Reviewing 10 predictions we got wrong this year

December 25th, 2023

They say you can't predict baseball. Still, it's fun to try.

So every year around here, staffers go out on a limb and do their best to prognosticate about the upcoming season. They do so knowing full well that, more often than not, things won't go as expected.

It's easy to simply throw up your hands and say, "That's baseball!" And it's part of the beauty of the sport. But we also believe that there are lessons to be learned from looking back at and evaluating our misfires.

That's what we asked a group of 10 writers, editors and researchers to do here, before the calendar flips ahead to next year. Each person reviewed one of their errant 2023 predictions -- either via our preseason staff poll or a published article -- and pondered how it all went wrong.

Here are the results:


Prediction: Yankees win the World Series
Manny Randhawa, reporter

What I was thinking: Mainly, I was thinking Gerrit Cole, Carlos Rodón, Nestor Cortes, Luis Severino and Frankie Montas. That’s a tough rotation to beat on paper. And when you have Aaron Judge in the middle of your lineup, coming off a record-breaking offensive campaign in 2022, it’s hard to envision the Yanks struggling to score runs (they were second only to the Dodgers with 807 runs scored in ’22).

How it all went wrong: Injuries wreaked havoc on the roster and the offense was anemic, especially when Judge missed nearly two months with a toe injury. The starting rotation was decimated -- Rodón was limited to 14 starts due to forearm, back and hamstring injuries after signing a six-year, $162 million contract; Cortes missed most of the season with a rotator cuff strain; Severino was limited to 18 starts by more injuries of his own; and Frankie Montas made only one appearance after undergoing shoulder surgery in February. It all added up to a record of 82-80, the Yanks’ worst win-loss record in 31 years.

Prediction: Padres win NL pennant
Sarah Langs, researcher/reporter

What I was thinking: I was all in on the idea that this would be the year for the changing of the guard atop the NL West. The Dodgers would take a step back, and the stacked Padres would take the crown behind Manny Machado, a full season of Juan Soto, a returning Fernando Tatis Jr. and the newly added Xander Bogaerts. With Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish atop the rotation, plus Josh Hader to secure the ninth, the stage was set.

How it all went wrong: While individuals certainly had good seasons -- Blake Snell authored a masterful Cy Young performance -- the team battled injuries and never put it all together at the same time to go on an extended roll. The only exception was when they won eight in a row from Sept. 13-22, part of a 14-2 stretch to end the season. Though that wasn't quite enough to make the postseason, San Diego looked a lot more like the team we had expected all year.

Perhaps the best way to sum up a season that didn’t fully make sense: The Padres lost each of their first 12 extra-inning games before finally winning two, in Games 159 and 162. The 12-game streak tied the 1969 Montreal Expos, in their inaugural season, for the longest single-season losing streak in extras. (The Expos went 0-12 for the year.) Imagine if San Diego had won even half of those 12. That would’ve given them 88 wins, two more than the Marlins and D-backs, who had the second and third Wild Card spots. Once they were in the playoffs, anything could’ve happened.

Prediction: Cardinals win NL Central
Jason Catania, editor

What I was thinking: Lineup stalwarts Paul Goldschmidt (coming off his 2022 NL MVP Award) and Nolan Arenado would provide the foundation for another strong season, particularly with Willson Contreras adding some offensive firepower while replacinglongtime backstop Yadier Molina. There was upside in young bats like Nolan Gorman, Lars Nootbaar and Brendan Donovan, as well as bounceback potential with Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson. And there was lots of hype surrounding 20-year-old phenom Jordan Walker, who entered the season as MLB Pipeline’s No. 4 prospect. On the pitching side, the rotation -- featuring Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas, Jack Flaherty, Jordan Montgomery, Steven Matz -- looked more capable than great, but most of those arms had been dependable in recent years. Plus, even after the feel-good send-offs of Molina and Albert Pujols, the NL Central looked winnable for a team that made the playoffs in four straight seasons.

How it all went wrong: Who knew Yadi and Albert would be so missed? The Cardinals finished not only with their first losing season since 2007 but also their first last-place finish since 1990, so a LOT went wrong. It all seemed to start with that odd Oliver Marmol-O’Neill clash … then word that maybe there were doubts about Contreras’ ability to handle the pitching staff … followed by Walker surprisingly being sent down after only 20 games (before returning in early June) … and closer Ryan Helsley’s forearm injury that cost him almost all of June, July and August … and sadly, Wainwright’s dismal final season (7.40 ERA, 1.90 WHIP) … and well, you get the idea. The offense was more middle-of-the-pack than good (.742 OPS, tied for 13th), and the normally stout defense was below average (-6 OAA). All of which was compounded by a staff that gave up way too much contact (7.7 K/9, second-worst), leading to a 4.79 ERA (seventh-worst), a 1.46 WHIP (fourth-worst) and a .276 batting average against (second-worst). Hard to have seen all of that happening in St. Louis, but it did.

