2023 MLB Predictions

Some people know this, but a few years ago I was given a full set of miniature MLB team helmets and a board to display them in the order of the standings. The board wore out quite quickly, but I replaced it with a couple of little cases from Amazon, and I usually update it about once a week during the season. (Less often in early April, since the standings are so volatile that time of year.) Before the season though, I set them in the order of my predictions for that year, and I usually write some breakdown of why.

This year, I strongly considered building a full ‘objective’ model to make the predictions for me, but objective in the sense that MLB Network’s Top 10 Right Now lists are advertised as being objective and unbiased. Yes, they came out of a computer, but there’s subjectivity and bias in what goes into the model. Brian Kenny’s abject inability to understand this and many other things will be a post at some point. Unfortunately, I had this idea at about eleven o’clock this morning and even if I didn’t have to work, that really isn’t enough time to build even a satirical model. That said, I did find a couple of interesting things that factor into these predictions and might go into future models:

  • Teams average eleven fewer wins the season after having a player hit sixty or more home runs without gratuitously cheating. Did I look this up just because I wanted an ‘objective’ way to lower the Yankees in the model? Yes. Admittedly, it’s not unreasonable to think there might actually be a connection there, as the team’s win total was probably boosted by a performance that is unlikely to be repeated, but also it’s only happened twice and both times the team really had nowhere to go but down the following year. (Which is why I looked this up in the first place.)
  • According to this paper, teams who change managers have a boost in winning percentage equal to about five wins over the course of a season. The teams with new managers this year are Miami, Texas, Kansas City, and Chicago (AL). I didn’t see anything for the effects of a new GM or pitching coach, but either way there’s something of a boost for the Royals.

Anyway, these predictions were all done by a neural net that has been trained inconsistently for more than thirty years and hates the Yankees. If they’re right, the neural net will be given positive feedback in the from of smugness and beer and if they’re wrong the neural net will get negative feedback in the form of annoyance… tempered by beer.

American League


AL East

  1. Toronto (95-67)
  2. Tampa Bay (90-72)
  3. New York (85-77)
  4. Baltimore (82-80)
  5. Boston (80-82)

I didn’t want to put the Blue Jays in first. I really didn’t. Maybe it’s a lingering resentment for how ungraciously they took losing the 2015 ALCS, or maybe it’s how much they’ve been hyped for over three years without really doing anything to earn it, but they annoy me. However, John Schneider did seem to take them from a quasi-functional group of individuals with decent talent to an actual team that can win games. (Win games in the regular season, anyway.) So fine, they get first. The Rays should make it a race, as they usually do. I thought about putting them in first, but it really would have been one of those ‘thy wish was father to that thought’ placements and I try to limit myself to only applying that to teams I really like or hate. The Rays, by their standards, struggled a bit last year. I would not bet against that being an anomaly, but they did lose some of their coaching staff this offseason and are swimming against the tide of the new CBA. Between the Yankees‘ 99 wins last year already being an overperformance for a team that looked hapless for a lot of the season and the aforementioned eleven game penalty for the year after a sixty home run season, they get third and can thank me for it. The Orioles and Red Sox could really go in either order. They’ll both probably be at least decent, but both are fairly uncertain. Baltimore have the issue that teams which took as big a step as they did last year usually need a year to at best consolidate while they react to other teams adjusting. Boston spend the first part of the winter trying to tank, then remembering they were the Red Sox and having an okay winter in the end. I don’t think it’s enough to really compete though, and I think the Orioles have a better chance.

