Who’s ready for some craziness? This MLB will be unprecedented in terms of scale, scope, and of course, size. With only 60 games on the ledger, there is a far greater likelihood of statistical anomalies and bizarre occurrences that we would not have the ability to witness if not for this abbreviated schedule.
So, let’s have some fun.
1. The Dodgers Win 40 Games
While no team in baseball is projected to break the 40-win plateau (via Oddsmaker’s over/unders), the Dodgers will surpass that total. Boasting both the most talented and deepest roster in baseball, they are equipped to handle anything and everything this zany season has in store. A 30-man roster? Sure, bring it on. Universal DH? Literally take your pick. A fleet of bench players that includes AJ Pollock, Chris Taylor, Matt Beaty, Kiké Hernandez, and Edwin Rios will hold up well against even the teams who planned their roster around the use of a DH. The Dodgers are fourth in projected team DH WAR via FanGraphs and the only NL team in the top eight.
The same goes for the Dodgers’ pitching staff. Even after David Price’s decision not to play this season, they still have seven viable SPs. Many of which (Dustin May, Julio Urias, Ross Stripling, and Tony Gonsolin) also have experience pitching out of the bullpen if LA is forced to fortify the only discernible weakness on this roster.
Additionally, they have the most advantageous schedule in the West Region after the change from 162 to 60 games (mainly because they are the only team that does not have to play the Dodgers) based on Mike Petriello’s Schedule Preview. The Dodgers were always going to feast on the Rockies and Giants, throwing the Mariners and Rangers into that mix is the icing on the cake.
2. Mookie Betts Finishes With an OBP Over .500
Some more Dodgers news, did you know they traded for the second best player in baseball this offseason? Me neither! February feels like 100 years ago, but the Mookie Betts trade somehow feels like an entirely separate lifetime. Nevertheless, Betts will be donning the Dodger blue for at least this season — and it appears 13 more — and should explode statistically. Colleague Dan Richards wrote a great piece expanding on his park factors, especially turning barrels into HRs to different fields. Everyone should read it, but a key takeaway was that barrels hit at Dodger Stadium had a far greater likelihood of turning into HRs than at Fenway Park. This is especially true for right-handed batters hitting to left and center field. Luckily for Betts, those are his two primary power alleys!
As more deep fly balls and doubles turn in to dingers, Mookie will be pitched much more carefully. As long as he is not hitting directly in front of Cody Bellinger, which is not expected at the moment, Betts will see a large decrease of pitches in the strike zone. Last season, Betts saw 42.3% of his pitches faced in the strike zone, which was the 39th highest out of all qualified hitters. All the while, Betts’ O-Swing% remained elite (21.4%, 6th among qualified players) last season and his Whiff% decreased for the 3rd consecutive season.
If his skills maintain, which they definitely should, and his strikes seen decreases dramatically, his BB% could soar near 20%. No one has crossed the .500 OBP threshold since Barry Bonds, for four consecutive seasons (2001-2004), but this could be the year Betts challenges that mark.
3. Shohei Ohtani Wins AL MVP
Something that’s been very difficult to get used to regarding the shortened season is just simply looking at projections: seeing HR and WAR leaders hover around 15 and 2, respectively, feels wrong. That being said, the lack of adequate time for the usual high-end producers to separate themselves from the pack will make this season’s award races much more wide-open. Fellow staff-writer Nathan Hursh wrote a piece further delving into this just a few days ago.
Given this truth, Shohei Ohtani should be the MVP frontrunner. Apart from his tremendous talents, his usage as a true two-way player will be especially valuable in the shortened season. The Angels announced Ohtani will pitch on Sundays, just like in 2018, and play DH during the week. That comes out to a maximum of 10 starts and roughly 160-170 PAs (in a perfect world). That is an astronomical amount of value to earn compared to the rest of the league. Simply doing each at the level he is capable of creates a rock-solid MVP case.
4. Someone Hits .400
This is what bold predictions are all about, right? No one has hit .400 over the course of a full season since Ted Williams in 1941, not that this is a full season or will be remembered as one, but hitting .400 over a 60 game sample is still no easy task. The last player to maintain a .400 average through their first 60 games was Chipper Jones in 2008, and he did it through the Braves 73rd game!
No player started or ended their season with a 60 game .400 average, but a good few got close. Not just superstars either, if Donovan Solano can hit nearly .350 over 60 games, who can tell what’s possible?
(Note: this is the player’s first and last 60 games whenever they fell in 2019. Not their team’s first/last 60)
While no one was within 30 points of the milestone, more than a few players were well within striking distance. Not to say adding 50 points to an average is a menial task, but certain conditions exist this season to aid hitters. First, the three-batter-minimum will impair managers’ abilities to mix and match relievers batter by batter. Also, there is ample reason to believe the misshapen season will lead to a flurry of injured pitchers, more so than in recent memory. This will cause teams to be working with their 14th, 15th, 16th, etc as we get deeper into the season and those pitchers will be easier to hit.
5. Five Swingmen Finish Top 40 in fWAR Among Pitchers
With an unconventional year ahead, part of me
hopes thinks the more analytically driven clubs will show a penchant for experimentation. Namely, in the manner in which they deploy pitchers with ill-defined roles. Teams have been bound to a philosophy where their pitchers either must get at least 15 outs or less than 6. Even after the development of the opener, there is an extreme amount of starts that last exactly five, six, or seven innings.
