. Hopefully, they learned something from that experience.
The Rangers, Brewers, Mariners, Rockies, and Rays also have never won a World Series. Of that remaining group, just the Mariners pulled votes with three. The Blue Jays were second with seven votes and the Braves third with six.
Who will win the American League Cy Young?
Winner: Shane McClanahan, Tampa Bay Rays (11 votes, 20.4%)
Others: Shohei Ohtani (10 votes), Jacob deGrom (9 votes), Gerrit Cole (8 votes), Luis Castillo (6 votes), Kevin Gausman (3 votes), Cristian Javier (3 votes), Framber Valdez (2 votes), Shane Bieber (1 vote), Alek Manoah (1 vote)
McClanahan is the staff favorite to win his first Cy Young in just his third full season. The Tampa Bay ace finished sixth in Cy Young voting last year after going 12-8 with a 2.54 ERA and 194 strikeouts in 166 1/3 innings with a 3.5 fWAR. He was slowed down in the second half of the season after a couple trips to the IL, but he looked every bit the part of a Cy Young candidate before that with nine wins and 1.71 ERA.
Who will win the National League Cy Young?
Winner: TIE – Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers & Spencer Strider, Atlanta Braves (11 votes, 20.4%)
Others: Aaron Nola (8 votes), Justin Verlander (5 votes), Brandon Woodruff (4 votes), Max Scherzer (3 votes), Julio Urías (2 votes), Max Fried (2 votes), Sandy Alcantara (2 votes), Zack Wheeler (2 votes), Zac Gallen (2 votes), Clayton Kershaw (1 vote), Steven Matz (1 vote)
Burnes won the Cy Young in 2021 and finished seventh last year. The Brewers’ ace has become an annual threat to win the award, and the PL staff piled 11 votes on his name to take it away again. Last year, he went 12-8 with a 2.94 ERA and 243 strikeouts in 202 innings. The PL staff also like Strider to compete for his first Cy Young following a fantastic rookie season. Over 131 2/3 innings, he went 11-5 with a 2.67 ERA and 202 strikeouts. It wasn’t just smoke and mirrors for the Braves’ phenom. He regularly touched triple digits with his fastball and had a 38.3% strikeout rate.
Who will win the American League MVP?
Winner: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels (36 votes, 66.7%)
Others: José Ramírez (4 votes), Julio Rodríguez (4 votes), Mike Trout (3 votes), Bo Bichette (1 vote), Bobby Witt Jr. (1 vote), Adley Rutschman (1 vote), Kyle Tucker (1 vote), Luis Robert Jr. (1 vote), Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (1 vote), Yordan Alvarez (1 vote)
It is not surprising that Ohtani is the runaway favorite to win the AL MVP. But it is a bit of a surprise that not a single voter picked the reigning AL MVP Aaron Judge. Ohtani, who won the MVP award two years ago, pulled in 36 votes. It’s easy to see why, as Ohtani continues to dominate with both his bat and his pitching arm. He actually posted a better fWAR last year (9.5) than he did in his MVP-winning season in 2021 (8.0), but Judge was historic with an AL-record 62 home runs and an 11.4 fWAR. While Judge’s chances of repeating that level of production seem slim, Ohtani really just needs to continue being himself to stay in contention. There is no other player in the game like Ohtani.
Who will win the National League MVP?
Winner: Juan Soto, San Diego Padres (18 votes, 33.3%)
Others: Ronald Acuña Jr. (12 votes), Trea Turner (5 votes), Manny Machado (4 votes), Mookie Betts (4 votes), Francisco Lindor (2 votes), Freddie Freeman (2 votes), Nolan Arenado (2 votes), Corbin Burnes (1 vote), Fernando Tatis Jr. (1 vote), Justin Verlander (1 vote), Pete Alonso (1 vote), Kyle Schwarber (1 vote)
Soto had a down year by his own standards in 2022. It was the first season that he was not in contention for a major award after finishing runner-up for Rookie of the Year in 2018 and top ten in MVP voting in the next three seasons. Last year, he batted just .242 with a career-low 62 RBI. Despite that, he still had an elite .401 OBP thanks to 135 walks and hit 27 home runs. A midseason trade to San Diego should re-energize Soto’s numbers. With 18 votes, the PL staff likes the 23-year-old to finally take home the hardware. Acuña was a close second with 12 votes.
