Several things stand out in trying to get a good look at the 2023 MLB crystal ball. The disparity between teams, especially at the top and the bottom, is a vast gap. Here is a list of the teams that made the playoffs in 2022. In the AL, these teams made it; HOU, NYY, CLE, TOR, SEA, and TB. These teams made it LAD, ATL, STL, NYM, PHI, and SD in the NL. The projection models don’t provide much hope of the standings allowing new blood. I might make a case for a couple of teams, but by and large, there will not be much variance. This does not mean we won’t have an exciting season; it just means wagering futures, such as division winners, becomes a wager requiring deep thought to find value.
I broke the teams into 8 tiers regarding their offense. There are 3 elite teams (HOU, TOR, and SD), with 5 well above average teams. There are 4 teams above average and 6 teams at average. There are only 2 teams just below average and 5 teams below average. There are 4 more teams well below average and 1 team that is just awful. Here is the chart. The separate colors are the tiers. The total represents how good the players are for the team, creating an offensive value. The 3>9.9 column is the number of players a team has with offensive values in double digits. The 100 Scale column represents how much better than average or worse than average a team is, and it is shown as a percentage for some teams.
We have those stand-out 3 teams at the top! They are at least twice as good as the average offense! Including the next-tier teams, 8 teams are 73% better than an average team! and 12 teams are worse than average! There is NO WAY the bottom-tier teams can compete for playoff spots with others; thus, we have this vast gap. We can eliminate CIN, WAS, COL, OAK, DET, PIT, KC, CHIC, ARI, and MIA. We can not exclude MIL or TEX only because they will appear elsewhere in better light later. Of the teams in the blueish colors, only two were not included in the playoffs for 2022 (LAA and MIN). These should be a good starting point for value leading into 2023. CLE was the worst team getting into the playoffs, but they were also in the easiest division. The offense is not everything but a good differentiator because many teams can pitch.
Regarding starting pitching, we will see similar teams near the top. However, TEX and their off-season additions have put themselves there. Once we see how teams start games with pitching and how plentiful their offense is, we can get a feel for how good they are. Some teams will score more easily than others; thus, if those who struggle to score do not have elite pitching, they are behind the others. In the case of NYY, it works exactly the opposite of that. NYY is in the above-average offense category but is #1 in starting pitching. It means their offense does not have to work quite as hard, yet they will still win games. NYY solidified its pitching with the Rodon signing. TEX finds themselves here as well. The additions of DeGrom, Eovaldi, and Heaney have propelled them to #2! Anyway, here is that list.
We can see that 7 of the top 10 are playoff teams from 2022. TEX, MIL, and LAA are now in the top 10 that did not make the playoffs a season ago. This will again lead to the right paths for values. We should be looking at those 3 teams. It is no coincidence that LAA is now showing up on offense and pitching. The addition of Tyler Anderson, a return to health for Carlos Rendon, a new addition of Hunter Renfroe, plus further development for Taylor Ward has this team ready to make a run.
The bullpen is an area that seems to go unnoticed until the playoffs start. Once that happens, whenever the bullpen gate opens, a reliever enters the game and throws a triple-digit fastball that no one can hit! These are where wins stay wins or wins become losses. It is important to have a deep bullpen and a strong backend. Here is the list of bullpens for 2023. These are ranked by FIP, accentuating the value of limited contact.
Before looking too deeply, we see LAA near the bottom; this concerns how far we expect them to rise. Again, the top teams are familiar with ATL, NYM leading the NL, and SEA, CLE leading the AL. I want to show a couple of these pens so you see what a hitter must face.
It is amazing to me! It is just impossible for batters to win these matchups regularly. The pitching is too dominant!
So after reviewing these situations, I have a short list of teams that could surprise me in the standings for 2023. Leading the list is Los Angeles Angels. They appear in the top 2 tiers of offense and the top 10 of starting pitching. I don’t believe they will win the AL West over HOU. However, they can compete with SEA for a possible Wild Card spot. MIN is on the list. They need to beat the most average of all the division winners in CLE. MIN appears on the above-average offense list and in the middle of the pack in starting pitching. They are in the top 10 regarding the bullpen. Here is that starting rotation.
The acquisition of Pablo Lopez and the return of a healthy Kenta Maeda are promising. Tyler Mahle spent his offseason at DriveLine pitching school! joe Ryan and Sonny Gray are no slouches! I expect a better return for MIN out of this starting staff. They signed Carlos Correa, and have a healthy Byron Buxton! I think this is a team who can win the division. They are +280 to do that. TEX will need a lot to go their way, yet they are much improved in the starting pitching area. They are below average offensively and in their bullpen. I do not believe this team is moving past SEA or LAA, let alone catching HOU at the top. MIL in the NL is possible because their starting staff is so good. However, they are well below offensively and have lost their keen edge in the bullpen. STL is no slouch as the division winner, either. I have made a case for four teams. I truly believe that only MIN is wager worthy!