Data Visualization by Paul Brendel
However, it is only a matter of time before managers and front offices realize this may not be the most efficient way to utilize their staff. We all know Josh Hader and Seth Lugo can light it up for more than six outs at a time if need be, but I predict more players will find themselves excelling in similar roles.
The A’s could use A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo as swingmen if they ever get healthy. The Dodgers have at least four guys who could thrive as 3-4 inning specialists to mitigate their bullpen issues. The Astros will likely find creative ways to use Josh James and Lance McCullers. Thinking about Tyler Glasnow in a role like this sent a shiver down my spine. Additionally, guys like Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta, Tyler Mahle, Kyle Wright, Chad Kuhl (who the Pirates already mentioned will be in this type of role), Jonathan Loasiga, or Dylan Cease, among others, who may only have two pitches or below-average command or workload concerns could thrive under this environment.
Given the expected flurry of pitching injuries, we’re likely going to see some unusual names among the pitching leaderboards this year, and that could include more than a few of these swingmen if they are given ample opportunity.
6. The Marlins Will Not Finish Last in the NL East
This is as much about the holes among the Mets, Phillies, and Nationals rosters as it is about the Marlins, but they are plucky! Adding Corey Dickerson, Jesus Aguilar, and Jonathan Villar gives them a veteran foundation relatively stable veteran foundations. Brian Anderson is one of the more underappreciated players in baseball. Garrett Cooper and Jorge Alfaro are steady and solid pieces. Monte Harrison, Isan Diaz, and *gulp* Lewis Brinson are all one year older. Ryne Stanek, Brandon Kintzler, Yimi Garcia is not the worst backend of a bullpen in the NL East. Their rotation is steeped in intrigue and potential while being sneakily seven or eight deep. Suddenly, you look at this Marlins team and see a pretty stable floor.
On the flip side, every other roster in the NL East (besides the Braves) is incredibly flawed. The Mets’ lineup should be strong, but the rotation is rather weak after Jacob deGrom and devoid of depth. Could you imagine trotting Walker Lockett out there every fifth day? No thanks. Moreover, their bullpen is led by Lugo (partially torn UCL), Dellin Betances (6’7″, recently torn Achilles, and Edwin Diaz (no description needed).
The Phillies have great top-end talent, but the roster falls off a proverbial cliff. Adam Haseley will be playing nearly every day, as will a 33-year-old Andrew McCutchen barely a year removed from a torn ACL. And that bullpen! After Hector Neris, there is literally not one trustworthy arm, and that’s after generously anointing Neris as “trustworthy.”
Lastly, the defending champion Nationals. As difficult it is to stave off a World Series hangover, the Nats lost their best player in free agency and then dealt with a worldwide pandemic before a painstaking labor dispute. Motivation may be difficult to come by. Additionally, their bullpen does not appear to be tremendously improved, and their rotation depth is precarious behind their big three. Any type of serious injury there and their season could easily spiral.
Are all these teams better on paper than Miami? Absolutely, but all three rosters seem to hang very much in the balance ahead of a season where depth will be tested.
7. The Rays Defeat the Reds in the World Series
Alliteration aside, both the Rays’ and the Reds’ rosters are tailor-made to thrive this season. The Rays have an unbelievably deep fleet of pliable position players and relievers, all capable of filling a multitude of roles. Likewise, their uncanny ability to create RPs seemingly out of thin air will be even more valuable this year. Just take a look at their bullpen on Opening Day of last season compared to the one they took to Houston for the ALCS.
|Opening Day||Playoff Roster|
|Jalen Beeks||Brendan McKay|
|Wilmer Font||Oliver Drake|
|Adam Kolarek||Colin Poche|
|Ryne Stanek||Emilio Pagan|
|Chaz Roe||Nick Anderson|
|Jose Alvarado||Yonny Chirinos|
|Diego Castillo||Diego Castillo|
Of course, Chirinos was on the roster all season, primarily as a starter, but there is one (1) recurring name on these lists! How many teams in baseball, neigh, the history of baseball, could turn over every single pitcher in their bullpen while maintaining elite production. God-like levels of player development.
As for the Reds, their potential can be derived from equal parts good fortune and strong personnel. They were far and away the biggest winners from the schedule rework and their trophy is 10 games against the Royals and Tigers. Add in their 10 games vs the Pirates, and 1/3 of their schedule is against three teams whose combined win percentage was .360 in 2019.
On top of that, the Reds’ had a pretty, pretty, pretty good offseason way back when. They added Nick Castellanos, Mike Moustakas, Shogo Akiyama, Pedro Strop, and Wade Miley. While not the sexiest signings, these are major league ballplayers who will help to raise the Reds’ floor. Combine them with one of the best rotations in baseball, the Reds suddenly look ready to contend after years in the doldrums.
Ohtani Photo by Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire, and Samuel Stringer/Icon Sportswire, Bellinger Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire, Mookie Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire) | Adapted by Rick Orengo (@OneFiddyOne on Twitter and Instagram)