Opening day! When hope springs eternal for every major league baseball fan. Each team is tied for first (and last) place for what will almost assuredly be the final time. Which teams will rise, and which will fall? RotoValue has some predictions. Using the model that forecasts player performance, and aggregating across each roster, I estimate runs scored and runs allowed for each team, and from that I estimate their winning percentages.
Without further ado, here’s how RotoValue expects things to shake out in 2022:
Oh, Canada should be celebrating this year. And why not? They have some of the best young talent in baseball, headlined by 1B Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and SS Bo Bichette. They’ll have a full season from ace José Berríos, acquired in a deadline deal last year, and they’ve added Kevin Gausman to further bolster the rotation. The Blue Jays are the RotoValue pick to win the AL East.
Boston made the biggest noise in the free agent market by signing Trevor Story to play second base, who along with 3B Rafael Devers and SS Xander Bogaerts give the Red Sox one of, if not the, best hitting infields in baseball, despite the rare situation that its weakest hitter is at first base.
Defending champion Tampa Bay is engaged in its perennial youth movement. LF Randy Arozarena and 2B Brandon Lowe are now the grizzled veterans at the ripe old age of 27, while ace Shane McClanahan turns 25 at the end of the month, and SS Wander Franco just turned 21. After trading Austin Meadows to Detroit, they called up 24 year old Josh Lowe to replace him.
The Yankees may slip backwards this year, as their biggest move was adding Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa. That trade improved infield defense, but weakened the team at catcher with the departure of Gary Sánchez. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton both stayed healthy most of last year, and New York will need their offensive punch. Gerrit Cole still headlines the rotation, but 34 year old Aroldis Chapman showed signs he may be slipping with age.
Chicago projects to have the exact same record as Tampa Bay, but in the weaker Central that’s almost 3 games in first, while the Rays project to finish 3rd in their division. The White Sox’s strength is their pitching: they project to give up the fewest runs in the league. While ace Lance Lynn will now start the season on the DL, Lucas Giolito should also contend for the Cy Young award, and Liam Hendriks is probably the league’s best closer. The Sox also have offensive punch, too. CF Luis Robert looks fully healthy this spring, and Tim Anderson remains a threat to win the batting title while playing solid defense at short.
Cleveland has a new name but figures to finish at about .500 as they did last year, led by SS José Ramírez, ace Shane Bieber, and closer Emmanuel Clase. Rookie Steven Kwan will start the season as the new left fielder.
Kansas City is mixing youth with experience, as 38 year old starter Zack Greinke returns to where his MLB career started, while 21 year old Bobby Witt Jr. gets the regular 3B job. Catcher Salvador Perez is coming off a monster year of 48 HR and 121 RBI, while RF Whit Merrifield has MLB’s longest consecutive games streak, last missing a game in 2018.
Detroit added two big free agents, starter Eduardo Rodríguez from the Red Sox and SS Javier Báez from the Mets, and they recently added OF/DH Austin Meadows via trade from Tampa Bay. As a rookie, CF Akil Baddoo showed lots of promise. While Detroit projects to finish in last, they’re just 11 games behind first place Chicago, making the AL Central the tightest of baseball’s divisions.
Despite losing star Carlos Correa to free agency, Houston projects to be the best team in the AL. The core of RF Kyle Tucker, 1B Yuli Gurriel, DH Yordan Alvarez, and former MVP 2B Jose Altuve should score plenty of runs. Ryan Pressly is an elite closer, so the team’s main question mark is its rotation, where 39 year old Justin Verlander is returning from injury, having pitched just 6 innings since 2019. With starter Lance McCullers Jr. starting the year on the injured list, that leaves Framber Valdez at the top of the rotation.
In SP/DH Shohei Ohtani and CF Mike Trout the Angels may well have the two best players in baseball. Yet the team finished 4th, and below .500, in each of those star’s 4 years together. The Angels signed starter Noah Syndergaard, which should help the rotation, and with the expanded playoffs, perhaps we’ll get to see Ohtani and Trout play in October!
Seattle signed starter Robbie Ray from Toronto, and acquired LF Jesse Winker and 3B Eugenio Suárez from Cincinnati. 1B Ty France and SP Logan Gilbert are among the top returners for the team projected to finish around .500.
New faces abound in Texas, which signed SS Corey Seager from the Dodgers, 2B Marcus Semien from the Blue Jays, and starter Jon Gray from the Rockies. The team also traded for C Mitch Garver from Minnesota, signed LF Kole Calhoun from Arizona, and brought back starter Martín Pérez, who spent the last two years in Boston.
Oakland brings up the rear, and having traded SP Sean Manaea and 1B Matt Olson, they’re not in win-now mode. Frankie Montas is still there, and can be a legitimate ace, and Lou Trivino has the closer job. But there’s not much else of fantasy relevance on this team outside of deeper leagues.
Defending World Champion Atlanta looks to top the NL East again. They hope to get superstar Ronald Acuña Jr. back by May. They replaced 1B with Matt Olson, and they signed Kenley Jansen to close. And they have a solid returning core of 2B Ozzie Albies, SP Charlie Morton and Max Fried, and 3B Austin Riley.
Like last year, Philadelphia figures to be Atlanta’s toughest competition. Led by reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper, they added outfielders Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber to an already solid team. Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler head the rotation, and in J.T. Realmuto they have the league’s top catcher.
