A new year is a new opportunity to be wrong.
We’re wrong a lot in the baseball predictions game. If you knew, one year ago, that Justin Verlander would return from having pitched zero innings in 2021 to winning his third Cy Young in '22, or that Aaron Judge would bang out 62 home runs en route to the MVP Award, well, congratulations on your soothsaying skillset.
The rest of us are pretty much just guessing aimlessly here. And as 2023 arrives, let the guessing for the new baseball season begin.
Here are my personal award picks for 2023. To get even one of these right would be — yes — award-worthy.
AMERICAN LEAGUE MVP: José Ramírez, Guardians
Judge, Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout … these are the safer selections in the AL. Or maybe Julio Rodríguez surges even more as a sophomore.
But I have an affinity for little guys who do big things, and that’s Ramírez. He has finished in the top six of the AL MVP voting in five of the past six years. It’s just a matter of having that one truly transcendent season in which his case becomes obvious.
No one was going to take down Judge in 2022. But early in the year, Ramírez was on track to try, with 28 extra-base hits and 51 RBIs against only 15 strikeouts (please read that again … it’s impressive) in April and May. Then, in June, he suffered a right thumb injury that required offseason surgery, which only makes his final .280/.355/.514 slash amid playing through pain all the more impressive.
On track to be fully recovered in time for Opening Day and with better lineup protection after the Josh Bell acquisition, there’s no reason not to think Ramírez won’t be at an MVP-caliber level again in his age-30 season and on a Guardians team with the talent to stay atop the AL Central.
NATIONAL LEAGUE MVP: Ronald Acuña Jr., Braves
We are going to see the real Acuña in 2023.
We didn’t get that in 2022 as he worked his way back from major knee surgery and had trouble getting into a groove. A .266/.351/.413 slash with 15 homers and 24 doubles was solid by most standards, but not by Acuña’s. He was even thrown out an NL-high 11 times on the bases — where are those extra few inches when you need them?
But even amid that disappointment, Acuña was in the 92nd percentile in hard-hit percentage and expected slugging percentage. So it’s obviously still in there. And on a Braves team set up well to defend its division crown — in what might well be the best division in baseball — it’s a good bet to come out.
I will pick one of Acuña or Juan Soto to win the NL MVP every year until it happens (can you really blame me?). Soto has an inordinately strong supporting cast in that Padres lineup. That could aid his numbers but perhaps hinder his MVP case. Hard to say.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CY YOUNG: Cristian Javier, Astros
With Verlander having bolted for the Senior Circuit (and that’s a reference to the NL, not Verlander’s age), there’s not a clear Cy favorite in the AL (unless you’re convinced Jacob deGrom will stay healthy, which I, unfortunately, am not). Any of the guys who finished behind Verlander in the 2022 voting (Dylan Cease, Alek Manoah, Ohtani, Framber Valdez, etc.) could rise to the occasion. Instead, I’m going with a guy who didn’t factor into that vote at all but will take on a more pronounced role in Houston after Verlander’s exit.
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Certainly some recency bias is at play here, with Javier having turned in six innings of the first combined no-hitter in World Series history. But he was in the 82nd percentile or better in hard-hit percentage, expected batting average, expected slugging percentage, strikeout and whiff percentage in 2022. His so-called “invisible fastball” held opponents to a .181 average, and he’s only getting better at working his secondary pitches off of that weapon.
Javier will be 26 and in his fourth season in 2023. He’s poised, he’s polished, he's ready. Or at least, he sure looked ready in the Series.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CY YOUNG: Zac Gallen, D-backs
Gallen? Over Verlander, Max Scherzer, Corbin Burnes, reigning NL Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara and others?
Yeah, this is baseball. Expect the unexpected.
Having finished fifth in the NL Cy Young voting without getting named to even the second squad on the All-MLB Team, Gallen was the ace of the All-Awardless Team. I’m taking it a step further and penciling him in for this award.
