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Masataka Yoshida Lost Himself

Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

When Adam Jones compared his former Orix Buffaloes teammate Masataka Yoshida to Juan Soto, he quickly established the lofty expectations that Yoshida would face as he made the transition to the major leagues. The comparison painted a clear picture of the type of batter Yoshida was in Japan. For all of Soto’s success on contact, his truly elite skill is his plate discipline, and the same was true for Yoshida. In five of his seven seasons in Japan, he ran a walk rate higher than his strikeout rate while posting a 176 wRC+ during his career in his home country. In his final year in NPB, he had the second-lowest strikeout rate and second-highest walk rate among qualified batters.

The transition from Asian leagues to the majors has usually been more difficult for batters than for pitchers. High velocity is the greatest concern, but the quality of breaking and offspeed offerings is much higher as well. For Yoshida, his pitch recognition skills seemed like they’d help him overcome these common problems, even if his overall plate discipline suffered a bit. While he wasn’t able to reach the heights of his career in Japan, he did manage to record a 109 wRC+ in his first big league season, though his 0.6 WAR was certainly lower than the Red Sox were expecting when they signed him to a huge five-year deal. His overall value was hurt by some ugly defense in left field; then again, his glove was never his strength. More concerning was that his approach at the plate worsened as the season went on, leading to a dreadful final two months that greatly diminished what otherwise would have been a successful rookie year.

Through the first three months of the season, everything looked like it was working out; he was posting a 129 wRC+ with 8.7% walk rate and an 11.3% strikeout rate. The plate discipline looked like it had made the transition without any fuss, and he was hitting for some power to top it all off. Unfortunately, over the next three months, things took a turn for the worse, dragging his overall line down to where it ended the season. It’s pretty easy to see what the issue was when you look at his rolling strikeout and walk rates during the season.

From July 1 through the end of the season, he took just seven walks total and his strikeout rate jumped to 17.0%. He continued to produce in July, even as he began to lose his plate discipline, but everything crumbled over the final two months, when he slashed .257/.276/.371 and had a 68 wRC+ across 181 plate appearances.

So what happened to his legendary plate discipline skills that drew comparisons to those of Soto during the second half of the season? Looking under the hood, it seems like he started pressing once he started struggling. When you compare his underlying plate discipline metrics from his time in Japan to his rookie season, you can pretty clearly see where things went wrong.

Masataka Yoshida, Plate Discipline
Year BB% K% Swing% O-Swing% Contact% Z-Contact% SwStr%
2016 9.7% 13.2% 39.4% 27.7% 79.5% 87.8% 8.1%
2017 14.2% 11.9% 41.8% 24.2% 80.6% 87.1% 8.1%
2018 11.5% 12.4% 42.4% 28.2% 80.7% 90.2% 8.2%
2019 13.0% 10.5% 40.6% 24.5% 83.2% 90.7% 6.8%
2020 14.6% 5.9% 38.0% 25.0% 89.4% 94.9% 4.0%
2021 12.7% 5.7% 37.8% 21.4% 87.7% 93.2% 4.6%
2022 15.7% 8.1% 36.9% 22.4% 86.0% 92.2% 5.2%
2023, Before July 1 8.7% 11.3% 40.4% 23.9% 84.0% 87.1% 6.5%
2023, After July 1 2.6% 17.0% 46.8% 28.4% 82.2% 87.8% 8.4%
NPB data from Delta Graphs

In Japan, Yoshida’s low swing rates were the backbone of his approach. The qualified batter with the lowest swing rate in the majors last year was Yoshida’s World Baseball Classic teammate Lars Nootbaar (35.3%), followed by Soto (35.7%). At his peak in Japan, Yoshida approached that level of selectivity. This, combined with a low chase rate and high contact percentages on pitches in and out of the zone, was Yoshida’s recipe for success.

During the first half of last season when his plate discipline was still intact, his swing and chase rates looked similar to what he had been running in Japan. Everything trended the wrong way during the second half of the season; he became much more aggressive and started chasing pitches out of the zone at a far higher rate than he had in years.

It’s worth noting that fatigue certainly contributed to Yoshida’s struggles. The schedule in the majors is far more grueling than it is in NPB, where all the games are played in the same time zone and the longest flight takes about 3 1/2 hours. Yoshida was gassed by the end of June, right around the time he lost his approach.

When we’re analyzing a hitter’s plate discipline, looking at swing, chase, and contact rates are usually the most commonly cited metrics because they’re publicly available, but they’re a pretty blunt tool when trying to discern a hitter’s swing decisions. Thankfully, Robert Orr of Baseball Prospectus has done some fantastic work to illuminate this problem. Back in November, he introduced his SEAGER metric, which looks at expected swing or take run values and grades a player’s swing decisions based on what they actually did. It has two components: the rate of hittable pitches taken, which measures aggression; and the rate of bad pitches taken, which measures selectivity.