The New York Mets started last year strong, leading Atlanta by 4 games and the Phillies at the end of July, but an August swoon dropped them into a distant third. They spent big in the off season, landing ace Max Scherzer and MLB stolen base leader Starling Marte via free agency, and trading for starter Chris Bassitt. 1B Pete Alonso and SS Francisco Lindor lead the offense, but their season may turn on the health of Jacob deGrom. The best pitcher in baseball when healthy, deGrom was having a year reminiscent of Bob Gibson in 1968 when injuries cut his year short after just 15 starts. Unfortunately for both deGrom and the Mets, he is starting this year on the injured list, and could miss the first two months.
Miami added two free agent outfielders this year, signing Avisaíl García and Jorge Soler to bolster the offense led by 2B Jazz Chisholm Jr., 1B Jesús Aguilar, and C Jacob Stallings. Miami boasts a young rotation headed by Sandy Alcantara and Pablo López, both 26, and 24 year old Trevor Rogers.
Juan Soto leads the Nationals, and is perhaps the best pure hitter in the game today. Washington took advantage of the new DH rule in the NL to sign Nelson Cruz to help protect Soto in the lineup. Sean Doolittle returns to D.C. to provide bullpen depth.
Starting pitching is the biggest strength of Central division favorite Milwaukee, with Cy Young award winner Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and Freddy Peralta making a formidable top of the rotation. Former MVP Christian Yelich struggled the past two years, while Josh Hader is one of, if not the, best closers in the league.
St. Louis is a mix of old and young, and brings back mostly the same team that won 90 games a year ago. Many of their best players are over 30: 1B Paul Goldschmidt, ace Adam Wainwright, and C Yadier Molina, are in their mid or late 30s, while 3B Nolan Arenado and reliever Giovanny Gallegos both turn 31 later this season. Meanwhile Tommy Edman, Tyler O’Neill, and Jack Flaherty (who is starting the season on the injured list) are all 26, and Dylan Carlson is just 23. None of their top players are in the peak 27-30 range.
The Cubs are likely looking up at .500 again this year. They did sign former Met and Blue Jay Marcus Stroman to be their ace, and also Japanese star Seiya Suzuki. Nick Madrigal, who was injured when they traded for him at last year’s deadline, is back and healthy, and they should also get a full season from Frank Schwindel, acquired from Oakland last season.
Rookie of the year Jonathan India leads the Reds, who were quite active in the trade market this spring. Departing were LF Jesse Winker and 3B Eugenio Suárez (to Seattle), starter Sonny Gray (to Minnesota), and RP Amir Garrett (to Kansas City), while getting mostly prospects in return. Only Mike Minor and Jake Fraley figure to make a significant contribution to this year’s team. Cincinnati still has Joey Votto, who had a resurgent 2021 with 36 HR, and Tyler Stephenson, among the better catchers in the league, and they signed Tommy Pham to play left. But after all the changes, the Reds seem unlikely to match last year’s record or contend for a playoff spot.
Pittsburgh is probably further from contention. There is some young talent, 27 year olds Bryan Reynolds in center and closer David Bednar, and 25 year old 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes. But the Pirates project to have the worst record in baseball.
By contrast, Los Angeles projects to have the best record, by far. Last year they battled San Francisco all year, falling just 1 game short in the regular season, although they got revenge by beating the Giants in the division series. This year the Dodgers will have SS Trea Turner for the full year, as well as Mookie Betts in right, and a stellar rotation headed by Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw and Julio Urías. The Dodgers landed one of the biggest free agents, 1B Freddie Freeman, and they just traded for Craig Kimbrel to close.
San Francisco was a huge surprise last year (my projections had them last in their division), but they won’t be so surprising this year. I don’t expect them to keep pace with the Dodgers, but their projected 86 wins are 5th highest in the league, and just 2 behind the second-best Brewers. The Giants’ strength is pitching, and they signed Carlos Rodón to join Logan Webb, Alex Wood, and Anthony DeSclafani in the rotation. 1B Brandon Belt and SS Brandon Crawford lead the offense.
Going into last season, San Diego seemed to be the biggest challenger to Los Angeles. This year that may prove too challenging, especially with star SS Fernando Tatis Jr. out for perhaps 3 months while he recovers from surgery to repair a fractured wrist. 3B Manny Machado leads the offense, and starting pitching should be strong, with newly acquired Sean Manaea joining Joe Musgrove, Blake Snell, and Yu Darvish. Just today the Padres added closer Taylor Rogers from Minnesota, so they are trying hard to compete. Winning the division, or maybe even finishing second, may be a tough task, but a playoff berth is possible.
If there’s any silver lining to a 110 loss season, which Arizona had last year, it’s that things have nowhere to go but up. Full seasons from 2B Ketel Marte and CF Daulton Varsho should certainly help. The Diamondbacks signed Mark Melancon to close.
Perhaps Colorado can take solace that my last place NL West team from last year, San Francisco, wound up winning the division and a team-record 107 games. As usual for a Coors Field team, the fantasy value should come from offense and not pitching. 1B C.J. Cron is coming off a career best season, while Charlie Blackmon shoud split time between DH and outfield. Add 3B Ryan McMahon and newly signed LF Kris Bryant, and the Rockies have 4 players projecting to 20+ HR, with 2B Brendan Rodgers not far behind at 18. So while they may not win many games, they should still hit plenty of homers to cheer the home fans. Ace Germán Márquez is the main place to look for pitching value on the team.
Best of luck to all the teams on the upcoming season, and let’s play ball!