The first month of the 2023 MLB season has been one of the most fascinating early campaigns in recent memory.
While our focus has been on the fallout from changes to the rulebook, the competitive aspects of the 2023 season have also been interesting. Is that good or bad? Well, that very much depends upon the team you root for.
If not for the rule changes, the dominant storyline so far might be about competitive inequality.
I track a metric I call “stratification score.” Simply put, the higher the score, the more spread out the strength of the teams; the lower the score, the more across-the-board parity exists. During the postwar era in baseball (since 1947), the highest stratification score for any season by this measure has been 116, which happened in 1954. Last season, that figure was 94, which ranks sixth in the postwar period.
With the caveat that the following number will (hopefully) regress to the mean over the course of the season, here is the stratification score for 2023: 131.
That’s a whopping figure. It’s almost unbelievable unless you happened to look at the standings Friday morning and noticed the Rays (26-6) were already 20 games better than the Athletics (6-26). It doesn’t seem possible.
We might call this the “Season of Stratification” — though it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Let’s see Bryan Cranston make a promo out of that.
All this means our task today in Stock Watch of offering up the best news for each team is made a little more difficult for the clubs that have already fallen well off the pace. Thankfully, as with most things, you can find a silver lining anywhere — if you look hard enough.
Note: Season-to-date performance, blended with forward-looking projections of each team’s roster, is used to run 10,000 simulations of the remainder of the season schedule and postseason. Teams are ordered by their average number of wins in the simulations.
Sim wins: 107.5 | Change (since Opening Day): +18.8
Probabilities: 92% (division), 100% (playoffs), 26% (title)
Best news so far: I very much just want to paste the lyrics for Pink Floyd’s “Eclipse” into this comment, but we’ll try to narrow down the Rays’ unbelievable start to one single baseball item. And I guess you’ve got to pick between MVP candidates Wander Franco and Randy Arozarena. As much as I like the thought of Arozarena reading plaudits about himself and then doing that arm-crossing thing he does, I’ll go with Franco. Expectations for Franco were as high as they get when he reached the majors at age 20. He did nothing to suggest that the hype was misguided even before this season. But his big league performance has supercharged in 2023 and it’s awfully fun to watch. This is a generational player becoming a generational player.
Sim wins: 101.4 | Change: +8
Probabilities: 94% (division), 99% (playoffs), 19% (title)
Best news so far: Well, take your pick. The Braves have won five straight National League titles and this might be the best team yet during the franchise’s current run. But let’s put our focus on Ronald Acuna Jr., who has emerged as the NL’s top early-season MVP candidate. After recovering from knee surgery, Acuna never looked quite like himself in 2022 but in 2023 his dynamism is back. He’s getting the bat on everything and doing so with an average exit velocity over 95 mph. And he has become one of baseball’s most disruptive baserunners with NL-leading early totals in steals and runs. He has talked in the past about pursuing baseball’s first 50-50 season and the way he has looked so far, you almost wonder if he set his sights too low.
Sim wins: 94.6 | Change: +4
Probabilities: 73% (division), 95% (playoffs), 11% (title)
Best news so far: The Dodgers still have some work to do to get the bottom part of their rotation stabilized, though the return of Tony Gonsolin certainly helps. L.A. will get it worked out, whether it’s a rookie like Gavin Stone or Ryan Pepiot, or a trade pickup down the line. But the picture is brightened considerably by the early performance of Dustin May, who is healthy, dealing and has risen up to join Clayton Kershaw and Julio Urias in a new Dodgers big three. May’s path to his 2.68 ERA has been fascinating, as his strikeout rate has declined and he’s not getting as many ground balls. What he has gotten instead is a spate of can-of-corn-type fly balls. Can that last, or will the longball start to bite him, or his strikeout rate regress to career norms? We’ll see, but May’s results to date have been sterling.
