Top-armed teams at every position on the MLB 2023 diamond
With about a month to go before pitchers and catchers start reporting to spring training, it’s time to take a look at which teams have — based on projections — the best group of players at each position. And thanks to our friends at FanGraphs, we can do that.
Here’s a breakdown of which teams project to be the strongest at each diamond spot in 2023, based on WAR estimated by FanGraphs:
Catching: Blue Jays (5.9 WAR)
Key players: Alejandro Kirk, Danny Jansen
Kirk of Mexico had a breakout season at the plate last year, with a .786 OPS, 14 home runs and a 3.8 WAR. Jansen, for his part, hit 15 home runs and posted an .855 OPS. His WAR was 2.6. If they do something like that in 2023, thundering Toronto’s lineup from start to finish, watch out for the Blue Jays.
Strongest opponents: Orioles (5.5), Dodgers (5.1), Braves (4.9), Phillies (4.6), Yankees (4.6)
First base: Dodgers and Blue Jays (4.8 WAR)
Key Player — LAD: Freddie Freeman
Key players — TOR: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Brandon Belt
Freeman finished his first season in Los Angeles with a .918 OPS and the most hits (199) and doubles (47) in the majors, while his FanGraphs WAR was a career-high 7.1.
Dominican Guerrero couldn’t repeat his great 2021, but he still posted an .818 OPS with 32 home runs. And let’s not forget that he’s only 23 years old, so it’s very likely that we haven’t seen the best of him yet.
Belt is coming off a under-year and knee surgery, but from 2020-21 he had a .988 OPS with 38 home runs in 148 games.
Strongest opponents: Cardinals (4.4), Mets (4.4), Braves (3.6), Rangers (3.1), Rays (3.0)
Second baseman: Astros (4.5 WAR)
Key player: Jose Altuve
In 2022, Altuve had his best season since being AL MVP in 2017. He had a .921 OPS with 28 home runs to help the Astros win their second World Series, and there’s no reason to think that he won’t be as good in 2023. Conservative FanGraphs projections see him at 4.2 WAR, down from 6.6 last season.
Strongest opponents: Guardians (4.2), Rays (4.1), Yankees (4.0), Rangers (3.9), Padres (3.8)
Shortstop: Rays (5.6 WAR)
Key player: Wander Franco
The Dominican Franco has played just 153 games since making his MLB debut in 2021, and injuries (teared quadriceps and fractured right wrist) sidelined him for almost half of the 2022 season. Still 22 years old, the sky’s the limit for Franco, who FanGraphs projects with a 5.2 WAR in 2023. And why not? Despite the injuries, he’s hitting .282/.337/.439 with a 4.7 WAR in the majors.
Strongest opponents: Twins (5.3), Padres (5.0), Rangers (5.0), Mets (4.7), Phillies (4.7)
Third base: Cardinals (5.5 WAR)
Key Player: Nolan Arenado
Arenado is a terrific hitter coming off an .891 OPS with 30 home runs in 2022, but much of the value of the FanGraphs projection for 2023 (5.3 WAR) comes from his incredible defense, which has allowed him to win 10 Gold Gloves consecutively.
Strongest opponents: Guardians (5.3), Astros (5.2), Padres (5.0), Rays (4.8), Red Sox (4.6)
Left field: Astros (4.7 WAR)
Key Player: Yordan Alvarez
Cuban Álvarez is coming off a spectacular season in which he hit .306/.406/.613 with 37 home runs, which normally goes for MVP awards, unless you’re competing with a 62-homer man and a throwing-hitting phenom. . Alvarez seems to get better every year and he’s only 25 years old.
Strongest opponents: Red Sox (4.0), Padres (3.7), Guardians (3.4), Cardinals (3.3), Brewers (3.1)
Center field: Mariners (5.8 WAR)
Key player: Julio Rodriguez
The Dominican Rodríguez, the brand new American League Rookie of the Year, posted an .853 OPS with 28 home runs and 25 stolen bases, generating a WAR of 5.3. FanGraphs’ projection of 5.6 WAR by 2023 is remarkable, as he ranks him above some of the best players out there, including Mike Trout.
Strongest opponents: Angels (5.4), Mets (4.9), Braves (4.8), Cardinals (4.1), Yankees (4.1), Twins (4.1)
Right field: Padres (6.9 WAR)
Key players: Fernando Tatis Jr., Juan José Soto
What a combo this. And the projection would be even higher if Tatis were not to miss the first three weeks of the season to complete his suspension after failing a drug test. The question is whether we’ll see something similar to what he did from 2019-21, when he posted a .965 OPS with 81 homers and 52 stolen bases in his first 273 games. Only time will tell.
Soto, for his part, had a “down” year in 2022, when he hit .242/.401/.452 with 27 home runs and led the Major Leagues with 135 walks. But at just 24 years old and barring an injury, it seems obvious that Soto will rebound in 2023.
Strongest opponents: Yankees (6.2), Dodgers (5.6), Astros (5.5), Braves (4.6), Cubs (3.5)
Designated hitter: Angels (3.3 WAR)
Key Player: Shohei Ohtani
In 2022, Ohtani had an .875 OPS with 34 home runs and dominated on the mound, posting a 2.33 ERA and leading the American League with 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings in 28 starts. Only Aaron Judge prevented him from repeating as MVP.
Strongest opponents: Astros (3.1), Yankees (2.7), Blue Jays (2.7), Padres (2.7), White Sox (2.7)
Starting Rotation: Yankees (16.3 WAR)
Key pitchers: Gerrit Cole, Carlos Rodón, Néstor Cortés, Luis Severino, Francelis “Frankie” Montás
This is what happens when you sign Rodón to add him to a rotation that already had Cole and the Cuban Cortés. Cole is Cole, an ace with the talent to fight every year for the Cy Young Award. Cortés had a breakout year in 2022, posting a 2.44 ERA in 28 outings. Montas will miss about a month through injury, but Clarke Schmidt and Domingo Germán provide depth and quality.
Strongest opponents: Mets (15.8), Rangers (15.6), Brewers (14.8), Braves (14.4), Phillies (13.8)
Reliever: Braves (4.5 WAR)
Key pitchers: Raisel Iglesias, AJ Minter, Collin McHugh
Cuban Iglesias was key for Atlanta after arriving in a midseason trade, posting a 0.34 ERA in 28 appearances. For MLB career, he has a 3.00 ERA and 157 saves in eight seasons. Minter (35% strikeout rate in 2022) remains an extremely reliable lefty for late innings. And McHugh, at 35, still shows no sign of slowing down. In his first season with Atlanta, he had a 2.60 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP in 69.1 innings.
Strongest opponents: Mets (4.4), Guardians (4.3), Mariners (4.2), Phillies (4.2), Twins (4.2)