The 2023 Start of Spring ZiPS Projected Standings: American League

© Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 ZiPS projections have all been incorporated into the site, and while there will be some additions (platoon splits), changes (there’s a weird RBI bug affecting a handful of very poor minor league hitters) and updates to come, the player pages now contain the projections for the upcoming season. Our Depth Charts also reflect ZiPS along with Steamer, enabling David Appelman to crank up all the dials and flick all the switches, and you to blame me as well as Steamer when a team’s projection doesn’t look right to you!

Spring doesn’t actually start in the Northern Hemisphere until March 20 this year, but the real spring, baseball’s spring training, kicks off in a week when pitchers and catchers report. While it’s unlikely that these are the precise rosters that will eventually start playing exhibition games, the vast majority of the significant shifts in player talent have already happened.

So where do we stand?

Naturally, I used the ZiPS projection system to get the latest run of team win totals. The methodology I’m using here isn’t identical to the one we use in our Projected Standings, meaning there will naturally be some important differences in the results. So how does ZiPS calculate the season? Stored within ZiPS are the first through 99th-percentile projections for each player. I start by making a generalized depth chart, using our Depth Charts as a jumping off point. Since these are my curated projections, I make changes based on my personal feelings about who will receive playing time as filtered through arbitrary whimsy my logic and reasoning. ZiPS then generates a million versions of each team in Monte Carlo fashion — the computational algorithms, that is (no one is dressing up in a tuxedo and playing baccarat like James Bond).

After that is done, ZiPS applies another set of algorithms with a generalized distribution of injury risk that changes the baseline PAs/IPs for each player. Of note is that higher-percentile projections already have more playing time than lower-percentile projections before this step. ZiPS then automatically “fills in” playing time from the next players on the list (proportionally) to get to a full slate of plate appearances and innings.

The result is a million different rosters for each team and an associated winning percentage for each of those million teams. After applying the new strength of schedule calculations based on the other 29 teams, I end up with the standings for each of the million seasons. This is actually much less complex than it sounds.

The goal of ZiPS is to be less mind-blowingly awful than any other way of predicting the future. The future is tantalizingly close but beyond our ken, and if anyone figures out how to deflect the astrophysicist Arthur Eddington’s arrow of time, it’s probably not going to be in the form of baseball projections. So we project probabilities, not certainties.

Over the last decade, ZiPS has averaged 19.9 correct teams when looking at Vegas preseason over/under lines. I’m always tinkering with methodology, but most of the low-hanging fruit in predicting how teams will perform has already been harvested. With one major exception, most of the problems now are about accuracy rather than bias. ZiPS’ misses for teams from year-to-year are uncorrelated, with an r-squared of one year’s miss to the next of 0.000575. Now, correlations with fewer than 20 points aren’t ideal, but the individual franchise with the highest year-to-year r-squared is the Mariners, at 0.03, which isn’t terribly meaningful. If you think that certain franchises have a history of predictive over- or underperformance, you thought wrong, and I’d bet it’s the same for the other notable projection systems.

Now, I did say there was one major exception, and that’s in-season roster changes. As you might suspect, ZiPS systematically underestimates teams that add value during the season and overrates teams that subtract value. So it’s not surprising that when you total it up, two of the teams that have made the most in-season additions over the last 17 seasons, the Astros and Yankees, are the two teams that have underperformed most often in ZiPS.

With that explanation out of the way, let’s get to the projected standings. We’ll cover the American League today, starting with the AL East:

ZiPS Projected Standings – AL East
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
New York Yankees 89 73 .549 36.9% 38.8% 75.8% 8.0%
Toronto Blue Jays 88 74 1 .543 32.5% 39.7% 72.2% 7.0%
Tampa Bay Rays 86 76 3 .531 20.0% 39.3% 59.3% 4.2%
Baltimore Orioles 80 82 9 .494 5.7% 23.0% 28.7% 1.1%
Boston Red Sox 79 83 10 .488 4.8% 20.8% 25.7% 0.9%

Like last year’s final four-way preseason tie, the East’s 50th-percentile projections feel low. But when it comes down to it, that feeling is simply a result of being in a strong division. You can’t say “OK, three of these teams feel like 95-wins teams, and also the Orioles can win 90, and the Red Sox can go, like, .500 without some luck replacing Trevor Story’s production.” These good teams have to play each other, after all, and every division is going to have a 130-130 block of games.

