Experts predict this season's league leaders
Opening Day is just three days away. As the countdown continues to the start of the season, it’s time to pick which players will stand out in 2023.
We polled 87 MLB.com experts for their picks on who will lead the American League and National League in a number of key statistical categories, including homers, batting average, stolen bases, ERA, strikeouts and saves. Here are the results.
AL: Yordan Alvarez, Astros
Alvarez found himself buried by other narratives in 2022, and unfairly so. Despite missing some time with a hand injury, he put up ridiculous numbers and hit .306 -- and even that figure seems modest next to his .329 expected BA, which led all qualifying hitters by a generous margin. Even so, our voters see quite a few others -- 16, to be exact -- having a shot at a batting title as well.
Others receiving votes: Steven Kwan, Masataka Yoshida, Tim Anderson, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Mike Trout, Wander Franco, Jose Altuve, Rafael Devers, Corey Seager, Aaron Judge, Jose Abreu, José Ramírez, Julio Rodríguez, Kyle Tucker, Nathaniel Lowe
NL: Freddie Freeman, Dodgers
Freeman has hit .300 or better in six of the past seven seasons, coming up shy of that in 2019 with a .295 mark. That consistency is why our voters picked the Dodgers first baseman to win his first batting title in 2023. Freeman came up just short of the NL lead last season, finishing at .325 while Mets second baseman Jeff McNeil led the league with a .326 average. Freeman’s constant production at the plate -- he led the National League in runs and the Majors in hits last season -- was why our voters chose him to top the NL in batting average in 2023.
Others receiving votes: Luis Arraez, Trea Turner, Jeff McNeil, Juan Soto, Xander Bogaerts, Bryce Harper, Nick Castellanos, Paul Goldschmidt, Manny Machado, Mookie Betts, Brendan Donovan
AL: Aaron Judge, Yankees
This choice needs no explanation. Judge broke the 61-year-old AL single-season home run record in 2022, and while few voters are likely to be expecting another 62-homer performance in ‘23, his massive lead in last year’s chase (Mike Trout finished second with 40) bodes well for his odds of repeating as the AL’s home run champ.
Others receiving votes: Yordan Alvarez, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Giancarlo Stanton
NL: Pete Alonso, Mets
Alonso hit 40 home runs in 2022, six fewer than NL leader Kyle Schwarber. But the Mets slugger is more than capable of topping that, having hit 53 homers in 2019 to set the Major League record for a rookie while leading the Majors overall. He’ll face competition from division rivals Schwarber, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Austin Riley, but Alonso has the pop to win his second NL home run crown in 2023.
Others receiving votes: Kyle Schwarber, Matt Olson, Juan Soto, Ronald Acuña Jr., Paul Goldschmidt, Manny Machado, Christian Walker, Austin Riley, Fernando Tatis Jr., Kris Bryant, Nolan Arenado
AL: Bobby Witt Jr., Royals
Witt was the fastest player in the AL last season -- tied with the Rangers’ Bubba Thompson and the Rays’ Jose Siri -- with a recorded sprint speed of 30.4 ft/sec. The Royals ran more than most clubs, stealing 104 bases, third most in the league. Of those, Witt had 30, and with the new limits on pickoff throws and bigger bases in 2023, it’s safe to assume he’ll be causing even more trouble on the basepaths. Another unexpectedly popular answer to this question was A’s prospect Esteury Ruiz, who has officially cracked the club’s Opening Day roster.
Others receiving votes: Cedric Mullins, Esteury Ruiz, Julio Rodríguez, Jorge Mateo, Randy Arozarena, Adalberto Mondesi, Anthony Volpe, Myles Straw, Tim Anderson
NL: Trea Turner, Phillies and Ronald Acuña Jr., Braves (tie)
Our voters were split between a pair of NL East base stealers for the league crown in 2023. Turner led the National League in steals in 2018 and '21 and clocked in at the fifth-highest sprint speed (30.3 ft/sec) in baseball last season. Acuña’s sprint speed ranked just 104th in the Majors, but he still managed to swipe 29 bases in 119 games, although he was caught stealing an NL-leading 11 times. D-backs rookie Corbin Carroll and Miami’s Jon Berti -- 2022’s NL leader with 41 steals -- will also be in the mix.