Sim wins: 93.9 | Change: +10.9
Probabilities: 56% (division), 84% (playoffs), 9% (title)
Best news so far: The Rangers’ major signing from the 2021-22 offseason, Corey Seager, has been sidelined by a bum hamstring. The splashy acquisition from last winter, Jacob deGrom, is out with a balky elbow. If all you knew about this team were those items and the fact that Texas lost 196 games over the past two seasons, you’d think things would look dire right about now. And you would be 180 degrees wrong. Texas is in first place behind above-average run prevention and one of baseball’s most-dominant offenses. The Rangers are on pace to score more than 1,000 runs. The best part: It’s not just the big names doing it, though Marcus Semien has been terrific, as has Adolis Garcia. But the offense has been fueled just as much by breakout seasons so far from Rookie of the Year candidate Josh Jung and the underrated Nathaniel Lowe. That group has been bolstered by a recent run from emergent shortstop Ezequiel Duran, who has stepped into Seager’s void. The Rangers probably won’t score those 1,000 runs, but this is shaping up as a special season in Arlington.
Sim wins: 90.6 | Change: -1
Probabilities: 31% (division), 69% (playoffs), 5% (title)
Best news so far: The Astros’ offense has lagged somewhat, but the run prevention has been stellar and Houston has done fine against one of MLB’s toughest early schedules. Jose Altuve‘s injury hasn’t been as big of a problem as you might think because Mauricio Dubon has played so well. Still, the most exciting development for the Astros has been the showing of rookie righty Hunter Brown, who has for the most part looked very much like the ace his stuff suggested he could be. Brown owns one of the more remarkable active streaks in the majors: He has now faced 220 batters during his fledgling career, which began with seven appearances last season, and has yet to allow a home run.
Sim wins: 90.1 | Change: -2.3
Probabilities: 4% (division), 66% (playoffs), 3% (title)
Best news so far: Let’s talk DHARMA. No, it’s not the Buddhist concept but one of the measures I track and the label stands for “defensive harmonic average.” It’s a consensus measure of team defense built from several different systems for measuring it. Toronto’s DHARMA ranks 10th in the majors. Last season, it was 19th. When the Blue Jays tweaked their roster over the winter by trading away Teoscar Hernandez while acquiring Daulton Varsho and Kevin Kiermaier, this was the improvement you figure they wanted to see. Right now, it appears the plan is working. That’s worth noting because it’s a stable improvement, even if the more spectacular good news is probably that Matt Chapman and Bo Bichette have both joined Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in producing like MVPs.
Sim wins: 88.7 | Change: +3.7
Probabilities: 78% (division), 80% (playoffs), 4% (title)
Best news so far: The Twins’ starting rotation has been baseball’s best, according to a number of advanced metrics. The big three of Sonny Gray, Joe Ryan and Pablo Lopez have been consistently terrific, while Tyler Mahle has been a sold No. 4. Bailey Ober has been a revelation as a sixth starter who has gotten a lot of run because of more injury woes for Kenta Maeda. Now Mahle is hurt as well, so the Twins’ depth will be tested. For now though, if you’re wondering why Minnesota has vaulted to the early lead in the American League Central, you don’t have to look any further than this rotation.
Sim wins: 87.5 | Change: +3
Probabilities: 49% (division), 74% (playoffs), 4% (title)
Best news so far: The Brewers have remained over .500 and within a handful of games for first in the NL Central all season, though there have been some major setbacks. Corbin Burnes has been just so-so, while Brandon Woodruff has been injured, a combo story that has kneecapped one of the pillars of this roster. After a nice start, the offense has been free-falling. Center fielder Garrett Mitchell looked like a prime Rookie of the Year contender and ended up having shoulder surgery. The upcoming schedule is tough, but for now the Brewers are still standing, thanks mostly to their star closer (Devin Williams) and what might be baseball’s best defense.