Prediction: Blue Jays win AL East
Thomas Harrigan, researcher/reporter

What I was thinking: After missing the playoffs with 91 wins in 2021 and following that up with a 92-win AL Wild Card berth in '22, this past season was supposed to be when a talented Blue Jays team finally broke through and vaulted to the top of the AL East. Toronto appeared to have one of the game’s most well-rounded rosters -- an offense led by Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and George Springer; a strong pitching staff bolstered by the addition of Chris Bassitt and a much-improved defense featuring newcomers Kevin Kiermaier and Daulton Varsho as well as four-time Gold Glove Award winner Matt Chapman.

How it all went wrong: The Blue Jays did earn another Wild Card berth, but they were never in serious contention for the division crown. In fact, Toronto was in first place for only two days all year -- March 30 and 31. Many of the team’s key players, including Guerrero, Springer, Chapman and Alejandro Kirk, regressed at the plate. Right-hander Alek Manoah did the same after placing third in the AL Cy Young race the previous year. Toronto ended up finishing with 89 wins before being bounced by the Twins -- who were riding an 18-game playoff losing streak -- in the AL Wild Card Series.

Prediction: Angels make the playoffs
Andrew Simon, editor

What I was thinking: That if I pick the Angels, year after year, to reach the postseason, eventually I might stumble into being right? That at some point the Baseball Gods might see fit to smile upon a team with Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout on the roster? Was I going against my better judgment when I picked the Angels to snag the third AL Wild Card spot? Yes. Was I blind to recent history? No. Was I going more with my heart (October Shotime!) than my head? Probably. But there were reasons to think 2023 might be different. GM Perry Minasian made a serious effort to raise his team's floor by acquiring competent veterans such as Tyler Anderson, Brandon Drury, Carlos Estévez, Hunter Renfroe and Gio Urshela. Homegrown players such as Reid Detmers, Patrick Sandoval and Taylor Ward were promising. It wasn’t too hard to squint and see things finally working out in Anaheim.

How it all went wrong: After reaching eight games above .500 (40-32) in mid-June, when their playoff odds were nearly 50%, the Angels closed at 33-57, with Trout and Anthony Rendon both on the IL for most of that time. Basically, a lack of depth and too many injuries are a tough combo to overcome, and too easy to discount during the heady days of Spring Training. While Minasian’s moves made sense, those five veterans were mostly not the answer, combining for only 3.6 WAR. The Angels valiantly attempted to patch holes with Deadline acquisitions and prospect callups, but nothing worked. Ohtani’s last Halos hurrah ended at 73-89.

Prediction: The White Sox make the playoffs
Brian Murphy, reporter

What I was thinking: Although the White Sox experienced an underwhelming 2022 season, they were returning much of the cast who won 97 games and a division title in ‘21. The departure of José Abreu left big shoes to fill, but former No. 3 overall Draft pick Andrew Vaughn looked like a capable replacement at first base. Luis Robert Jr., Eloy Jiménez and Tim Anderson remained a solid foundation, and the club had added Andrew Benintendi on the richest contract in franchise history to balance out Chicago’s right-handed-heavy offense. Meanwhile, Dylan Cease was coming off a year in which he was an AL Cy Young Award finalist, and the group behind him in the rotation -- Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, Michael Kopech and Mike Clevinger -- appeared to be league-average at the absolute worst.

How it all went wrong: This prediction was dead in the water almost immediately, as the White Sox were 8-21 by the end of April. They ended with 101 losses, their most in 53 years. What went wrong? I’m going to go with “everything.” Outside of Robert, the lineup underperformed and/or was beset by injuries. The White Sox recorded an MLB-low .292 wOBA. Anderson, a former batting champion, produced the lowest OPS+ among qualified players (60). Benintendi, a former Gold Glove winner, ranked near the bottom of the league in Outs Above Average. Meanwhile, the pitching staff’s 4.87 ERA ranked 26th in the Majors. Cease took a huge step back, highlighted by a 97 ERA+, and Lynn served up 28 homers in 119 2/3 frames before being traded to the Dodgers. The White Sox also missed Liam Hendriks at the back of their bullpen, although his return to the mound was absolutely one of the best stories in any sport this year. Hendriks’ triumphant comeback from cancer was a huge bright spot in an otherwise forgettable season on Chicago’s South Side.


Prediction: Max Scherzer will lead the NL in strikeouts
Matt Meyers, National Editor

What I was thinking: Despite Scherzer going out with a whimper in the 2022 Wild Card series against the Padres (7 runs allowed in 41/3 innings in Game 1, including 4 homers), he felt like someone who would come out determined to flip the narrative on a Mets team that seem poised to make another run at 100 wins. After all, he still fanned more than 30% of batters in the 2022 season.

