The 2023 Start of Spring ZiPS Projected Standings: National League

Brett Davis-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. Borrowing from my piece on the American League, 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 already tackled the AL, so let’s examine the current National League projections, beginning with the East.

ZiPS Projected Standings – National League East
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Atlanta Braves 94 68 .580 47.1% 39.3% 86.5% 12.0%
New York Mets 94 68 .580 42.6% 41.8% 84.4% 10.9%
Philadelphia Phillies 85 77 9 .525 9.8% 37.0% 46.7% 2.6%
Miami Marlins 75 87 19 .463 0.5% 6.1% 6.7% 0.1%
Washington Nationals 64 98 30 .395 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.0%

The Atlanta Braves are in just about their usual place in the ZiPS standings, ranking first by a hair with the New York Mets right on their heels. Atlanta’s median win total is robust for the same reason the disappointing White Sox showing displeased much of social media: the way ZiPS deals with depth. The Braves are very solidly built, with plausible Plan Bs at most positions. Indeed, the only real source of consternation is left field, a headache that’s never really enough to derail the team in the seasonal sims. For the White Sox, it’s the opposite; the Pale Hose are fairly dangerous if they enjoy a very good injury scenario but fall off very quickly if they don’t.

The Mets have frequently had their own depth issues, especially the late-era Wilpon rosters that closely resembled a Potemkin village. ZiPS was usually a few wins behind the projection consensus simply because it was designed to see the void behind the starting lineups and rotations of those years. Frequently, you’d see a rotation full of All-Star contenders, but then the number-seven starter would be a dragooned Door Dasher or the ninth caller on a local radio show. But that isn’t this team’s lot. Even without Carlos Correa, this is a dangerous squad.

Philadelphia’s projection would have looked a good deal more robust if not for the improvements in Atlanta and New York. I like the Phillies signing Trea Turner, far more of a “go big or go home” move than we’ve seen from the Phils the last couple of years. The problem is that ZiPS sees the Phillies’ roster as being both less strong and less deep than those of the two top teams here.

I keep waiting for the Marlins to both have a big pitching breakout and successfully cobble together an offense that’s just good enough not to stand in the former’s way. You get the sense that they were trying to do that with the Pablo López/Luis Arraez trade, but this team just needs so much on offense that it’s really hard to justify using pitchers as currency rather than, well, currency. As it stands, the pitching hasn’t broken out yet and the lineup seems likely to continue to struggle to find runs.

In terms of the playoff race, I don’t see any scenario in which the Nats play anything but spoiler. Yes, trading Juan Soto helped them restock the farm, but even if all those players work out, the Nats need so much more to compete in 2023.

ZiPS Projected Standings – National League Central
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
St. Louis Cardinals 91 71 .562 68.7% 10.4% 79.1% 8.1%
Milwaukee Brewers 83 79 8 .512 21.9% 17.8% 39.7% 1.8%
Chicago Cubs 78 84 13 .481 8.1% 9.7% 17.8% 0.5%
Cincinnati Reds 70 92 21 .432 0.9% 1.3% 2.1% 0.0%
Pittsburgh Pirates 68 94 23 .420 0.5% 0.7% 1.3% 0.0%

Contrary to popular belief, ZiPS usually likes the Cardinals and 2023 is no exception. They might have bled off a few wins in the projections, but when it comes down to it, the NL Central isn’t that fierce and none of St. Louis’ competitors have been that aggressive. The Brewers come the closest, and they have a very high “perfect health” upside. ZiPS just doesn’t like Milwaukee’s depth anywhere near at much as St. Louis’; this was also one of the biggest reasons ZiPS took the Cards over the Brewers in the 2022 preseason projections.

The Cubs are improved, but they’re still a team with holes to address. The addition of Jameson Taillon improves the middle of the rotation, but they still look to be behind the Cardinals and especially the Brewers there. And while the team is better with Dansby Swanson, it’s still missing a real high-end bat. They’re close enough to be interesting, but I’m accordance with the computer here: they’re clearly a big step behind the first two teams in the division.

I also agree with ZiPS on the bottom of the division. The computer is a big fan of Nick Lodolo and Hunter Greene, but doesn’t see much excitement elsewhere on the Reds’ roster, and the Pirates are bound to be towards the bottom of the division whether or not they retain the services of Bryan Reynolds.

ZiPS Projected Standings – National League West
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
San Diego Padres 91 71 .562 37.2% 38.3% 75.5% 7.9%
Los Angeles Dodgers 91 71 .562 36.0% 38.2% 74.2% 7.5%
San Francisco Giants 88 74 3 .543 21.3% 38.0% 59.3% 4.3%
Arizona Diamondbacks 81 81 10 .500 5.5% 20.8% 26.3% 1.0%
Colorado Rockies 66 96 25 .407 0.0% 0.4% 0.4% 0.0%

ZiPS surprised me a bit with the NL West. Not so much in terms of the order of the standings, but with the relatively small gap between the Dodgers and the Padres, and then the Giants. The first two are both terrific teams, but there are real downside concerns. The Padres have serious questions at DH and the quality of the rotation drops off quickly, and the Dodgers’ issues aren’t all that dissimilar. The Giants seem to have a lower ceiling than their rivals, but like the Braves and Cards, ZiPS sees them eking out a few extra wins simply by having enough depth to reduce the number of downside scenarios in the mystery bucket.

ZiPS loves Arizona’s young pitching, something I discussed in greater depth in their team rundown in December. Projected at the bottom division, to the surprise of practically no one who doesn’t work for the Colorado Rockies, are the Colorado Rockies. Rather than indulge my snark when you’re just here for the projections, I’ll simply say that this team has a serious talent shortfall and doesn’t seem particularly imaginative when it comes to using what they have.

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for 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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Broken Batmember
1 year ago

Always intriguing. Dan, you mention lack of runs projected for Marlins. Understanding that roster changes happen because of injuries, trades and breakouts, can you possibly maybe show us what are the projected runs scored for each team as we sit a week before ST, and then maybe a close to opening day review? Thanks for all you do. For lent…. No beans in chili….

1 year ago
Reply to  Broken Bat

This might be what you’re looking for, sorta. It’s for players but you can break it down by teams.