Sim wins: 87.4 | Change: -7.9
Probabilities: 2% (division), 51% (playoffs), 2% (title)
Best news so far: The Yankees’ bright preseason outlook has dimmed a good bit thanks to high-impact injuries and a faltering offense. There is plenty of time to get this right, but for now the Yankees’ defining trait is that they are an unusually good last-place team. As of today, four teams from the AL East would earn a postseason slot and the Yankees would not be one of them. As for the good news, other than one faltering inning against the unstoppable Rays, Gerrit Cole has been the best pitcher in baseball, every bit the dominating ace the Yankees hoped he’d be when they signed him. After Cole allowed a career-high 33 homers last season, no one went deep against him this year until the Rays got him twice in his eighth start. Cole is the early AL Cy Young front-runner.
Sim wins: 86.4 | Change: -5.6
Probabilities: 18% (division), 69% (playoffs), 3% (title)
Best news so far: Sometimes a club signs a high-profile free agent and that player starts off slow and everyone begins freaking out, wondering if the club has made a franchise-sinking mistake. And, frankly, sometimes that happens, though franchises don’t tend to literally sink. The Padres made quite a splash when they signed star shortstop Xander Bogaerts, even though they already had a roster composed of some pitchers and about 19 shortstops. But who would argue with the signing now? Bogaerts has been stellar during the initial stages of his San Diego career, flashing average, power and patience at the plate while posting positive marks in defense and baserunning. The defense is key because San Diego really does have other defensive options at the position, such as Ha-Seong Kim. But so far with Bogaerts, so good. Really, really good.
Sim wins: 85.5 | Change: +11.9
Probabilities: 1% (division), 38% (playoffs), 1% (title)
Best news so far: The Orioles had all the markings of a Plexiglass Principle team entering the season. So far, though, Baltimore looks like a much better version of the team that hung in during the 2022 postseason chase until the waning days of the campaign. The standout has been shortstop Jorge Mateo, who, if you haven’t noticed, has been one of the AL’s best players. Mateo was once a top prospect but it seemed like he had all but washed out when he was waived by the Padres after the 2021 trade deadline. The Orioles scooped him up for nothing. Since then, Mateo has overhauled his approach at the plate, established himself as an elite defender and his base-stealing abilities have become even more alluring in baseball’s new thief-friendly environment.
Sim wins: 85.2 | Change: +7.3
Probabilities: 1% (division), 37% (playoffs), 1% (title)
Best news so far: No team has roller-coasted through the start of the season more than Boston, and, as the first in-season Stock Watch goes to press, the Red Sox have climbed to their highest level of the campaign. Things have changed fast and for the better. The most exciting part of this has been the play of Jarren Duran, whose first two partial seasons in the majors did not go well. Since being promoted April 17, Duran has hit over .380 with elite exit velocities and improving plate discipline indicators. He’s doing damage on the bases and his defensive metrics have been positive. And not for nothing, Boston has gone 12-5 with Duran in the lineup.
Sim wins: 85 | Change: +10.1
Probabilities: 31% (division), 60% (playoffs), 3% (title)
Best news so far: The Cubs have had a weird start. For a team that lost 88 games last season, you might think hanging around .500 would be a step in the right direction. But no team has underperformed relative to its run differential as much as the Cubs. The good news … maybe not the best news, but good news nonetheless … is that the gap should close as the season progresses, which should mean a winning season. Unless, of course, the run differential craters. Anyway, the best news has been Cody Bellinger, who has reemerged with MVP-level play after two terrifyingly awful seasons with the Dodgers. If Bellinger keeps producing like this, his signing by the Cubs might stand out as the best move of the winter.
Sim wins: 84 | Change: +5.3
Probabilities: 8% (division), 30% (playoffs), 1% (title)
Best news so far: According to Spotrac, only six teams have spent less payroll on players on the IL. OK, that seems like tepid news, but for the Angels it’s huge because it means their big bats have all been mostly healthy to start the season. With Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, Taylor Ward and the rest all on the field and producing, the Halos have fielded a top-10 offense during the early going. It’s far too early to rejoice, because this is the type of thing that can go sour at any time, but at the very least we’ve gotten a glimpse of what the Angels can look like when their stars are shining on the field instead of in the training room.