How it all went wrong: Things started to unravel when Scherzer got his infamous “sticky stuff” ejection and subsequent 10-game suspension in April at Dodger Stadium. Ultimately, Scherzer failing to live up to this prediction had as much to do with his team’s downfall as his own decline. When I made this prediction, I never expected Scherzer to finish off his season in the American League. But that’s what happened when a disappointing Mets squad ended up flipping him to the Rangers at the Deadline. Somewhat surprisingly, Scherzer ended up with one more strikeout in 2023 (174) than in 2022 (173), but even if you give him full credit for all of his AL strikeouts, that number would have only been good enough for 15th in the National League, sandwiched between Justin Steele (176 K’s) and Johan Oviedo (158).

Prediction: Cristian Javier wins AL Cy Young
Anthony Castrovince, national columnist

What I was thinking: As tends to be the case, I got a lot wrong. I had the Cardinals, Padres and Mets in the playoffs, but then again so did just about everyone. I had the Yankees in the World Series, but that was really just reverse psychology (it worked!). I had the Dodgers winning the World Series, and -- spoiler -- they didn’t, but that was their own darn fault. The list goes on and on. This error with Javier bothers me, though, because I legitimately thought he was about to break out in a big way in his first full season as a starter and help the Astros absorb the free-agent departure of Justin Verlander. Perhaps I was too swayed by having just witnessed Javier’s role in a combined World Series no-hitter, but the stats seemingly lined up. In 2022, he was in the 82nd percentile or better in hard-hit rate, expected batting average, expected slugging percentage, and strikeout and whiff rates, while his “invisible fastball” had held opponents to a .181 average.

How it all went wrong: Turns out, that fastball was visible, after all! The average velocity was down 1.1 mph and the opponent average rose by 53 points. Javier went way backward in every metric cited above, most notably with his K-rate dropping below league average. Javier did have two strong starts in the postseason before falling apart in Game 7 of the ALCS against the Rangers. Not only did he not step into Verlander’s Cy shoes, but the Astros had to bring back Verlander. Oh well. We’ll get ‘em next time, Cristian.

Prediction: Bryan de la Cruz will have a breakout year
Mike Petriello, senior stats analyst

What I was thinking: Not only did I pick de la Cruz as a breakout guy, I picked him first in our draft. I was drawn in by his age (he was 26 last season), his red-hot September 2022 (when only Aaron Judge and Julio Rodriguez out-hit him) and all the talk about swing changes that supposedly improved his game during a mid-2022 demotion back to the Minors. I looked at all the line drives and I fell in love; in my defense, I was hardly alone here, as de la Cruz popped up on breakout lists at The Athletic and Baseball Prospectus, too.

How it all went wrong: de la Cruz followed up a 102 OPS+ breakout-in-waiting with a 92 OPS+ disappointment, though the extra playing time he got made it look like he took a step forward in terms of homers and RBIs. There was a brief moment when it looked real, as de la Cruz posted a massive .939 OPS in May. The problem was, his OPS was south of .700 in every single other month. While he dropped his strikeout rate, it came at the cost of worse contact; even his running and defense took a step back. Maybe it was just that we put way too much emphasis on how shiny that September seemed.

Prediction: A comeback season for Dinelson Lamet
David Adler, researcher/reporter

What I was thinking: That Lamet could recapture some of the lightning of his 2020 season. Back then, he was a Cy Young contender and looked like he might be the best starter in a Padres rotation that featured Blake Snell, Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove. Arm problems put a sad, swift end to that run in San Diego, but Lamet showed flashes of his old dominant stuff as a reliever with the Rockies in 2022. He struck out over 30% of the batters he faced, generated a 40% swing-and-miss rate and averaged 12.5 K's per nine innings. His fastball was still over 95 mph, and his slider, always his best pitch, was getting whiffs over half the time. Turns out, those flashes were gone by 2023. I was thinking wishfully, remembering what Lamet used to be.

How it all went wrong: It just never went right. Lamet's 2023 season started off rocky, and only got worse. He had a 12.19 ERA in April, then went on the injured list with lower back stiffness after his first appearance of May. The Rockies tried him as a starter again after he returned, but he got shelled, and Colorado released him in June. Lamet caught on with the Red Sox on a Minor League deal, and even worked his way back to the Majors in August, but he got knocked around in his first relief appearance and was immediately designated for assignment. Now Lamet's a free agent and has been pitching in the Dominican Winter League, where he had a 5.21 ERA in his first six starts for Águilas Cibaeñas. Who knows if we'll see Lamet in the Major Leagues again -- but just don't forget how good he was for that all-too-brief run.