As you’d expect from the name of the metric, Corey Seager’s swing decisions grade out incredibly well. Juan Soto also does well via this methodology, sitting ninth in baseball in SEAGER and first in selectivity. Based on his reputation and his swing, chase, and contact rates in Japan, you’d expect Yoshida to have a high-selectivity, low-aggression SEAGER profile. That’s not exactly what the data bears out.

Masataka Yoshida, SEAGER Plate Discipline
Player SEAGER Selectivity% Hittable Pitch Take%
Masataka Yoshida 8.5 50.4% 41.9%
Juan Soto 22.6 58.5% 35.9%
Lg. Average 13.6 49.6% 36.0%

Yoshida’s SEAGER was quite poor because he wasn’t aggressive enough on hittable pitches to compensate for his lower-than-expected selectivity, which was roughly league average. For comparison’s sake, I included Soto’s SEAGER metrics above just to marvel at how incredible his ability to lay off bad pitches is.

When we look at the rolling graphs of Yoshida’s SEAGER components, we get a much clearer picture of what happened during his season. First his selection tendency:

We can see that Yoshida was extremely selective early in the season, up near the Soto range, but that cratered as the season went on and only barely recovered by the end of the year. His discerning eye at the plate was supposed to be the elite skill that would help him make the transition to the major leagues. That was the case for the first few months before he lost his way.

His rolling rate of hittable pitches taken doesn’t look much better:

As expected, Yoshida was pretty passive to start out the season, but he became more aggressive as he started to slump and never really recovered. Swinging at hittable pitches more often would be a good thing in a vacuum, but when taken into context with all the other things that were trending the wrong way during Yoshida’s second half, I’m not so sure it helped. Plate discipline is a fine balance between identifying bad pitches to take and being aggressive on good pitches to hit. Yoshida’s strengths seem like they’re more focused on the former, and when he became more aggressive, he threw that balance out of whack.

There were plenty of knock-on effects as Yoshida’s plate discipline deteriorated. Early on in the season, he was producing above average contact quality, helping him post a .174 ISO through the end of June. That metric dropped to .138 during the second half of the season as his contact quality collapsed along with his approach.

Masataka Yoshida, Batted Ball Peripherals
Month EV50 Barrel% Hard Hit% Sweet Spot% xwOBAcon wOBA
April 101.9 7.8% 44.2% 26.0% .366 .362
May 101.9 8.1% 45.3% 22.1% .351 .412
June 101.4 6.3% 43.0% 31.6% .369 .325
July 97.9 1.4% 32.4% 32.4% .335 .361
August 99.2 5.1% 40.5% 27.8% .299 .277
September 97.7 11.1% 36.5% 39.7% .384 .282

Despite seeing some decent results on balls in play in July, his contact quality took a steep dive in that month. Only a high BABIP and a couple of lucky home runs were able to buoy his production. His contact quality improved slightly in August, but he was hitting his batted balls at less than ideal angles, which led to far too many outs. Things got really interesting in September. His batted ball quality rebounded significantly with his highest expected wOBA on contact of the season coming during that month. Unfortunately, his actual results on those batted balls lagged well behind his expected stats. On top of that, he made far less contact that month, when he struck out 23.5% of the time. Still, it’s encouraging to see that his contact quality improved during the final month of the season, even if his discipline hadn’t recovered.

With this additional context, we can paint a pretty clear picture of Yoshida’s season. He started the season with his established approach and things were going well for him. In July, that approach started to unravel as he started swinging much more aggressively. His results on balls in play boosted his batting line that month, but everything collapsed once those hits stopped falling in. When he started slumping, he abandoned his extremely selective approach and his plate discipline never recovered. By the end of the year, his approach was completely unrecognizable from what it was in Japan.

With a full year of experience in the majors now under his belt, Yoshida has a better understanding of what to expect moving forward. His offseason training program was designed to better prepare him for the grind of a major league season, and being less fatigued should make it easier for him to return to form the next time he struggles. As he heads into his second year in the majors, he will need to lean on his excellent pitch recognition skills to sustain his success and pull him out of a slump when he goes cold. And when he inevitably scuffles again, he’ll need to remember why those skills are so critical to his success, so he doesn’t lose himself again.

FanGraphs Power Rankings: Spring Training 2024 Edition

It’s been a long offseason, one that has felt all the more drawn out because a number of high-profile free agents, including three of the top five in our rankings, remain unsigned. But spring training has begun in earnest and the thwack of baseballs hitting gloves has started to punctuate the air in Arizona and Florida. These power rankings give us a snapshot of where each team stands, though a lot could change between now and Opening Day.