Sim wins: 83.1 | Change: -6.4
Probabilities: 4% (division), 48% (playoffs), 2% (title)
Best news so far: The Mets have a long way to go on the eight-year, $162 million deal they signed with center fielder Brandon Nimmo over the winter, but if Nimmo comes anywhere close to sustaining what he has done to start the 2023 season, the contract will be a bargain. With a .400-plus OBP and strong metrics in defense and baserunning, Nimmo has been the Mets’ best player during New York’s uneven start. The Mets have mostly treaded water so far as they hope to get healthier and for some key veterans to revert to career norms. With Nimmo, though, New York has to hope he just keeps doing the same things.
Sim wins: 82.2 | Change: +4.6
Probabilities: 6% (division), 42% (playoffs), 1% (title)
Best news so far: In terms of offense, fielding and athleticism, the Diamondbacks have mostly lived up to predictions that they can be one of 2023’s breakout teams. But the starting pitching has lagged, at least beyond the great one-two duo of Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly. What’s exciting about that, however, is that Arizona has already deployed several promising young starters: Ryne Nelson, Tommy Henry, Drey Jameson and, most recently, top prospect Brandon Pfaadt. Collectively, they have much to learn. However, they carry with them the promise and trajectory of youth. If the Diamondbacks can hang in the race, the young pitchers might be the fuel that carries them into October by season’s end.
Sim wins: 81.6 | Change: +11.2
Probabilities: 16% (division), 38% (playoffs), 1% (title)
Best news so far: While it certainly seemed like the Pirates were a bit over their skis during their 20-8 start, there is no mathematical law that demands instantaneous regression. Perhaps someone should have told them that before their losing streak. Still, if we didn’t know the pattern of Pittsburgh’s start and knew only the fact that they are a few games over .500 into the second week of May, what self-respecting Bucs fan would be disappointed? There are a few individual performances we could highlight as good news. But we’ll focus on Bryan Reynolds, who has indeed been the Pirates’ best player during the fast start, though not by a lot — which is more good news. Still, that’s not the best news. The best news was the eight-year extension Reynolds signed in April. Even more than the early wins, that contract sent a much-needed signal to the jaded Pittsburgh fan base that the organization is making an actual effort to build something sustainable.
Sim wins: 81 | Change: -4.3
Probabilities: 4% (division), 17% (playoffs), 1% (title)
Best news so far: The Mariners have been hard to read. Their record has fallen short of their run differential expectation, mostly because Seattle has lost an MLB-high 10 one-run games. This, as you might recall, was an area of uncanny success for last year’s Mariners, who went 34-22 in one-run games. Seattle’s offense has been below average but not starkly so despite a sub-.230 team batting average. And that low mark has come despite the good news, which is that Jarred Kelenic seems to have become the hitter we thought he’d be (good average, plenty of walks, plus power) when he arrived in the majors. Kelenic has been terrific, but after his first two seasons yielded a .168/.251/.338 slash line, who really expected this start in 2023? And where would the Mariners’ offense be without him?
Sim wins: 80.2 | Change: -10.2
Probabilities: 19% (division), 24% (playoffs), 1% (title)
Best news so far: The Guardians’ position players have struggled as a group this season, and I choose that description because it’s not just been a matter of lagging offensive numbers — the defensive metrics are down as well. Still, the Guardians have remained competitive in a soft division because of their pitching. And the pitching has remained strong despite early injuries to rotation fixtures Triston McKenzie and Aaron Civale, and struggles from Zach Plesac that landed him back in the minor leagues. Coming to the rescue have been the kids: Rookies Peyton Battenfield, Logan Allen and Tanner Bibee have all shined. This, of course, is why Cleveland has remained competitive over the years despite a larger-than-normal amount of roster churn.