Who will win the American League Rookie of the Year?
Winner: Gunnar Henderson, Baltimore Orioles (19 votes, 36.5%)
Others: Anthony Volpe (11 votes), Masataka Yoshida (7 votes), Grayson Rodriguez (4 votes), Triston Casas (4 votes), Oscar Colas (2 votes), Curtis Mead (1 vote), Hunter Brown (1 vote), Jordan Westburg (1 vote), Josh Jung (1 vote), Logan O’Hoppe (1 vote)
Henderson is the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball. Across two minor league levels in 2022, Henderson hit .297/.416/.531 with 101 runs, 19 home runs, 76 RBI, and 22 stolen bases in 407 at-bats at just 21 years old. Baltimore gave Henderson a small taste of the majors at the end of the season, where he performed decently with a line of .259/.349/.440. Despite just one home run, Henderson was crushing the ball with a 92.4 average EV. Barring injury, he will play a full season in 2023, and is certainly the favorite to win Rookie of the Year. The PL staff put 19 votes behind Henderson and 11 on Yankees’ shortstop Volpe, who was expected to start the year in the minors but earned his spot on the team with a strong spring.
Who will win the National League Rookie of the Year?
Winner: Corbin Carroll, Arizona Diamondbacks (28 votes, 52.8%)
Others: Miguel Vargas (4 votes), Kodai Senga (4 votes), Jordan Walker (3 votes), Garrett Mitchell (3 votes), Brett Baty (2 votes), Ezequiel Tovar (2 votes), Gavin Stone (2 votes), Will Benson (2 votes), Andrew Painter (1 vote), Hayden Wesneski (1 vote), Kyle Harrison (1 vote)
If the PL staff likes Henderson as the top rookie in the American League, then we must LOVE Carroll in the National League. The Arizona outfielder ran away with over 50% of the vote in a crowded and talented field. Carroll’s 28 votes far exceeded the Dodgers’ Vargas and the Mets’ Senga with four apiece. The vote was taken before the St. Louis Cardinals announced that Walker had earned a place on the team, which likely would have made the vote closer. Still, Carroll is a worthy pick. The No. 2 prospect in baseball, Carroll hit .307/.425/.611 with 89 runs, 24 home runs, and 31 stolen bases across three different minor league levels last season. Then in 32 games with the Diamondbacks, Carroll hit .260/.330/.500 with four homers and eight stolen bases.
Which reliever will lead the league in saves?
Winner: Emmanuel Clase, Cleveland Guardians (18 votes, 33.3%)
Others: Josh Hader (11 votes), Devin Williams (5 votes), Félix Bautista (5 votes), Raisel Iglesias (4 votes), Ryan Pressly (4 votes), Jordan Romano (2 votes), Ryan Helsley (2 votes), Andrés Muñoz (1 vote), Camilo Doval (1 vote), Kenley Jansen (1 vote).
Edwin Diaz probably would have been in the running if he hadn’t suffered a season-ending knee injury in the World Baseball Classic earlier this month. Still, the voters played it safe with Clase, who emerged as an elite bullpen arm last season for Cleveland and led the league with 42 saves. Clase has no threat to his role this season in a league that increasingly leans toward a closer-by-committee approach. Hader was second with 11 votes closing games now for the Padres. A different San Diego closer, Mark Melancon, led the league in saves in 2021 with 39, and the opportunities should still be plentiful in southern California.
Which team(s) that missed the playoffs last year will make it this year?
Winner: Los Angeles Angels (22 votes, 40.7%)
Others: Milwaukee Brewers (20 votes), Minnesota Twins (19 votes), Baltimore Orioles (13 votes), Chicago White Sox (10 votes), Arizona Diamondbacks (7 votes), Texas Rangers (6 votes), San Francisco Giants (4 votes), Boston Red Sox (4 votes), Miami Marlins (3 votes), Chicago Cubs (2 votes)
What is dead will never die. Despite employing two of the best players in the world over the past few years, the Angels have been a non-factor in playoff discussions. The team has missed the postseason for eight straight seasons, but that did not deter the PL staff, which clearly favored the Halos to reverse that skid. After all, it has to come together eventually, right? Right? Maybe this is the year. ZiPS projects the Angels for 85 wins and a potential Wild Card. Whether that will be enough to keep Ohtani from leaving in free agency in the offseason is a question for another time.