A reminder for how these rankings are calculated: first, we take the most important components of a team — its offense (wRC+) and its pitching (a 50/50 blend of FIP- and RA9-, weighted by starter and reliever IP share) — and combine them to create an overall team quality metric. I’ve removed defense from the calculations during the offseason since defensive projections aren’t the most reliable. For these offseason power rankings, I’ve used each team’s projected stats based on their Depth Charts projections, which now include both the 2024 ZiPS projections and the 2024 Steamer projections. The result is a power ranking, presented in tiers below.

Tier 1 – Preseason Favorites
Team Projected Record wRC+ SP- RP- Team Quality
Braves 97-65 114 88 92 200
Dodgers 92-70 111 94 101 168
Astros 90-72 111 97 97 169

The Braves spent a lot of effort this offseason solidifying their place atop the NL pecking order. With an already strong roster, they were surprisingly busy this winter, making nine different trades, the majority of which looked more like an accounting ledger than a major league transaction record. In the end, they bolstered their pitching staff by adding Chris Sale and a handful of bullpen arms and filled the lone hole in their lineup with the mercurial Jarred Kelenic. They’re projected to win five more games than the Dodgers and should have no trouble running the table in the NL East again this year.

The Dodgers did all they could this offseason to try and topple the Braves from the top of the projected standings, signing two Japanese superstars, trading for Tyler Glasnow, and re-signing their franchise talisman. Despite all the money they’ve spent on revitalizing their once-depleted starting rotation, there’s still plenty of risk dragging their projection down. Their talent is undeniable, but it’s unclear how much of it will be healthy and available for the entire season.

The Astros remain the class of the American League despite a pretty quiet offseason. They addressed their biggest pitching need last summer when they reacquired Justin Verlander, though it remains to be seen how long he can fight off Father Time. Houston’s one big addition this offseason was to bring in Josh Hader to strengthen an already elite bullpen and help shorten games even further. The Astros also signed Jose Altuve, the face of their franchise, to a five-year extension that should keep him in Houston through the end of his career. With the rest of the AL playoff picture looking very crowded right now, the Astros stand above the fray as preseason favorites.

Tier 2 – The AL Battlezone
Team Projected Record wRC+ SP- RP- Team Quality
Yankees 89-73 111 98 100 145
Rays 86-76 106 99 98 141
Twins 84-78 102 96 95 143
Blue Jays 84-78 104 98 97 141
Mariners 86-76 102 95 99 134
Orioles 86-76 106 97 102 133

This tier really exposes the stark differences between the top teams in the American League versus that same group in the National League, which is not represented here. Even though the Astros are listed in the tier above, all six of the teams in this second tier could wind up being the best team in the AL by the end of the season, and this tier doesn’t even include the reigning World Series champions. It would be hard to imagine any of the next best teams in the NL surpassing the Braves or Dodgers this year. Hopefully that means the AL playoff picture will be crowded and exciting.

The Yankees entered this offseason at a bit of crossroads. Their 2023 season was derailed by injuries to their biggest stars, and they still have far too much money tied up in guys in the decline phase of their careers. They really needed to make a splash to keep up with the rest of the teams in the AL East. And make a splash they did. The one-two punch of Aaron Judge and Juan Soto rivals that of any other team in baseball, and they also managed to add depth in the outfield, with Alex Verdugo and Trent Grisham, and the rotation, with Marcus Stroman. They’ve emerged as the slight favorites in their very competitive division.

The Rays traded Glasnow from their rotation, they won’t have Wander Franco in their lineup, and they’re still projected to finish second in the AL East with 86 wins. Not many other teams in baseball could survive losing two of their top players, much less project to be nearly as competitive. The depth of their roster is unrivaled, giving them plenty of leeway when the inevitable roster attrition begins to take its toll during the season. Unfortunately, their potential ceiling is a little lower without those same top contributors, making their chances of winning the division a little tougher.

The Twins, who cruised to a division title last year, look like they have a clear path to repeat. They still managed to improve their pitching staff and alleviate their infield logjam, even as they cut payroll. Despite the rosy projections, it still feels like the success of their season will hinge on the health of Byron Buxton, Carlos Correa, and Royce Lewis. If that trio is producing regularly, their lineup should be formidable. If not… well, the depth behind those three is rather lackluster.

For a brief moment, it looked like the Blue Jays had pulled off the heist of the offseason — and it involved sushi restaurants, flight trackers, and Canadian billionaires. Hearts across the north were broken when Shohei Ohtani did not step off that private jet in Toronto, and clothes rended asunder when he announced he’d be signing with the Dodgers a few hours later. Anything else the Jays did this offseason had to compete with that disappointment, which is why adding a couple of defense-first players and a 39-year-old designated hitter didn’t exactly generate a ton of excitement.

