At this point of the season, three teams have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Instead of being a downer, let’s look at the players and trends that should give each last-place team some hope entering 2023.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox have one of the weirder quirks in the league. They are incapable of beating teams in the east. Against their fellow nine teams in the eastern divisions, the Red Sox have a 20-40 record, good for a 54-win extrapolation over a full season. On the other end, they are 49-32 when they are playing any other team in either league. With future schedules being less division-heavy, the Red Sox could be due for progression in 2023.
In particular, the Tampa Bay Rays (12-4) and Toronto Blue Jays (13-3) have drubbed the Red Sox. That is already more games than the Red Sox will play either team next season, and the Red Sox still have a series against both of them in October. If all else is equal, the Red Sox will end 2023 on the other side of .500.
Just about everything that could go wrong has gone wrong for the Tigers in 2022. Their best players either dealt with ineffectiveness at the MLB level or injuries. However, much like last year, the most exciting part of the upcoming season is the young talent. While Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene have had their issues at the MLB level, both players have shown some signs of future competence.
Torkelson has been mildly better since returning from a stint in the minors. He has several red dots on his Baseball Savant page, encouraging signs moving forward. He hits the ball reasonably hard (78th-percentile average exit velocity), and he has solid plate discipline (67th-percentile walk rate). If he makes contact more consistently, the Tigers will have something.
Greene falls into a similar bucket, but he has also flashed in the field. He is a 63th-percentile defender by outs above average, and he has a 79th-percentile outfielder jump. Like Torkelson, there are ebbs and flows in terms of making contact, but Greene will be playable regardless because of his defense.
The Sean Murphy train is back on track after an underwhelming 2021 season. After receiving AL Rookie of the Year votes in 2020, Murphy took a fairly big hit to his batting stats, but he has recovered for the most part. He is in the 83rd percentile in expected wOBA, and he has above-average strikeout and walk rates. However, as with most catchers, the important part is behind the dish.
After winning the AL Gold Glove in 2021, Murphy has replicated a strong defensive season. He is in the 97th percentile in pop time, and he is a 90th-percentile framer. Finding a great two-way catcher is always one of a team’s tougher tasks, and the Athletics have a great one who is also just 27.
As difficult as it was for the Nationals to trade a bevy of franchise legends, it came with the silver lining that they would be getting exciting prospects in return. While these trees have yet to bear fruits, the Nationals have a pair of high-potential hitters and high-potential pitchers now in the fold after trading the likes of Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, and Juan Soto. All four of them are under the age of 25.
At the plate, the Nationals have catcher Keibert Ruiz and shortstop CJ Abrams. Ruiz has room to grow as a fielder, but he has been integral with his ability to put the ball in play. He has one of MLB’s lowest strikeout rates, and he has a 91st-percentile expected batting average. Abrams has yet to put his physical tools to use, but he is a freak of an athlete at the shortstop position. He is in the 91st percentile in sprint speed, and he makes more contact than one might expect from a 21-year-old.
On the mound, the Nationals have Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore. Gray has some of the ugliest stats of any pitcher in baseball, but he has had a handful of excellent outings. On July 6, he struck out 11 Phillies in a winning effort on the road. He has pitched scoreless efforts against three of four division rivals.
Gore has yet to pitch for the Nationals, but he had an ERA of 1.50 through eight starts with the Padres. The wheels quickly fell off after three blow-up starts within a month, but the seeds are there. Gore pitched a gem in Milwaukee, yielding zero runs across six innings while whiffing 10.
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Oneil Cruz is the obvious attraction here, but let’s talk about Ke’Bryan Hayes. Hayes has plenty of impressive peripherals when one looks past his 85 OPS+ over the last 881 plate appearances. He hits the ball hard (88th-percentile average exit velocity) to little success (29th-percentile xwOBA). Hayes’ profile is relatively similar to the early returns on Austin Riley. Through Riley’s first two seasons, he had an 86 OPS+, and his results (both actual and expected) did not match up with how hard he hit the baseball.
Riley made small changes to his approach, and he is now one of the best third basemen in baseball. Hayes has the pieces to be one of the best men at the hot corner. Hayes is already an elite fielder, and he would likely be a shoo-in for a slew of Gold Gloves if not for Nolan Arenado’s stranglehold on the voting. If Hayes can put the ball in the air a bit more (career 52.3% groundball rate), he could be the next Riley (but one that has good fielding metrics).
The Rockies do not have much going for them at the moment, but at least they should get a full season out of Kris Bryant in 2023. After playing in 15 of the Rockies’ first 16 games, Bryant played five total games in May and June. Through June 30, Bryant had a disgusting .267/.337/.320 slash line. He had just four extra-base hits, all doubles, in 75 at-bats.
In July, it clicked. Bryant played in most of Colorado’s games, and he had an excellent month. He had eight doubles and five home runs, ironically doing much of his damage away from Coors Field. Only three of his 13 extra-base hits came at home, including zero home runs. In July, Bryant slashed .341/.411/.612 to raise his season stats to a respectable .306/.376/.475. However, he has not played since.
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