Sim wins: 80.1 | Change: -8.5
Probabilities: 2% (division), 31% (playoffs), 1% (title)
Best news so far: The Phillies’ pitching has been problematic and the offense hasn’t been great either, but with Bryce Harper back in the lineup, perhaps things will start to trend in the right direction there. The best hope for this is that in addition to Harper, the Phillies can look forward to likely positive regression from slow starters like Trea Turner and Kyle Schwarber, two stalwarts with established track records. While all of this sounds a bit uncertain, we haven’t gotten to the good news, which is that among the Phillies’ best position-player showings so far are two from young players who look like they are on their way to stalwart status: Brandon Marsh and Bryson Stott. Along with an improved version of Nick Castellanos, where would the defending NL champs be without these guys?
Sim wins: 77.9 | Change: -2.1
Probabilities: 3% (division), 21% (playoffs), 0% (title)
Best news so far: Best news so far: A roster that seems based on crowdsourcing methodology has led to a collective sprint to the middle. The bullpen has struggled in a stark fashion, but mostly the Giants have not done much that stands out as real strengths but also haven’t displayed many obvious major weaknesses beyond the relief staff outside of Camilo Doval and Tyler Rogers. There have been some happy standouts on an individual basis, and here we will trumpet the strong beginning for starter Alex Cobb. Cobb’s career has been a roller-coaster ride, but this might be the best version of him we’ve seen yet. With a little better luck in the BABIP department, Cobb could make a bid for his first All-Star Game appearance.
Sim wins: 74.5 | Change: -16.8
Probabilities: 3% (division), 11% (playoffs), 0% (title)
Best news so far: Oof. Not sure that’s a word, but it’s what came to mind when I saw the Cardinals were the next team for which I needed to come up with good news. We’ll find something, but let’s not sugarcoat this: St. Louis’ start has been an unmitigated disaster. And you go that far only when describing a start if the beginning is so bad it sinks a team’s season. The Cardinals aren’t totally dead in the playoff chase, but they will have to get very hot for a very long time to climb back. As I’ve run simulations each day, I’ve watched St. Louis’ playoff probability go from 81% when the season began to the figure you see here. Well, we owe you some good news, so here you go: Paul Goldschmidt is still hitting like Paul Goldschmidt.
Sim wins: 73.7 | Change: -7.1
Probabilities: 0% (division), 7% (playoffs), 0% (title)
Best news so far: The Marlins’ offense has been even worse than we thought. Miami has remained competitive because of an unsustainable early ability to steal one-run wins, but if the Marlins don’t improve in other areas, their record will dovetail with their run differential and that won’t be pretty. But one thing from the plan for this season that has worked out: the acquisition of Luis Arraez. Arraez’s career as a hit machine appears to be in peak form, as his average has been well over .400 at the end of every day so far this season. It’s too soon for those Arraez/Ted Williams graphics, but you might start to check Miami’s box score every morning. As it is, if Arraez simply hits his career average from here on out, he’s looking at a .345-ish average that would make him a strong favorite in the NL batting race.
Sim wins: 70.3 | Change: -11.8
Probabilities: 2% (division), 2% (playoffs), 0% (title)
Best news so far: Well, as I wrote, it’s easier to dredge up good news right now for some teams than others. The teams that were expected to struggle that have in fact struggled are one thing. But teams like the White Sox are a different animal, because of the built-in expectation for … competence? That’s harsh, but, man, it’s been a rough go of it on the South Side. Still, we can find a silver lining even in this slow-developing catastrophe: Lucas Giolito appears to be most of the way back from his down season of 2022 and has shown more and more flashes of being the near ace he was in the seasons prior to that. The big thing has been command. Giolito is not just finding the strike zone more consistently than at any time in his big league career, but he has been able to do that while also keeping his homers-allowed rate under control. Giolito is, once again, fun to watch.
Sim wins: 69.5 | Change: +4
Probabilities: 2% (division), 2% (playoffs), 0% (title)
Best news so far: The top-level news is probably the simple fact that despite having baseball’s worst offense, the Tigers have fielded well and won more than their fair share of the plentiful close games in which they have been engaged. In the AL Central, that’s good enough for third place and almost good enough for second. The best news, though, is the remarkable run starter Eduardo Rodriguez has been on. After missing around three months of his first Detroit season because of personal issues, Rodriguez has been lights out, going 3-2 with a 1.81 ERA over his first seven starts. Over his past five outings, E-Rod has allowed just two earned runs over 34 2/3 innings, which translates to a barely-there 0.52 ERA.