It was a long and winding road, and some of the individual moves didn’t necessarily make much sense in a vacuum, but the Mariners managed to red paper clip their way into a roster that looks roughly as talented as their squads from the past three seasons. Thanks to a young and talented pitching staff, Seattle is projected to have the best run prevention unit in baseball. That strength alone gives them a shot at toppling the Astros for the top spot in their division. Capping off their revamped lineup with Jorge Polanco gives their offense another middle-of-the-order hitter to help support Julio Rodríguez. They could use one more bat to lengthen their lineup, but that doesn’t seem likely.

After breaking out of their long rebuilding cycle with the AL’s best record last year, the Orioles have had an eventful offseason, though it took a while for the dominos to drop. As the calendar flipped to February, they traded for Corbin Burnes to give them an ace to lead their starting rotation. The very next day, news broke that John Angelos had agreed to sell the team to an investment group led by David Rubenstein. Hopefully, the change brings increased investment to the team, though it’ll probably take a while for those effects to be seen. Meanwhile, the roster looks as good as it did last year and Baltimore still has plenty of young talent on the cusp of making an impact in the big leagues.

Tier 3 – Solid Contenders
Team Projected Record wRC+ SP- RP- Team Quality
Red Sox 82-80 103 98 97 137
Diamondbacks 83-79 100 96 97 131
Cardinals 83-79 106 103 99 120
Phillies 84-78 99 96 99 117
Rangers 82-80 106 101 103 109

The Red Sox don’t have a bad roster — and they were right to bring in Lucas Giolito, Tyler O’Neill, and Vaughn Grissom as complimentary pieces — but they don’t have a great one, either. The problem is that Boston plays in a division with four of the six teams in Tier Two, so it’s not enough to have a roster that is just OK. The Red Sox seem to be trying to straddle that awkward line between building toward the future and maintaining a roster that could luck into a Wild Card spot if enough things break their way.

The Diamondbacks have quietly had a strong offseason to support the squad that surprisingly won the NL pennant last year. They brought in Eduardo Rodriguez to bolster the starting rotation, re-signed Lourdes Gurriel Jr., traded for Eugenio Suárez, and signed Joc Pederson. They’re not splashy moves, but they do fill in some of the cracks that were exposed in the World Series once their good fortune ran out. They won’t challenge the Dodgers for the NL West crown, but they should be right in the thick of the Wild Card race again this season.

You can quibble about who they brought in, but the Cardinals had one job this offseason and they went right after it, signing Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn, and Kyle Gibson to revamp their starting pitching. Those three should be better than the patchwork staff that derailed St. Louis last season. Combined with a strong offensive core and solid bullpen, an improved rotation should be enough for the Cardinals to make last year a one-year blip rather than the start of a long decline.

By re-signing Aaron Nola and calling it an offseason, the Phillies have indicated they’re satisfied with running back the same group that has been so successful over the past two seasons. That’s not a terrible place to be in — back-to-back NLCS appearances is nothing to sneeze at — but it’s also not very aspirational. Of course, it’s hard to have higher aspirations when you have to chase down the Braves in the NL East, so another Wild Card berth will have to do.

It’s weird to see the Rangers this low in the rankings, but they’ve had a relatively quiet offseason for a team that just won a World Series. That said, they can look forward to their lineup continuing to be one of the league’s best, with a full season of Evan Carter and the eventual debut of Wyatt Langford. The problem is their pitching staff. Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, and Tyler Mahle are all expected to return from their respective injuries during the second half of the season. That should give them a formidable playoff rotation should they reach the postseason again, but the onus is on their healthy starters to hold down the fort for the first three months of the season.

Tier 4 – High-Variance Could Be’s
Team Projected Record wRC+ SP- RP- Team Quality
Marlins 81-81 94 94 97 103
Guardians 80-82 99 100 99 90
Brewers 81-81 96 99 95 87
Cubs 81-81 98 99 99 82
Giants 80-82 99 96 102 96
Padres 81-81 99 103 105 65

There are five NL teams with projections sitting around .500 in this tier, with two more in the tier below, and they’ll all be fighting over one or two Wild Card spots. That should make for a dramatic race, though any one of those teams could begin to separate themselves from the pack by signing any of the free agents still on the market.

The Marlins have been very quiet this offseason — they’re the only remaining team who hasn’t signed a free agent to a major league contract. The moves they have made have been around the margins, bringing in some additional depth and utility types. Once again, they’re going to rely on their young and dynamic pitching staff to carry the load. It worked for them last year, though they benefited from some historic Pythagorean overperformance.

ZiPS actually likes Cleveland’s chances of challenging Minnesota in the AL Central, projecting the two teams to finish with the same record. That’s interesting, considering the Guardians enter this season with mostly the same players as last year’s team that missed the playoffs. But they’ve got a talented pitching staff that could carry them, and they’ll be calling on a couple of their prospects — Brayan Rocchio and Kyle Manzardo — to improve their lineup. It might not be enough, but Cleveland has the potential here to make for an interesting division race if things break right.