Others receiving votes: Corbin Carroll, Jon Berti, Tommy Edman, CJ Abrams, Jazz Chisholm Jr., Jake McCarthy, Fernando Tatis Jr., Nasim Nuñez, Nico Hoerner
AL: Shohei Ohtani, Angels
Ohtani posted a sparkling 2.33 ERA as part of another outstanding 2022 campaign, but competition for the AL’s ERA title was fierce, and it was ultimately Justin Verlander (1.75) who won out. Ohtani’s likely to face a similar battle this season as the pool of AL Cy Young hopefuls continues to grow (and now includes Jacob deGrom).
Others receiving votes: Jacob deGrom, Alek Manoah, Shane McClanahan, Framber Valdez, Shane Bieber, Dylan Cease, Cristian Javier, Luis Castillo, Triston McKenzie, Kevin Gausman, Gerrit Cole, Carlos Rodón
NL: Sandy Alcantara, Marlins
Alcantara pitched a Major League-leading 228 2/3 innings and captured the 2022 NL Cy Young Award, but his ERA (2.28) was second in the league to that of the Dodgers’ Julio Urías (2.16). Our panel projected Alcantara, whose 2022 ERA was below 2.00 as late as Aug. 21, to claim the NL ERA crown this season. The last eight seasons have seen eight different pitchers lead the NL in ERA; Clayton Kershaw (2011-14) was the last to repeat.
Others receiving votes: Corbin Burnes, Justin Verlander, Julio Urías, Max Fried, Zac Gallen, Spencer Strider, Brandon Woodruff, Max Scherzer
AL: Gerrit Cole, Yankees
For the second time in his career, Cole was MLB’s strikeout king in 2022, and considering his reputation as an innings-eater, it’s not difficult to imagine him putting up another 257-or-so punchouts in 2023. But even if he does, don't sleep on Dylan Cease, who posted a 33.2% whiff rate last season, just shy of Cole's rate of 33.9%.
Others receiving votes: Dylan Cease, Jacob deGrom, Shohei Ohtani, Alek Manoah, Carlos Rodón, Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Robbie Ray, Shane Bieber
NL: Corbin Burnes, Brewers
Burnes led the NL in strikeouts in 2022, finishing with 243 -- six more than the Giants’ Carlos Rodón, who has since changed leagues. He became the first Milwaukee player to lead either league in K’s. Although his ERA rose half a point, the Brewers ace surpassed his 234-strikeout mark from his Cy Young Award-winning 2021 season, throwing 35 more innings on the year. Burnes’ 565 strikeouts since the start of the 2020 season are the most in the NL and the second most in the Majors (Gerrit Cole, 594). He’s our panel’s pick to win his second straight strikeout crown.
Others receiving votes: Spencer Strider, Max Scherzer, Aaron Nola, Justin Verlander, Sandy Alcantara, Hunter Greene
AL: Emmanuel Clase, Guardians
Perhaps MLB’s nastiest pitcher, Clase led baseball with 77 appearances and 42 saves in 2022 as the Guardians played (and won) a ton of close games. Even with some additions to its lineup, Cleveland is likely to find itself in quite a few one-run contests again this year -- as are the Astros, and by extension, Ryan Pressly.
Others receiving votes: Ryan Pressly, Jordan Romano, Félix Bautista, Kenley Jansen, Clay Holmes, Jhoan Duran
NL: Josh Hader, Padres
Traded to San Diego midseason, Hader more than quadrupled his ERA from 2021 to 2022, posting a 5.22 mark a year after registering a minuscule 1.23. Still, the four-time All-Star recorded 36 saves, the second most in the NL. The 2022 NL save leader, Kenley Jansen (41 saves) shipped off to Boston this offseason, giving Hader a path to his second league crown -- he led the NL with 13 saves in the shortened 2020 season. Hader was a popular pick by our panel, especially with the Mets’ Edwin Díaz likely to miss the season after suffering a knee injury. But Hader’s former Brewers teammate Devin Williams is among those who could challenge for the league lead.
Others receiving votes: Devin Williams, Camilo Doval, Raisel Iglesias, Ryan Helsley, David Bednar, David Robertson, Craig Kimbrel