2020 is already a strange year in general, and it surely will be a strange season for baseball. With a small sample size, a lot of random oddities can and will occur. Why not try to predict some of these oddities with my bold predictions?
Mike Trout is drafted in the back end of the first round, and he doesn’t play
Over the next few weeks leading up to the start of the season, we will be hearing more and more players opting out of playing the shortened 2020 season. The most prominent of those possibilities could be Mike Trout. Trout is expecting his first child to be born in August, and while it seems like he is currently planning on playing, there is a quick path to that not being the case anymore. MLB released the results of their first round of testing, and 31 players tested positive for COVID-19. As teams begin to have more contact with each other, these numbers seem unfortunately inevitable to rise at least somewhat. The question then becomes for Trout: at what point is playing in 2020 too much of risk for him to not be able to be present for the birth of his first child? If Trout were to test positive for COVID-19, him missing the birth of his child would top the laundry list of issues that arise. Understandably, I think it’s within the realm of possibility that the risk becomes too great for Trout and other players. The question alone may cause his ADP to drop.
Pete Alonso hits 14 home runs or fewer
These are bold predictions, right? That’s less than 38 HRs in a normal season. There is not a ton in Pete Alonso’s profile that makes me doubt the power he displayed in 2019. Keep in mind that we only have one major league season that we can use as a frame of reference for Alonso. There are only 60 games in the season, so if he were to get off to a slow start, he doesn’t have a lot of time to make up ground. The comparison is tired at this point, but Aaron Judge went from a 52-HR season in 2017 to a 39-HR pace in 2018 (only 27 HR in 112 games, due to injury). Alonso is being drafted as if he will be the power stud that he was last year, and while I don’t doubt that he is that, he has to be as good as he was last year to justify his draft position. With the shortened season, there is a lot of room for Alonso to have a disappointing 2020 season.
Vlad Guerrero Jr. is a top-three pick in 2021 drafts
This doesn’t feel that bold relative to the rest of the industry, but when put in the context of my third base sleepers and busts article, I think a positive spin on Vlad Guerrero Jr. is pretty bold. He had arguably the most robust prospect pedigree in modern baseball history, and he was being drafted last year in some leagues as if he would be the next big thing. As we all know, that didn’t really happen. However, a few minor improvements to Guerrero’s game could yield unparalleled success as a high average/high power threat. With the power display he put on in the Home Run Derby, his 15 HR in 2019 are underwhelming. This is largely due to the fact that he hit half of his batted balls on the ground and only 20% of his batted balls in the air. He had the hardest hit ball in 2019, but ranked 107th in average exit velocity across the league. If he can harness more consistent hard contact and get the ball off the ground, there is no limit to what Guerrero could be.
Rich Hill finishes the season as a top-20 pitcher
I don’t think anybody can doubt Rich Hill’s skill as a pitcher. In his late thirties, Hill was putting up ERAs in the two-to-mid-threes range with over 10 K/9. That sounds fantastic, but as is always the case with Hill, durability is a huge issue. He hasn’t pitched over 140 innings in a season in over a decade. This is all the more reason why he should excel coming into a shortened season. In 60 games, let’s say with a five-man rotation that each pitcher starts 12 games. If he averages six innings per start, he will only pitch 72 innings. This is entirely possible for Hill. Add his skill on top of that along with the strong Twins supporting cast providing ample room for wins and the lack of strong competition within the AL Central, there could be some huge potential here.
Josh Hader records at most three saves
With Corey Knebel expected to be healthy and returning from Tommy John surgery when the season begins, Craig Counsell could have Knebel reprise his role as the Brewers’ closer. I think it is more possible that Knebel and Josh Hader split the closer role in 2020, but these are bold predictions after all. Hader’s absolutely ridiculous skill set as a bullpen arm could land him back in his “safety” role that he had back in 2018, where he was the guy the Brewers called on to put out fires late in the game. This would then land Knebel in the closer’s role. Because of this, Hader’s opportunities for saves would be limited to games for which Knebel is unavailable.
Tyler Glasnow has an ERA over four
Tyler Glasnow was having a breakout 2019 campaign until he suffered an arm injury barely into the season. For the 60.2 innings he did pitch, he posted a 1.78 ERA with an 11.27 K/9 and a 2.08 BB/9. The BB/9 was down significantly from his previous seasons, and this was one of his main problems heading into 2019. However, he only has 60.2 innings of being an elite ace and almost 200 innings being a pretty lackluster pitcher. Yes, the Rays have a more advanced coaching philosophy than the Pirates did, and his walks are down. This is still a very small sample size that I would not completely trust yet. It’s entirely possible Glasnow does not sustain the gains he made in 2019 and reverts back to being a 4+ ERA pitcher.