Boy, does the Brewers roster look different without Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff leading their rotation. In a wide open division, Milwaukee has opted to try and build toward the future while still hoping for a competitive season in the present. In addition to top prospect Jackson Chourio, the Brewers have a bunch of other exciting youngsters who could make an impact in the big leagues this year. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them right in the thick of the playoff race.

The Cubs stayed competitive until the final week of last season, but they’ve failed to address the big hole on their roster that opened when Cody Bellinger hit free agency. They did sign Shōta Imanaga, which should give them a boost to their starting rotation, and they also picked up Michael Busch from the Dodgers in a savvy little trade. There’s still time to re-sign Bellinger, but until they do, they look like they’re a hair behind the Cardinals in the NL Central.

The Giants finally added some oomph to their lineup by signing Jorge Soler to a three-year deal earlier this week. Along with newcomer Jung Hoo Lee, San Francisco has brought in two solid offensive players to bolster its lineup. The Giants have capable starters across every position, and they have some decent depth, but they still lack the upside to push their projection above .500. They could go out and sign Blake Snell, which would certainly help, but they’re clearly not good enough to challenge the Dodgers for the division. They’ll be stuck fighting with the other high-variance teams in the NL for those last Wild Card spots.

After the death of owner Peter Seidler and a television contract that was suddenly up-in-the-air, the Padres cut payroll after spending lavishly during recent offseasons. The Juan Soto trade helped solve that issue while also restocking their starting rotation. San Diego still has plenty of talent on the big league roster, and top prospect Jackson Merrill is knocking on the door, but the Padres desperately need another outfielder, even after re-signing Jurickson Profar.

Tier 5 – No Man’s Land
Team Projected Record wRC+ SP- RP- Team Quality
Tigers 80-82 97 100 99 78
Reds 80-82 98 99 104 74
Mets 80-82 102 104 103 71
Angels 78-84 103 104 104 85

The Tigers have spent this offseason filling in the edges of their roster, with righty starters Kenta Maeda and Jack Flaherty being the standout acquisitions. They also handed out a big extension to top prospect Colt Keith; he’ll join the collection of young hitters already in the big leagues. If enough things break its way, Detroit could surprise in the weak AL Central. However, it’s more likely that the Tigers are another year away from the end of their rebuild.

The Reds have the enviable problem of having too many young infielders for not enough spots, and manager David Bell will have to figure out how to get them all regular at-bats while also juggling their development when the inevitable growing pains come along. Even with all that position player talent and the additions of Frankie Montas and Nick Martinez, the projections peg Cincinnati to be right around where it finished last year. That’s not terrible, considering the Reds were in the playoff conversation right up until the last weekend of the season, but they’ll need to get a lot from their youngsters to rise above their current projections.

The Mets fell the furthest of any team in these rankings over the offseason. You get the sense that this year is being treated as an evaluation year by their new president of baseball operations David Stearns as he begins to put his stamp on the organization. There’s still talent on this roster, though. If some of their veterans return to form and Francisco Alvarez and Brett Baty produce, the Mets could challenge for a Wild Card spot.

If the Mets are stuck in the limbo of not rebuilding yet, the Angels are even further out in the cold. They realized they couldn’t replace the production of a unicorn like Shohei Ohtani, so they didn’t try to do that this offseason. Instead, they brought in a pile of relievers and are hoping for a return to health from all of their key contributors on offense. Even if Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, and Taylor Ward all play full seasons, that still won’t be enough to compete in the crowded AL Wild Card race, and there aren’t many reinforcements coming up through their farm system, either.

Tier 6 – Rebuilding
Team Projected Record wRC+ SP- RP- Team Quality
Pirates 77-85 94 104 97 60
Royals 76-86 97 102 103 52
Athletics 72-90 93 110 104 21
Rockies 64-98 84 106 100 33
White Sox 68-94 91 111 109 9
Nationals 66-96 88 114 106 5

Even though they’ve started to graduate some of their prospects, the Pirates are still a step behind the other teams in their division. Oneil Cruz and Ke’Bryan Hayes look like franchise pillars, but Pittsburgh doesn’t have enough to contend just yet.

After signing Bobby Witt Jr. to a franchise-record extension, the Royals face the difficult task of building a winning roster around him. Signing veteran starters Michael Wacha and Seth Lugo to support a beleaguered pitching staff was a good start, but the Royals needed to do more than make incremental moves, and so far, they haven’t. Considering there isn’t much coming through the minor league system, either, Kansas City would probably be better off trading away Wacha and Lugo for prospects during the season to hopefully speed up this rebuild.

The A’s lost 112 games last year, but it’s hard to care about the product they put on the field because of their impending move to Las Vegas. The best thing you can say about Oakland’s roster right now is that it is not projected to be the worst team in the majors. Unfortunately, there’s a serious lack of upside on the big league roster and little high-end talent down on the farm. It’s possible that when (or, at this point, if) the A’s head to Vegas four years from now, they will still be one of the worst teams in baseball.