AL Central

  1. Cleveland (92-70)
  2. Chicago (90-72)
  3. Kansas City (80-82)
  4. Minnesota (72-90)
  5. Detroit (57-105)

The AL Central is, as has been the case for several years now, a pretty weak division that really just needs one team to play well to finish first. Last year that was the Guardians and I don’t see any real reason why it shouldn’t be again. They were a young, pretty balanced, team that should be at least at the same level this year. They do have the same issue I mentioned with Baltimore that it tends to be hard to take another big step after the one they took last year, but unlike Baltimore, they don’t need to do much more than consolidate the gains they made already. The White Sox could put some pressure on them though. The White Sox have spent years acquiring individually talented players who played as individuals, completely skipped the fundamentals, and could be relied upon to underperform. That might change under Pedro Grifol. He’s not a miracle worker, obviously, but he has an attention to detail that has been very lacking in Chicago. I could see him doing with the White Sox what Schneider did with the Blue Jays and if that happens the Guardians might actually have to take another step this year. I could write a whole section for the Royals, but they also should benefit from a managerial change and I really think the boost from getting rid of bad leadership both in the coaching staff and in the form of toxic players is underrated. The Twins are hard to call. They arguably had a better year last year than their record makes it look; they were in the race late until a horrific collapse down the stretch. But at the same time, the Twins have seemed to defy gravity for years. I’m not convinced that the collapse was the anomaly. They don’t look like a substantially improved team from last year, though they’ve been proactive about shoring up some possible weak spots. I’m just very, very unconvinced by them and that’s without even factoring in the possibility that Carlos Correa has a season-ending injury at some point. I’m not that kind of doctor, but given how skittish his medical report made teams, I wouldn’t want to rely on him to carry the team. And then there’s the Tigers. I was tempted to leave it at ‘The Tigers also play in this division’, but I want to mention how completely baffled I am by their approach. They seemed to be really going in on a rebuild centred around some decent prospects. And then they also went and spend big money on the most over-rated player in the league, Javy Baez. I know I call a lot of players over-rated, because players in big markets do tend to be more highly rated, but no one really compares to Javy Baez. His season last year should not have been a shock. What was a shock was that the Tigers seemed to abandon their rebuild to give him over $20 million per annum. Now they’re stuck with that and prospects who might still develop, but who are at least a year away still.

AL West

  1. Houston (104-58)
  2. Seattle (93-69)
  3. Texas (74-88)
  4. Los Angeles (70-92)
  5. Oakland (48-114)

Just after the All Star Break in 2009, the Royals had a stretch of six games—all at home—in which they took a lead into the eighth inning four times and lost all of those games. There was a grim inevitability about the bullpen in those days. I mention this because it’s the same grim inevitability about the Astros winning the AL West. I don’t want it to happen, no one outside the Houston area wants it to happen. But although the Astros have weaknesses, they’re all the sort of weaknesses that might be a problem in a short playoff series, not a problem getting there in the first place. The race for second place is fairly open. The Mariners have been playing well for a few years and they finally turned that into a playoff berth last year. The system they built looks sustainable for a while, so they’re probably favourites for that runner-up spot just by default, but also I don’t see the other three teams as having improved enough to close the gap. The Rangers spent big in the offseason after having a miserable couple of years. They look like they’re really trying to test the extent to which a team can just buy their way into contention under the new CBA. I don’t think they spent particularly wisely though, and in any case they’d have to actually spend as much as the Mets to go from 68 wins to contention. Changing managers might help, but I’m also not sold on bringing someone out of retirement. I think they’ll be better than last year, but I’m not really predicting them moving into third place as much as I am predicting the Angels moving out of first place. The Angels have a couple of really good players you’ve probably heard of, the problem is the other 24 are average at best. More importantly, the Angels front office looks all at sea, though they’re hamstrung by the uncertainty around the ownership. Either way, I just don’t see them improving from last year, and probably sinking further. And then there are the A’s. I don’t even know where to begin with the A’s, partly because I don’t actually know without looking it up who is still on their team. I feel sorry for their fans and pretty furious at their owner, John Fisher, who is damaging the whole structure of major league baseball. The whole thing is a mess.

