Aaron Judge is gunning for his second MVP in three years. (Erick W. Rasco/Sports Illustrated)
Manny Machado (arm surgery) is working his way back to health; possible Colorado closer Daniel Bard needs knee surgery and will miss Spring Training; and the Giants have landed All-Star outfielder Jorge Soler with a three-year, $42 million deal.
Can Aaron Judge Return to MVP Form?
Perhaps the biggest impact of Shohei Ohtani‘s switching leagues is that it makes it highly likely that a Yankee outfielder will win the American League MVP award.
Preseason odds have 2022 MVP Aaron Judge and newcomer Juan Soto as the top two favourites to take home this honour. By the way, in case you were wondering what Soto would look like in a White Sox uniform…
Judge, of course, is coming off an injury-plagued season that really decimated any chance he had of earning back-to-back MVPs. He seemed to be pressing, often trying to kill the ball when that really wasn’t necessary given his size and strength. As a result, Judge’s K rate rose to its highest level since 2019 and his BA dipped over 40 points.
Did some bad BABIP luck play a role? Yes, possibly, even though Judge’s .300 BABIP last year wasn’t awful by normal standards — just his own, given a .340 career mark.
His productivity dipped, but again, was hardly bad — especially when you consider that he was stuck in a lineup that really struggled offensively. Now that the Yankees have added Alex Verdugo, Trent Grisham and Soto to the mix, their attack should be vastly improved (especially with Judge back to full strength).
What we’d really like to see from Judge this year — besides him staying healthy — is better work against cutters and curves, two pitches he’s shown he can handle in the past, but somewhat struggled with last season.
Power and arm strength were always the keys to Judge’s game, but there were questions about his hit tool. The .311 BA he put up in 2022 looks like the outlier, but he’s probably better than his .267 mark from last year.
Matt Olson Trying to Build on Huge Season
At the beginning of the 2023 campaign, we expressed concern about Matt Olson‘s declining walk rate. He must have listened, posting a career high 14.4 per cent clip as part of a career year (personal bests in games, plate appearances, homers, runs, RBI, BA, OBP and SLG).
Olson has proved extremely durable in recent years, but that power explosion last season was something to behold. In fact, it was good enough for him to post +750 odds to lead the majors in home runs as per FanDuel.
How did Olson do it? Well, he showed marked improvements against almost every type of pitch, really turning things around against cutters after struggling with them in 2022 while hitting four-seam fastballs and changeups better than ever. The only pitch that gave Olson any kind of issues last year was the curve.
Better yet, after his monster season, he’s not resting on his laurels as he’s one of the early arrivals at Spring Training among position players.
Pale Hose Pitching Problems
Tony La Russa will act as a senior advisor to the Chicago White Sox this year, and after (assumedly) bottoming out in 2023 with just 61 wins, they could sure use the help.
If the man who earned more managerial wins than anyone not named Connie Mack can help get the Pale Hose back towards .500 that would be a start.
However, questions remain about a rotation that was among the worst in the majors last season with a collective ERA that flirted with 5.00. Unless there are some very pleasant surprises, it’s hard to see this situation getting any better this season.
Dylan Cease, the subject of tons of trade rumours, remains as the “ace” despite the fact his ERA more than doubled last season. No. 2 Michael Kopech stayed healthier last year, but it didn’t translate into more wins as his peripherals regressed dramatically.
Despite a middling record, Mike Clevinger had a decent bounce back last year, but he’s now a free agent and unlikely to return. That will leave Touki Toussaint to play a much bigger role after he started a career-high 15 games last year, but with results that were generally meh.
Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn were both dealt mid-season, and ostensibly will be replaced by Michael Soroka (acquired from Atlanta this offseason) and Erick Fedde, who is back from Korea.
While Giolito may not excite many owners, at least he was durable, whereas Soroka has made all of nine starts since 2020. As for Fedde, after a promising 2020 campaign, he got progressively worse before bolting to the KBO last year. Yes, he was pretty damned good in Korea, but can he be the next Chris Flexen? We shall see.
It could be another long summer for White Sox fans…
RotoRob Tune of the Day
American rock band Kansas got its start in 1973, and has remained active since, other than a one-year break in 1984. In 1976, they released their fourth album, Leftoverture, which became their biggest seller thanks to the lead single “Carry On Wayward Son.” The tune was their first Top 40 hit, reaching No. 11 on U.S. Billboard Hot 100, but more importantly becoming an absolute staple of classic rock history.