You’d think the Rockies would’ve learned a valuable lesson after striking gold with their under-the-radar pickup of Nolan Jones last offseason. But instead of working to find more under-appreciated, talented players who are blocked from getting regular playing time elsewhere, they spent this offseason acting as uninspired as ever. Maybe they expect to see some growth from Ezequiel Tovar and healthy seasons from Kris Bryant and Brendan Rodgers, but there isn’t much else to get excited about on this roster.

It’s a sad state of affairs. The most that White Sox fans can look forward to this season is that their team trades its two best players, Dylan Cease and Luis Robert Jr. for the package of prospects that could form the next great South Siders roster. Until they trade those two, the Sox will likely avoid being the worst team in the majors, but the bottom could fall out very quickly after the deadline.

At the end of this season, the Nationals will be one year closer to seeing the fruits of the Juan Soto trade in the majors. That’s the best that can be said about their roster as it’s currently constructed. Sure, CJ Abrams looks mildly interesting as a breakout candidate, and it isn’t the worst plan to bank on Joey Gallo, Nick Senzel, and Jesse Winker returning to form. But make no mistake, this organization is in a holding pattern until its ownership question is answered.

Complete Power Rankings
Rank Team Projected Record wRC+ SP- RP- Team Quality Δ
1 Braves 97-65 114 88 92 200 0
2 Dodgers 92-70 111 94 101 168 7
3 Astros 90-72 111 97 97 169 0
4 Yankees 89-73 111 98 100 145 2
5 Rays 86-76 106 99 98 141 -3
6 Twins 84-78 102 96 95 143 -1
7 Blue Jays 84-78 104 98 97 141 -3
8 Mariners 86-76 102 95 99 134 0
9 Orioles 86-76 105 97 102 133 1
10 Red Sox 82-80 103 98 97 137 1
11 Diamondbacks 83-79 100 96 97 131 7
12 Cardinals 83-79 106 103 99 120 4
13 Phillies 84-78 99 96 99 117 -6
14 Rangers 82-80 106 101 103 109 -2
15 Marlins 81-81 94 94 97 103 -1
16 Guardians 80-82 99 100 99 90 4
17 Brewers 81-81 96 99 95 87 0
18 Cubs 81-81 98 99 99 82 3
19 Giants 80-82 99 96 102 96 0
20 Padres 81-81 99 103 105 65 -5
21 Tigers 80-82 97 100 99 78 1
22 Reds 80-82 98 99 104 74 1
23 Mets 80-82 102 104 103 71 -10
24 Angels 78-84 103 104 104 85 0
25 Pirates 77-85 94 104 97 60 0
26 Royals 76-86 97 102 103 52 0
27 Athletics 72-90 93 110 104 21 0
28 Rockies 64-98 84 106 100 33 0
29 White Sox 68-94 91 111 109 9 1
30 Nationals 66-96 88 114 106 5 -1

Mariners and Rays Each Make a Pair of Trades, Gain Roster Clarity

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The Mariners and Rays had a busy Friday last week, combining to make three trades involving seven players. Seattle got things started with a three-player swap with the San Francisco Giants, shipping Robbie Ray to the Bay Area in exchange for Mitch Haniger, Anthony DeSclafani, and cash considerations. Then the M’s and the Rays exchanged José Caballero and Luke Raley, before Tampa Bay finished off the day by sending Andrew Kittredge to St. Louis for Richie Palacios. Both the Mariners and Rays dealt from areas of strength to address areas of need, giving both teams greater roster clarity as the offseason moves towards spring training.

Just two years ago, the three players involved in the first trade of the day would have garnered much bigger headlines. In 2021, Ray, Haniger, and DeSclafani combined to accumulate 9.4 WAR, with Ray winning the American League Cy Young award. In the two seasons since then, however, the trio has combined for just 3.3 WAR, largely thanks to a litany of injuries. Ray was completely healthy in 2022, but he wasn’t able to replicate his award-winning performance in his first season in Seattle and then made just a single start in 2023 before needing Tommy John surgery. Haniger has never been a model of health — he’s played just two full seasons in his seven-year career — and missed time with ankle, back, oblique, and forearm injuries the past two seasons. DeSclafani managed just five starts in 2022 thanks to a recurring ankle injury, then wore down towards the end of last year with shoulder fatigue and forearm inflammation. Read the rest of this entry »

FanGraphs Power Rankings: The Start of the Offseason

The true offseason has yet to begin, as teams have begun their annual housekeeping on their rosters, but the big moves have yet to materialize. That means it’s the perfect time to see how they stack up against each other. Think of these power rankings as a glimpse at which teams are close to being ready for 2023 and which teams might have a lot of work to do before even thinking about next season.