National League


NL East

  1. New York (104-58)
  2. Atlanta (102-60)
  3. Philadelphia (87-75)
  4. Miami (75-87)
  5. Washington (54-108)

Oh, while we’re on the topic of terrible owners making the sport worse, we have the Mets‘ Steve Cohen. Just because he’s going about it the other way doesn’t make it any less damaging. Much as I hope his attempt to go full Monty Burns fails, it probably won’t. The Braves should also be very good again. I’m not convinced that they’re a better team than last year, but they also won 101 games last year, so basically carrying that forward would normally be enough. Then there are the Phillies. The Phillies are hard for me to judge. They’re the defending NL Champions, but they’re also coming off an 87-win, third-place regular season and only made the expanded playoffs on the last weekend of the season. On the one hand, I want to give them credit, and say that the grand strategy of buying every DH to slug their way into an expanded postseason did actually work. On the other hand, it’s really hard to know if that will work consistently. (And also, I hate that being a viable strategy.) They added even more hitting over the winter, but I don’t know how much that moved the needle. It doesn’t really matter in their division. They’re not finishing above third unless one of the teams above them collapses and they’re not finishing below third unless one of the teams below them makes a miracle run. But the divisions don’t really matter in MLB now, and a few games here and there might make all the difference in the wild card race. The Marlins always feel kinda irrelevant (which has been fair a lot) but I think they’ll be a little better than last year and better than the lack of attention would indicate. They still have the reigning NL Cy Young award winner and made some other minor upgrades over the winter. But they’re also going to be outclassed by the division and league. The Nationals should play a full 162 games and continue their tribute to the old ‘first in war, first in peace, last in the American League’ Washington Senators.

NL Central

  1. St Louis (91-71)
  2. Chicago (84-78)
  3. Milwaukee (80-82)
  4. Pittsburgh (63-99)
  5. Cincinnati (61-101)

There are five teams in this division. Five! It seems like a lot, given that none of them really seem like a division winner to me. I’m going with the Cardinals; they still have some good players and anyway they just seem to always find a way to win the division, no matter how annoying it is. But they also feel like the shell of a good team. I’m going with the Cubs to make a big leap and move into second place in the division. I’m not super comfortable with making that prediction, but it’s partly a reflection of the other teams in the division. The Cubs did improve though, and having a solid defensive shortstop I think will really help them. The Brewers are an extremely frustrating team. They’re talented and they’re not that far removed from being a game away from winning the NL pennant. But they just seem uninterested in winning. I can’t understand their front office at all and that disfunction seems to bleed down to the team itself. The Pirates and Reds will prop up the table again; they finished tied last year and they seem very similar again this year. I think Pittsburgh have a bit more talent in the end, but they also have some leadership issues—Ke’Bryan Hayes taking his glove off to eat sunflower seeds whilst watching a play unfold around him is the prime example—so they might cancel out again.

NL West

  1. Los Angeles (98-64)
  2. San Diego (92-70)
  3. Arizona (80-82)
  4. San Francisco (77-85)
  5. Colorado (64-98)

Almost done! The Dodgers are not the team they were a year ago, but also the team they were a year ago won one hundred and eleven games. They won the division by twenty-two games. They don’t have to be the same team they were a year ago, at least in the regular season. The Padres are also basically the same team as last year and not really that different to the team they were the last few years. They won 89 games last year and haven’t won more than ninety games in a year since 1998. Even if they’re a little better than last year and even if the Dodgers are reasonably worse, it’s hard to think that San Diego aren’t playing for a wild card spot again. But there are a lot of those, so maybe it’ll work again. I actually put the Diamondbacks in third place. Partly because it felt too much like phoning in the last division to just set everything the same as last year, but they also really do have some decent young players. What I saw of them last year looked like a better team than the 74 wins they actually got. The Giants by contrast, looked like a worse team than 81 wins last year. I do think they improved in the offseason more than the big near-misses made it seem, but there’s only so much their pitching staff can do. And then I had to put the Rockies in last. I wish I could just quote some of the Rockies fans I’ve talked to over the last few months here, because they tore apart their front office more thoroughly than I could.

I’m not going to try to predict the postseason, because those short series especially are very unpredictable even when they start. But even in the extremely unlikely scenario that these are actually the playoff teams, there’s really no way to know what the rosters will be by October. That and it’s late and I’m tired and I want to work on my scorecard. (To be revealed tomorrow!)

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