July is almost over, All-Star festivities have passed, and the trade deadline is upon us. Now is as good a time as any to grade the happening of Major League Baseball’s 2023 season. Who has surprised? Who has floundered? How good is Shohei Ohtani? (Really good.)

Tampa Bay Rays: C+

Yes, I understand that it’s weird to give a team that has spent 113 days in first place a mediocre grade. However, take a look at this evidence:

The Rays are 38-36 since April 30.
They have five more expected wins (66) than actual wins (61).

Don’t get me wrong, their pitching staff is still their pitching staff. All-Star Yandy Diaz is one of the best hitters in baseball. They’re second in the majors in stolen bases, fourth in home runs, fourth in RBI, first in ERA, and second in WHIP.

So, a C+?

Maybe it’s not fair to give a grade based on expected results, but a .500 team for most of the year does not a contender make. They should have run away with the division, yet they currently sit in second place. Until they can show that their brand of baseball means anything other than “good every year,” that’s all they can expect: good. The end.

Shohei Ohtani: A+

He’s the greatest baseball player of all time. There is simply no doubt about it.

This season, in all of Major League Baseball, he’s:
First in OPS.
First in home runs.
First in triples.
Third in RBI.
Fourth in walks.
And fourth in strikeouts…as a pitcher.

Talking about Shohei is self-explanatory, but don’t let his constant and consistent talent get boring. You will die without ever seeing baseball played this well by one person ever again. Now that we don’t have a flashy home run chase to shroud his greatness (although he’s on pace to tie that record this year), we can all marvel at the true MVP.

Injuries: F

Stephen Strasburg is 37 and may never pitch again…but is making $35 million this year.

Anthony Rendon is 33, has a 0.1 bWAR this season, and is making $38 million this year.

Jacob DeGrom just underwent a second Tommy John surgery at age 35 and his recently-signed Texas Rangers contract has an average annual salary of $37 million.

Bad contracts are bad for baseball, but injuries are even worse. Our game is at its best when the best players are on the field.

Pour one out for the memories of these great players.

Craig Kimbrel: B+

Can you believe this guy? He’s The Little Closer That Could. Bouncing around teams the past few years, unable to keep a closing job – it seemed like he wasn’t long for this world. But a one-year “prove it” deal in Philadelphia seemed to be just what he needed: a chance to prove he could still do it. In June, he won NL Reliever of the Month with 21 Ks in 13 innings, notching five saves along the way. At age 35, he’s the closer on a playoff-contending team – one that made the World Series last year after being similarly middling all season.

Oliver Marmol: D-

It is often way too easy to blame a manager. Or a coach, for that matter. In the NBA, for example, only six coaches have been in their current role since before the pandemic. Four of them have won NBA Championships.

It’s really easy to armchair manage and complain about using Kaleb Ort on Opening Day or sitting Jarren Duran against a lefty. It’s a lot more difficult to actually do it, of course.

But I just can’t come up with a theory as to why this St. Louis team is so terrible. A lineup with Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Lars Nootbaar, Nolan Gorman, and Willson Contreras is sixth in MLB in OPS, but they can’t win because their pitching is abysmal: Miles Mikolas, Jordan Montgomery, Jack Flaherty, and others have regressed.

And Oliver Marmol is upset with…Tyler O’Neill? Something has to be funky in this clubhouse. This team should be better, should be competitive. You have to wonder if it’s top-down. And if it’s not, what is he doing to help except…get upset at Tyler O’Neill?

Pitch Clock/Bigger Bases/Shift Rules: A

Sorry Grandpa, the new rules have Made Baseball Great Again.

The first two months of the season showed that the pitch clock was working: games are an average of 26 minutes shorter – losing nothing but dead air.

Stolen bases are all the rage. In 2022, Jon Berti stole 41 bases – the only player to break 40 – and led the league. This season, two players (Ronald Acuna Jr. and Esteury Ruiz) have already reached that mark, with 15 other players logging more than 20 already.

The jury is still out on BABIP in regards to the shift rules (balls in play are actually down in 2023), but it’s clear that these rules did not ruin the sport, as many feared. If anything, it’s more exciting than ever.

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