Just behind the Angels’ 22 votes was the Brewers with 20. Milwaukee last made the playoffs in 2021 after winning the NL Central, and then finished just one game out of the Wild Card last year, so a quick return is not out of the question.
Which team(s) that made the playoffs last year will miss it this year?
Winner: Cleveland Guardians (21 votes, 38.9%)
Others: Tampa Bay Rays (18 votes), Seattle Mariners (16 votes), Philadelphia Phillies (14 votes), New York Mets (13 votes), Los Angeles Dodgers (7 votes), St. Louis Cardinals (5 votes), Toronto Blue Jays (5 votes), Houston Astros (2 votes), New York Yankees (2 votes), San Diego Padres (2 votes)
Let’s call it the duality of man. Despite being the PL staff favorite to win their division, the Guardians are also the popular pick with 21 votes to miss the playoffs after making it last season. That speaks to the uncertainty of the AL Central this season. The winning team is obviously guaranteed a playoff berth, but the other four could be left out entirely in a competitive American League. That could also affect the postseason potential of the Rays and the Mariners, who could be depending on the Wild Card to earn their spot. Those two teams drew the second and third most votes from the PL staff.
Most disappointing team this season?
Winner: New York Mets (12 votes, 26.1%)
Others: Los Angeles Dodgers (6 votes), Los Angeles Angels (5 votes), New York Yankees (4 votes), Philadelphia Phillies (3 votes), Texas Rangers (2 votes), San Diego Padres (2 votes), Houston Astros (2 votes), Toronto Blue Jays (2 votes), Seattle Mariners (2 votes), Cleveland Guardians (2 votes), Atlanta Braves (1 vote), Chicago White Sox (1 vote), Minnesota Twins (1 vote), Tampa Bay Rays (1 vote)
Ten years ago, the Mets were in the bottom half of the league in spending with an estimated payroll around $90 million. Such was the life of a Mets fan. Since then, billionaire Steve Cohen has poured seemingly endless resources into his attempt to turn the team into a contender. Now the Mets have an estimated 40-man payroll north of $375 million, which is nearly $90 million more than the next closest team. But you know the saying: mo’ money, mo’ problems. A big payroll doesn’t always lead to a big winner, and at this point anything less than contending for a World Series puts the Mets in a shaky position.
Most underrated team this season?
Winner: Arizona Diamondbacks (7 votes, 14.3%)
Others: Baltimore Orioles (5 votes), Los Angeles Angels (5 votes), Chicago Cubs (3 votes), Seattle Mariners (3 votes), Minnesota Twins (3 votes), Texas Rangers (3 votes), Chicago White Sox (2 votes), Detroit Tigers (2 votes), Toronto Blue Jays (2 votes), Los Angeles Dodgers (2 votes), Pittsburgh Pirates (2 votes), Cincinnati Reds (2 votes), San Francisco Giants (2 votes), Milwaukee Brewers (2 votes), Boston Red Sox (1 vote), Kansas City Royals (1 vote), Miami Marlins (1 vote), Philadelphia Phillies (1 vote)
The PL staff likes what Arizona is building in the desert. Top prospect Corbin Carroll already felt the love as the favorite to win Rookie of the Year, but the Diamondbacks have a number of other exciting prospects working toward the big leagues. MLB Pipeline ranked the Arizona farm system No. 3 with a trio of top-15 prospects: Carroll (No. 2), Jordan Lawlar (No. 11), and Druw Jones (No. 15). Starting pitcher Brandon Pfaadt (No. 59) also impressed in the minors last season. While they might not all make their debut in 2023, Arizona still has other pieces to contend, including ace Zac Gallen, All-Star Ketel Marte, Gold Glove slugger Christian Walker, and others.