The Yankees have basically restored their slim lead at the top of the division with the return of Aaron Judge and the addition of Carlos Rodón. It’s still a team with some serious downside in key areas, however. The bevy of top prospects on the middle infield alleviates most of the major worries, while the Rodón addition makes the back of the rotation a little less crucial to the team’s hopes, but the Yankees are an injury or two away from having some serious offensive problems. Losing Judge would hurt anyone, but the Yankees have a lot invested in Anthony Rizzo, who is no longer an elite bat, and Giancarlo Stanton, who hasn’t really been both healthy and good in some time.

Last year, ZiPS saw Toronto as the safest of the good teams in the East, and it continues to see the situation that way. The Blue Jays have a very well-balanced offense and can survive the loss of practically anyone. ZiPS isn’t excited about the rotation or the bullpen, but it sees both them as robustly filled, with the possible exception of the Jays’ fifth starter. Tampa Bay gets just about their usual forecast, but as I talked about in their preview, the lack of excitement in the outfield holds the projection down to a degree.

Baltimore has a bright future, but it’s hard to see that future being now with the current rotation. Yes, Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall could be top-of-the-rotation talents, pushing Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin to the mid-rotation roles that better fit their talents. This projection would look even worse if not for the fact that among ZiPS’ weapons is an almost fanatical devotion to Dean Kremer.

The Red Sox haven’t been silent this winter. I think Masataka Yoshida will end up being one of the better free agent signings of the offseason, and it was nice to see the Sox reverse a disappointing trend and lock up Rafael Devers to a massive extension. Still, those moves don’t make up for the losses the Red Sox have eaten this offseason.

ZiPS Projected Standings – AL Central
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Cleveland Guardians 83 79 .512 50.2% 7.3% 57.5% 3.2%
Minnesota Twins 80 82 3 .494 30.3% 8.3% 38.6% 1.5%
Chicago White Sox 74 88 9 .457 11.1% 4.4% 15.5% 0.3%
Detroit Tigers 71 91 12 .438 4.7% 2.0% 6.7% 0.1%
Kansas City Royals 70 92 13 .432 3.8% 1.6% 5.3% 0.1%

The Guardians stand at the top of the AL Central simply by having the least flawed team. No one would accuse Cleveland of being too aggressive this offseason, but there really aren’t any situations that could devastate them, and that’s something. If José Ramírez went down with a serious injury, it would obviously be a massively big deal, but the Guardians could likely patch up that spot without it tanking the team too far. What knocked a bit off the projections was the Minnesota Twins getting their surprise big name replacement for Carlos Correa: Carlos Correa. Elsewhere on the Twins’ roster, I’m a fan of Pablo López, but his addition widens the rotation’s foundations rather than adjusting its ceiling upward.

We’ve written so much about the White Sox that I don’t want to belabor the point, but the organization has been treading water, watching baseball swim on by. Andrew Benintendi is fine, but adding him is basically making the minimal effort. The Pale Hose can take the Central, but it’s hard to call them a favorite these days. I’m shocked how far Chicago’s projection has drifted downward, but the team’s depth remains shockingly shallow in a lot of areas. In terms of the “next 26” roster, ZiPS actually ranks the Sox below the Royals or Tigers.

The Royals have basically fire sale’d — a minimal one given the team’s talent level — coming off the 2023 season. There are interesting players such as Vinnie Pasquantino to watch on offense, but I’m still not sure if the Royals really have a solid plan beyond hoping some of these young hitters work out very well and everything else just takes care of itself. The Tigers are going to be no more dangerous in 2023 than they were last season. The holes in the offense are massive and the rotation’s Operation: Veteran Fourth Starter MEGAXPLOSION isn’t going to make up for them.