A reminder for how these rankings are calculated: first, we take the three most important components of a team — their offense (wRC+), their pitching (a 50/50 blend of FIP- and RA9-, weighted by starter and reliever IP share) — and combine them to create an overall team quality metric. For these offseason power rankings, I’ve used each team’s projected stats based on their Depth Charts projections which are entirely powered by the 2024 Steamer projections at this point. The result is a power ranking, which is then presented in tiers below.

While these offseason power rankings will continue to emulate the format from the past few years, I am working on a new format to the rankings for the 2024 regular season that will hopefully address many of the concerns voiced about the current methodology. I hope to have more to share about what these new rankings will look like in the months ahead. Anyway, to the rankings!

Tier 1 – Ready to Compete
Team Projected Record wRC+ SP- RP- Team Quality
Braves 97-65 114 88 94 199
Rays 91-71 109 94 99 167
Astros 91-71 113 98 99 163

It’s a good sign when the team with the best regular-season record in 2023 is projected to have the best record again the following season. The Braves’ young core is locked up for years, and they look ready to dominate the National League for years to come. They’ve already addressed some needs in their bullpen by re-signing Pierce Johnson and Joe Jiménez, and they’ll likely continue adding to their pitching staff to cover for the loss of Kyle Wright to shoulder surgery. They’ve also got a need for more depth in the outfield. Still, those are small concerns; this roster as it stands would be an easy World Series favorite if the season started today.

The projections will always favor a deep and flexible team like the Rays because their ability to weather the attrition of a long season is easily accounted for in the data. Our current Depth Charts projections have Wander Franco taking the majority of the playing time at shortstop, but the step down to Junior Caminero’s isn’t that drastic. Their pitching staff looks set, with a full season from Tyler Glasnow and the return of Shane Baz hopefully in the cards. They’ll miss the trio of Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen, and Jeffrey Springs, but bringing in Aaron Civale at the trade deadline this year and the emergence of Zack Littell should give them a formidable rotation.

The version of the Astros we saw in 2023 was a diminished one compared to their dominant championship from the year prior, most of which can be attributed to injury woes that plagued them throughout the season. The majority of the core that drove so much of their success in ‘22 will be back next year, but they’ll need to add a bit of depth to their starting rotation. Justin Verlander will be 41 years old in 2024, and there’s no telling what they can expect from Lance McCullers Jr. Read the rest of this entry »

Rangers’ Stars Stun Snakes in Thrilling World Series Game 1

Adolis Garcia
USA Today

For 25 outs, the Diamondbacks’ plan had worked to perfection. Zac Gallen had worked through five gritty innings, Corbin Carroll and Ketel Marte had given Arizona a lead to hand to the bullpen, and the relief corps had weathered a relentless Rangers lineup. As Paul Sewald entered in the ninth inning with a two-run lead, it looked like the Diamondbacks were on the verge of stealing a victory in Game 1 of the World Series. Corey Seager had other plans. On the first pitch he saw from Sewald, Seager launched a one-out, two-run bomb into the right field stands to tie the game at five.

With the game sent to extra innings, the momentum suddenly swung toward the Rangers, whose potent lineup could end the game quickly, even without the benefit of the Manfred Man on second base to start each inning. After a minor threat was quelled in the 10th, who else but Adolis García had the final word, blasting an opposite field, walk-off home run in the 11th to send Globe Life Field into a state of jubilation. Read the rest of this entry »

The Curious Case of Cristian Javier’s Fastball

Cristian Javier
Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Cristian Javier had built an impressive postseason resume ahead of Game 7 of the ALCS. Across 12 relief appearances and four starts, he had compiled a 2.08 ERA and 7.5% championship win probability added. His first three starts in the playoffs were particularly impressive; he held the Yankees scoreless on a single hit in last year’s ALCS, was the starting pitcher of the Astros’ combined no-hitter in the World Series, and held the Twins to a single hit in the ALDS this year. His 18 total hits allowed and .123 opponent’s batting average were by far the lowest among any pitcher with more than 40 postseason innings pitched.

With such a strong track record, the Astros had to feel confident handing him the ball on Monday night. But things did not go according to plan, as Javier lasted six batters and recorded just a single out, allowing three runs on four hits and a walk, before getting pulled. It was his worst postseason outing of his career and a big reason why Houston isn’t back in the World Series to defend its championship. Read the rest of this entry »

Phillies Once Again Conquer Braves, Steal Game 1

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The rematch of last year’s NLDS between Philadelphia and Atlanta started off the same way it did last October: with a surprising win by the underdog Phillies. They eked out three runs and held the Braves scoreless at home for the first time this year and the first time since August 28, 2021. It was also the Phillies’ seventh consecutive win in the opening game of a postseason series, putting them in the driver’s seat in the five-game series — again.