Sim wins: 68.1 | Change: -1.4
Probabilities: 0% (division), 2% (playoffs), 0% (title)
Best news so far: This one is easy. The Reds overall have been inconsistent and have played a ton of close games. Entering the season, I declared the No. 1 thing to root for with this team was the development of its young rotation trio of Graham Ashcraft, Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo. There have been and still will be ups and downs. Lodolo has cooled after a hot start. He has been bitten by a spate of long balls lately, especially at home. Ashcraft’s ERA was 2.00 after five starts and then soared to 3.82 because he was lit up by the White Sox on Sunday, also at home. Learning to deal with Great American Ballpark is a process. Still, the future for this group looks brighter than ever.
Sim wins: 66.4 | Change: +2.8
Probabilities: 0% (division), 1% (playoffs), 0% (title)
Best news so far: The Nats’ rebuild remains a work in progress, but the club does seem to be more competitive this season and has had some nice moments in the form of late-inning turnarounds. This is not a team ready to contend, but, nevertheless, if you were to have jotted down a wish list for roster-related developments for Washington in 2023, high up on it might have been something like “Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore develop into a first-division top of the rotation.” They aren’t there yet, but the strides for both have been impressive. Last season, Gray posted a 77 ERA+ while leading the NL in both homers allowed and walks. Gore had an 84 ERA+ for San Diego and didn’t pitch for the Nats in the majors after being traded. This year, they have a combined 126 ERA+ over seven starts apiece.
Sim wins: 63.6 | Change: +4.1
Probabilities: 0% (division), 0% (playoffs), 0% (title)
Best news so far: The catching position for Colorado has been one of the more consistent positional black holes in baseball during the history of the Rockies. Close followers of the organization have been pointing to the eventual arrival of prospect Drew Romo to finally shore up the spot. In the meantime, Elias Diaz has arguably been the Rockies’ best player thanks to a strong early showing with the bat. OK, Coors Field has had something to do with it, if you look at the home-road splits, but nevertheless my AXE rating has Diaz as the NL’s second-best catcher in the early going behind Atlanta’s Sean Murphy. Diaz is 32, so he’s not the long-term answer, but at least Rockies fans can enjoy some backstop prowess while it lasts.
Sim wins: 59.4 | Change: -11.8
Probabilities: 0% (division), 0% (playoffs), 0% (title)
Best news so far: We have locked the door and barred the snark-generating robot from intruding upon the proceedings. Look, it’s been a rough start to the season for a club several years removed from the start of its latest rebuilding journey. Things do not appear to be going well. But there is a new team of decision-makers in charge, and we should cut them some slack. And in terms of a silver lining, the performance of Aroldis Chapman qualifies. His strikeout rate has rebounded to his career norm and the velocity and spin on his four-seamer are at their highest levels in over half a decade. The Royals should probably max out on Chapman’s leverage in order to maximize what they can get back for him in a trade. But if K.C. moves Chapman and gets a prospect in return, that’s a win for the organization after plucking the controversial lefty off the scrap heap.
Sim wins: 50.6 | Change: -12.4
Probabilities: 0% (division), 0% (playoffs), 0% (title)
Best news so far: The expectations entering the season could hardly have been lower for the Athletics and, somehow, their actual results are worse than we feared. Oakland’s run prevention has a chance to be historically dreadful. If the Athletics are able to avoid a run at the 1962 Mets, it’ll be because the hitters are … not obviously the worst group in baseball. Within that group are some bona fide feel-good stories, especially the breakout performance by journeyman Brent Rooker. There are lots of eye-popping numbers stemming from Rooker’s breakout, but the simplest way to illustrate it is this: Rooker owns baseball’s best OPS, and right now, it’s not particularly close.