This guy had the best 2022 season that hardly anybody talked about. The right-handed Gallen went 12-4 with a 2.54 ERA, a 158 ERA+ and an NL-best 0.91 WHIP. In his last 15 starts, he had a 1.58 ERA and a .466 opponent OPS. He posted above-average strikeout and walk rates, and his curveball held opponents to a .174 average and a .271 SLG. Per Statcast, it rated as the best curve in MLB, with a minus-13 run value. Oh, he also had the seventh-longest scoreless inning streak (44 1/3) of the Live Ball Era.
Entering his age-27 season, Gallen should be ready for his close-up.
AMERICAN LEAGUE MANAGER OF THE YEAR: Alex Cora, Red Sox
My confidence in this pick is approximately zero percent. But the Manager of the Year voting operates entirely around preseason assumptions made by the masses. Meet expectations, and you have no chance of winning this award. Exceed them, and you’ve got a shot.
Unless something crazy happens between now and Opening Day, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which much is expected of Cora’s Red Sox. They finished last in the AL East last year, have lost Xander Bogaerts, have invested instead in a 35-year-old Kenley Jansen and a 38-year-old Justin Turner, took a calculated gamble on Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida and might have to consider moving Rafael Devers (a free agent next winter) if they struggle to reach a contract extension.
The vibes in Boston are, um, not overwhelmingly positive.
But let the trend be your friend. The Red Sox stunk in 2022, which, if recent history holds, means they won’t stink next year. Cora is one of the best baseball minds in the game, and most people have moved on from the sign-stealing scandals he was involved in. If the Sox were to rise from the East cellar to somehow reach October, Cora would be an obvious AL Manager of the Year candidate. Right now, it’s hard to say how the heck they would do that, but, again, they have been known to fluctuate between extremes, and this award rewards extreme overachievement.
NATIONAL LEAGUE MANAGER OF THE YEAR: Torey Lovullo, D-backs
The NL is even trickier, because all of the 2022 playoff teams (Dodgers, Braves, Cardinals, Mets, Padres and Phillies) seem really decent bets to return in '23, which would eliminate that whole “surprise” factor that Manager of the Year voters gravitate toward.
But you know it can’t possibly be a complete repeat field, right? So … who could surprise us?
Well, we’ve already cited Gallen as our Cy Young pick, so why not go further down the road with Lovullo’s D-backs? They played above .500 in the second half this past season, they’ve got a bunch of good young arms who could impact them next year, top prospect Corbin Carroll (who debuted in 2022) looks like a keeper, they have better lineup balance after the trade for Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Gabriel Moreno, and their biggest Achilles heel — the bullpen — is an area that, with just a few tweaks, can change drastically from year to year.
This could be a team that benefits from the balanced schedule, reducing the exposure to the Dodgers, Padres and what ought to be an improved Giants team. This is another big swing, but Manager of the Year predictions are no place to go chalk.
AMERICAN LEAGUE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Gunnar Henderson, Orioles
Not that there won’t be other strong candidates in what should be another exciting rookie class, but I’ll take the layup here.
Henderson debuted in 2022 and showed a lot of promise with four homers, seven doubles and a triple in 34 games. He is athletic with above-average power and plate discipline. He is a big reason why an Orioles team that shocked us by remaining relevant deep into '22 could be ready to turn into a clear contender in '23.
NATIONAL LEAGUE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Jordan Walker, Cardinals
Mets catcher Francisco Álvarez (No. 1 prospect in MLB, per MLB Pipeline) and the aforementioned Carroll (No. 3) and are among the young standouts who debuted in 2022 and retain their rookie eligibility, so they are safer selections. And we don’t yet know if Walker, the Cards' No. 1 prospect, will debut on Opening Day (although the new Collective Bargaining Agreement rules do add incentive for St. Louis to carry him out of camp).
Regardless, Walker could be 2023’s version of Julio Rodríguez — playing in the big leagues at age 21 with (possibly) zero Triple-A experience and thriving because of his raw skillset and quick adaptability. Walker’s transition to pro ball over the last two years could not have been more seamless. At Double-A Springfield in '22, he slashed .306/.388/.510 with 19 homers and 31 doubles, and he followed that up with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League. He could force his way onto the radar, into the lineup and into the spotlight.
2023 MLB Award winner predictions – MLB.com