ZiPS Projected Standings – AL West
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Houston Astros 90 72 .556 50.2% 28.0% 78.2% 9.1%
Seattle Mariners 85 77 5 .525 21.7% 32.3% 54.0% 3.6%
Los Angeles Angels 85 77 5 .525 21.2% 32.0% 53.2% 3.5%
Texas Rangers 79 83 11 .488 5.8% 17.6% 23.4% 0.8%
Oakland A’s 72 90 18 .444 1.1% 5.0% 6.1% 0.1%

It may seem like ZiPS gives the Astros the same projection every year, but a big part of that is that the computer sees some combination of the Mariners, Angels, and Rangers inching closer each year. With the team’s high-end offensive talent and deep pitching staff, I’d consider the median projection a bit of a disappointment, but it’s just that the hyenas are nipping a bit at the lion’s feet.

Chief among those so-called hyenas are the Seattle Mariners. Instead of misunderstanding what it meant to beat their Pythagorean record by 14 wins in 2021 — a fate that other teams, including some past Mariners squads, have succumbed to — Jerry Dipoto and Co. put in the hard work of actually improving the team so it could win 90 games without the aid of any mathematical good fortune. And that’s precisely what the Mariners did in 2022! But this winter has been a quieter one, with the team seemingly focused more on maintaining its position than meaningfully expanding it.

The Angels are one of the more interesting puzzles in baseball. The team is terribly constructed, indifferently owned, and is likely just a year away from losing Shohei Ohtani. Rather than make a big splash and add a top-tier free agent, the Angels ran around with a container of mortar and a trowel, trying to cover up enough holes for one last good season with Ohtani in tow. Names like Brandon Drury, Carlos Estévez, Hunter Renfroe, Gio Urshela, Tyler Anderson, Jake Lamb, and Justin Garza don’t exactly scream star power, but given the holes the Angels have, this roster might just actually be good enough to work in 2023.

The Rangers keep improving and keep doing so rapidly, but they’re still at the point where they’re closing some of their larger remaining holes, even with the additions of Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi and Andrew Heaney this winter. The Oakland Athletics will find a whole bunch of useful fourth-starters nobody ever heard of before 2023 and finish comfortably in last place.

Next up: The National League!





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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EonADS
1 year ago

The Guardians really remind me of those Cardinals teams during the 2010’s. Not an insane ceiling, but inarguably a high floor with no real weaknesses. I just hope they can capture their own version of Devil Magic and grab a breakout or two.

Last edited 1 year ago by EonADS
Smiling Politely
1 year ago
Reply to  EonADS

A bit, but those teams had Beltran, Molina, Holliday, Furcal, Carpenter…Cleveland has Ramírez and…this inanimate carbon rod (award winning, but still). It’s a testament to just how lazy the AL Central has been for so very long.

EonADS
1 year ago

I was thinking more mid 2010’s, after Pujols flew the coop, but yeah, fair.

(also, inanimate carbon rod? What am I missing?)

Last edited 1 year ago by EonADS
Jason Bmember
1 year ago
Reply to  EonADS

They had a freakin’ ticker tape parade for it!

Richiemember
1 year ago
Reply to  EonADS

You’re missing a couple of decades that Jason and I have on our tires.

(it’s a very early Simpsons joke)

EonADS
1 year ago
Reply to  Richie

Aaaah, yeah. I get it now.

Jason Bmember
1 year ago
Reply to  EonADS

“Oh I get it! I get jokes!”

— also Homer

cmow
1 year ago
Reply to  EonADS

In Rod We Trust

Jason Bmember
1 year ago
Reply to  cmow

Lookin’ good Rod…lookin’ good Todd

MTFmember
1 year ago
Reply to  EonADS

Looking on the bright side the Cleveland home opening series against the Mariners, two teams with similar projections (fighting to make the payoffs right from the get-go), should be early season must-watch.