The biggest weakness of the Philadelphia roster that reached the World Series last year was their bullpen. But the Phillies quietly led all of baseball in pitching WAR this season thanks to a fantastic rotation and a much improved relief corps, with their ‘pen improving its adjusted ERA from 105 to 81. With Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola spent during the Wild Card round, the Phillies turned to Ranger Suárez to make the start in Game 1; he turned in a solid effort, lasting 3.2 innings and allowing just three baserunners while striking out four. When he ran into some trouble in the fourth inning, manager Rob Thomson used a quick hook on his starter and handed the game over to his bullpen. Six relievers went on to combine for 5.1 scoreless innings in an impressive display from the team’s most improved unit:

Phillies Pitchers, Game 1
Player IP H BB K Whiff% CSW%
Ranger Suárez 3.2 1 1 4 27.6% 26.4%
Jeff Hoffman 0.1 0 1 1 80.0% 36.4%
Seranthony Domínguez 1.0 2 0 3 50.0% 40.9%
José Alvarado 1.0 1 0 0 12.5% 25.0%
Orion Kerkering 1.0 0 1 0 0.0% 8.3%
Matt Strahm 1.0 1 0 0 0.0% 9.1%
Craig Kimbrel 1.0 0 0 0 0.0% 8.3%

Instead of a dominating performance marked by tons of strikeouts, the Phillies were perfectly satisfied to allow Atlanta to aggressively put the ball in play. No team fared better than the Braves when making contact this year — they led baseball in both wOBA and expected wOBA on contact — but thanks to some phenomenal defense and a healthy dose of contact management, they were frustrated all night long. Read the rest of this entry »

ALDS Preview: Minnesota Twins vs. Houston Astros

Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

After nearly two decades of postseason futility, the Minnesota Twins not only won a playoff game, they advanced to the next round for the first time since 2002. Their reward? Facing the Houston Astros, who have held a firm grip on the American League over the last six years, reaching the ALCS in each of those seasons to go along with two championships and another pair of AL pennants to boot. On paper, this seems like a classic David versus Goliath matchup, but there are key distinctions between the clubs that should make this a very entertaining series:

Team Overview
Overview Twins Astros Edge
Batting (wRC+) 109 (4th in AL) 112 (3rd in AL) Astros
Fielding (RAA) -9 (10th) 8 (6th) Astros
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 88 (2nd) 104 (11th) Twins
Bullpen (FIP-) 98 (9th) 98 (10th) Twins

The Twins won a weak AL Central with relative ease thanks to one of the best starting rotations in baseball. That pitching staff is a big reason why they’re not simply the token representative from their division but a real threat to make a deep run into the postseason. They might not have quite the same star power of some of the other contenders in the American League, but there are few holes on their roster and it seems like they’re peaking at the right time. Read the rest of this entry »

National League Wild Card Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Milwaukee Brewers

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

After missing out on the postseason last year, breaking a four-year streak, the Brewers are back in the playoffs this year. They’ve been the model of consistency over this past half decade; they are the only other team apart from the Astros and Dodgers to have won at least 86 games in each of the last six full seasons. But for all that regular season success, they’ve only won one postseason series during this stretch, a Division Series back in 2018. They have one of the strongest run prevention units in baseball and are hoping that will carry them deep into October.

Milwaukee’s first-round opponent, the Diamondbacks, will be making their first playoff appearance since 2017. They’re breaking out of a long rebuilding cycle a little ahead of schedule thanks to the phenomenal rookie campaign of Corbin Carroll. On paper, they’re significant underdogs when compared to the dominant arms the Brewers can bring to bear, but they’ve got enough young talent to make some noise as a surprise contender:

Team Overview
Overview Diamondbacks Brewers Edge
Batting (wRC+) 97 (9th in NL) 92 (12th in NL) D-backs
Fielding (RAA) 25 (2nd) 34 (1st) Brewers
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 103 (9th) 99 (7th) Brewers
Bullpen (FIP-) 103 (13th) 91 (5th) Brewers

Read the rest of this entry »

FanGraphs Power Rankings: 2023 Playoffs Edition

The race to the playoffs provided plenty of drama over the past month. The battle for a Wild Card spot ended up coming down to the wire in both leagues, and the AL West wasn’t completely wrapped up until the final day of the season. But we’ve finally made it to the main event, where anything can happen and underdogs can topple giants. Here’s a look at the 12 teams in the playoffs and how they stack up against each other.

A reminder for how these rankings are calculated: first, we take the three most important components of a team — their offense (wRC+), their pitching (a 50/50 blend of FIP- and RA9-, weighted by starter and reliever IP share), and their defense (RAA) — and combine them to create an overall team quality metric. Since regular season records don’t matter in the playoffs, I’ve removed the factors for win percentage and expected win percentage from the calculations. Read the rest of this entry »