A player has a .400 batting average, and that player is Bryan Reynolds
It has been a very popular bold prediction that someone will hit .400 in the 2020 shortened season. If this happens, I don’t think it’s going to be a Trout or a Bellinger or a Yelich. No, I think it is going to be Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynolds. Up until the end of the 2019 season, Reynolds was quietly in the running for the NL batting title in his rookie season! Of course, he trailed off and hit only .230 in the final month of the season. Until that point, he was hitting .332. His Statcast xBA almost entirely backs up his profile, and Reynolds always hit for average in the minors as well. The upside to his skill set being batting average is that it is not a counting stat, in which case he doesn’t have to depend on the lackluster Pirates lineup around him. 2020 is a weird year in general, and it seems only on brand that the .400 hitter of 2020 is Bryan Reynolds.
The Astros do not have the best record among the AL West teams
This is not a specifically fantasy-oriented prediction, but there are some fantasy notes to be drawn out of it. The Astros have won the AL West for the past three years. They are coming off of a 2019 World Series appearance but also a scandal that found them guilty of using sign-stealing technology. As a result, the Astros will not have their trusty manager, A. J. Hinch. That’s not a knock against the incoming manager, Dusty Baker, but there could be an adjustment period for both the Astros and Baker. On top of that, Justin Verlander already had injury issues during the first spring training, and Father Time could be rearing its inevitable head. Not to mention, Zack Greinke is not a young guy by any means, and the loss of Gerrit Cole is huge. The once-dominant Astros rotation could see a year of rebuilding in 2020 with a returning Lance McCullers Jr. and the possible young superstars of Jose Urquidy and Josh James. Carlos Correa has always had issues staying on the field, and the popular opinion is that Jose Altuve is on the decline (although, I don’t entirely agree with this take). Add in the spring training flare-up of Yordan Alvarez’s lingering knee pain that he experienced last year as well, and things start to shape up as troublesome for the Astros.
Both the Los Angeles Angels and the Oakland Athletics have some interesting pieces that could land them atop the AL West in a shortened season. The A’s have the Matts (Matt Chapman and Matt Olson), who are both being deeply understated as basically Pete Alonsos. The Angels have three likely MVP contenders in Trout, Shohei Ohtani, and Anthony Rendon. The AL West could see its first shake-up in three years.
German Marquez finishes within the top five in strikeouts
Colorado Rockies starting pitcher German Marquez had an incredible 2018 campaign. He posted a 3.77 ERA and a 10.56 K/9 with Coors Field as his home field. He was a favorite breakout coming into 2019 but fell short of expectations, posting a 4.76 ERA with a 9.05 K/9. Contrary to popular belief that he is only good on the road, Marquez had a better FIP and xFIP at home rather than away. I think Marquez had a strange 2019 campaign that isn’t entirely representative of his skill. He increased his ground-ball rate and decreased his BABIP from 2018 to 2019, but the results weren’t there. He could have a return to 2018 form in 2020, and one major factor that would accompany this would be his dominant strikeout ability. Among the improvements from 2018 to 2019, his swinging strike rate actually went up in 2019 from 2018, but the K/9 went down 1.51 K/9. These stats could realistically level out in 2020 and return Marquez to 2018 form. On top of that, he will probably have a pretty long leash as the Rockies’ ace. This will give him more volume to rack up more strikeouts. In 2018, he finished seventh in strikeouts, and I predict that he will top it by two or more spots in 2020.
The 2020 MLB season will not last 60 games as planned
From the time this article was written to when it was published, this is now less of a “bold” prediction. In fact, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred agrees with me. Regardless, cases are skyrocketing in some states, including Texas and Florida – home to four MLB teams. It seems plausible that similar spikes could happen within baseball organizations. While the hope is that this does not happen and that the MLB health and safety protocols are state-of-the-art, it’s within the realm of possibility that COVID-19 presents huge disruptions within the “regular” season. These disruptions could become so severe that they cause a mutual agreement between the players and MLB to abbreviate the season for the health and safety of players and staff. Even though we all would like baseball to begin on July 23rd and have it be as if the season was starting back in April in an alternate reality with COVID-19 concerns being absent, that’s not the reality that we or the players are in. Expect disruptions and put fantasy baseball roster issues and baseball itself in the background. Keep the health and safety of the players and staff in the foreground.
…And with that, let’s play ball.