7 numbers that should improve in 2023

January 9th, 2023

Change is coming in 2023 – and through offseason spending sprees, surprising trades or anticipated rule changes, a number of players and teams have concrete reasons to be optimistic about the aspects of the game that held them back in 2022. 

From ever-evolving infield configurations to sky-high ERAs, here are seven numbers from the 2022 season that should improve in 2023.

Padres: .382 slugging percentage
2022 was the year of the low-power playoff team – four of 12 had slugging percentages of .390 or below, all ranking in the bottom 15 among playoff teams since 1995. (For reference, the average team over that period had a .430 SLG.) That said, the Guardians, Mariners and Rays weren’t necessarily projected to be offensive powerhouses. The Padres, on the other hand, were expected to have a lot more going for them – and that was before they acquired Juan Soto.

Now, after making it all the way to the Championship Series last season, San Diego has added Xander Bogaerts (.456 SLG) and Matt Carpenter (15 HR in 47 games) to the mix and is expecting Fernando Tatis Jr. (National League-leading 42 HR in 2021) back in April. Soto, coming off a few career-worsts (.242 AVG, .452 SLG, .853 OPS), is also due a rebound. Should all go to plan, this figure should skyrocket in 2023.

Rangers: 4.63 starters’ ERA
The collective ERA of Rangers starters was the sixth-worst in baseball in 2022. Now they’ve added a two-time Cy Young Award winner in Jacob deGrom on a five-year deal, plus a pair of high-upside veterans in Nathan Eovaldi (3.87 ERA in 109 1/3 IP in 2022) and Andrew Heaney (3.10 in 72 2/3 IP). deGrom in particular, stepping in as Texas’ new ace, has the greatest potential to pull that 4.63 ERA down – in the 26 starts he’s made over the last two seasons, he’s posted a 1.90 ERA and an absolutely staggering 13.05 K/BB rate (248 strikeouts, 19 walks) in 156 1/3 IP.

There are question marks involved – deGrom has spent the majority of the last two seasons on the injured list, first with right forearm tightness in 2021 and then a stress reaction in his right scapula in 2022. Eovaldi dealt with inflammation in his right shoulder and lower back in 2022 and has undergone Tommy John surgery twice already. Heaney, too, has a long history of arm issues. But some combination of these three pitchers is going to make a huge difference to a rotation that badly needed attention.

Guardians: 127 home runs
The Guardians won the AL Central in 2022. They also had the fewest barrels, worst hard-hit rate and lowest average exit velocity in baseball. They didn’t hit the fewest home runs – that honor belonged to the Tigers – but their 127 collective dingers did clock in 29th. That proved a bit problematic when they needed a rally on short notice.

Enter Mike Zunino and Josh Bell. Zunino is as pure a power hitter as possible. He was sidelined for much of 2022, but in 2021, he ranked in the 100th percentile in barrel rate and hit a career-high 33 home runs in 109 games. He swings for the fences as a rule, and it works for him. Bell, a 2022 Silver Slugger, has a much more balanced approach – making him perfectly suited to the fundamentals-heavy Guardians – but he also has one 37-homer season under his belt and every chance to do it again. Cleveland’s offense should be much more well-rounded in 2023 thanks to these two guys.

Blue Jays: Outfielders’ -3 OAA
Toronto’s outfielders ranked 18th in Outs Above Average in 2022. That’s not terrible, but it was certainly worse than their strongest AL East competition, the Rays (+23, 2nd in MLB) and Yankees (+4, 12th.) In 2023, they may be fielding the best defensive outfield in all of baseball.

Within two weeks in December, the Blue Jays signed three-time Gold Glove Award winner Kevin Kiermaier in December, and shortly after acquired Daulton Varsho from the D-backs. What are they bringing to the table? Settle in. From 2017-21, Kiermaier ranked in the 93rd percentile or higher in Outs Above Average (he had +12 in 2021), and his arm strength has ranked in the 94th percentile or higher since 2020. Varsho, for his part, led all outfielders in OAA in 2022 (+18) and ranked in the 97th percentile in outfield jump vs. average. Their combined +30 in each of their last full seasons would have them the fourth-best outfield by OAA since 2015 – before you even factor in a third outfielder.

Angels: 19 infielders used
Not a typo. Excluding catchers, 19 different players appeared in the Angels’ infield in 2022, a number only matched by the Pirates (19), Giants and A’s (21 each). Injuries to Anthony Rendon and David Fletcher in particular exposed a serious lack of depth, and while a revolving door doesn’t always spell disaster for a lineup, Angels infielders posted a collective .629 OPS, third-worst in baseball ahead of the Tigers (.617) and A’s (.602.)

Here’s the good news – the Angels have given themselves the insurance they didn’t have in 2022. In signing Brandon Drury (.813 OPS in 2022) and trading for Gio Urshela (.767), they’ve added a great deal of defensive versatility, and while neither were the biggest hitters available this offseason, both could be just the backup the Angels need for their big boppers.

MLB: League-high 41 stolen bases (Jon Berti)
Maybe it won't be Berti’s total specifically. But the fact remains that 41 stolen bases hadn’t been enough to lead the Majors since 1963. Now, for the most part, teams are concerned primarily with the risk of running into an out.

But that may be about to shift again. In 2023, players will be subject to a 20-second timer between pitches with runners on base, with pitch clock violations on the part of pitchers resulting in an automatic ball. Pitchers will also be limited to two pickoff attempts per plate appearance, a limit that resets when a runner advances. As something of a bonus, the bases will also be three inches bigger, going from the standard 15 inches square to 18. And while that rule change is primarily intended to limit collisions between fielders and baserunners, it’s likely to have a knock-on effect on would-be base-stealers.

All of these changes together should result in a revival of the stolen base going forward – maybe even the first 80-SB season of the 21st century. You never know.

MLB: Lefties’ .239 batting average
The polarization of lefties and righties reached new heights in 2022, with left-handers hitting .239 against righties’ .247. We know what you’re thinking – is eight points such a big deal? On a macro level, yes – not only because it represents a difference of over 400 hits across baseball, but because it’s altered the value of left-handed hitters altogether, erasing any benefit they may receive from favorable splits. And we’re pretty sure of the main culprit.

MLB shift percentage (L/R AVG)

  • 2016: 13.6% (.255/.256)
  • 2017: 12.1% (.257/.254)
  • 2018: 17.4% (.249/.248)
  • 2019: 25.6% (.251/.251)
  • 2020: 34.1% (.238/.251)
  • 2021: 30.8% (.242/.246)
  • 2022: 33.6% (.239/.247)

Defensive shifts have always been disproportionately deployed against lefties, but over the last three seasons, over 50% of left-handed plate appearances have come against a shift, compared to 18.5% for righties. Heavy restrictions on infield shifts are almost certain to even things out again, with high-contact lefties like Corey Seager sure to benefit the most.

The quiet winners of this rule change? Switch-hitters, who took 71.4% of their at-bats from the left side in 2022 and hit a collective .231, their lowest mark in the Live Ball Era.