With just 60 games, expanded playoffs, and a confined regional schedule, the 2020 Major League Baseball season was an experiment. Despite normalcy largely returning in 2021, the experiment continues.
While some players miss full seasons with injuries every year, 2021 is a trial in time off. Over 20 regular players opted out of the 2020 MLB season, forgoing their salary and stepping away from baseball for over 12 months. We’ve seen an unprecedented injury pace due to players (specifically pitchers) ramping up from a 60 to 162 game season, but what about the players who didn’t play at all?
Davis Price delayed his Dodger debut, opting out of the 2020 season and Los Angeles’ World Series run, but returned to the field this year. Price has felt every possible impact of a missed season due to LA’s deep pitcher staff. Just a month into the season the lefty lost his rotation spot, has suffered some poor performance, and is now on the injured list.
With Dustin May now also hurt, Price should have a shot at returning to the rotation, but he’ll have to hope his raised home run and walk rates in a limited 2021 sample size normalize. One positive (albeit in a relief role) is Price’s fastball and sinker velocities are over one MPH higher than in 2019 with the Red Sox. However, his Barrel % and xERA are at all-time highs.
After three straight seasons of five-plus ERA, Joe Ross opted out of the 2020 season to protect his and his family’s safety. Unlike Price, Ross’ Washington Nationals came into 2021 relying on him for starts.
A month and four starts into 2021, Ross has a 4.64 ERA, home run and walk rates above his career norms, and a below average strikeout rate. While the general trends seem comparable to Price’s, beyond the base stats Ross has actually been brilliant in three of his starts. Ross has allowed just one run across his first, second, and fourth starts of the year, but 10 of his 11 ER this season came in 4.1 IP against the Cardinals.
Ross’ velocities are comparable to his career averages and he allowed just a .194 batting average against in spring training, so the Nationals seem confident he’ll have success coming off a no baseball 2020.
“Learn from the other 50 or 60 pitches that you made that were really good,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez told the Washington Post. “Those are the ones you want to put in your memory, not the bad ones.”
Jordan Hicks opted out of the 2020 season due to preexisting health concerns and to continue rehabbing from 2019 Tommy John surgery. The first year back from TJ comes with its own challenges, and I once again acknowledge the sample size is small, but Hicks is also experiencing similar early-season trends to the other pitchers who sat out 2020. Hick’s already teetering walk-rate is up, his ERA and FIP are career-highs, and he recently suffered a minor arm injury.
But, like with Ross and Price, there are hopeful indicators. The Cardinals expect Hicks to return from his arm injury quickly, not placing him on the 10-day IL, and in 10 innings, the reliever’s hard-hit rate is just 12%, he is yet to allow a barrel, and his xERA is just 2.92.
Before the 2020 season, Buster Posey had logged eight straight seasons of 100+ games played, 400+ plate appearances, and more time behind the plate than almost every other catcher in baseball.
After sitting out the season, it seems Posey may have benefited from some well deserved time off. Through 25 games, Posey is second in catcher OPS and HR, third in batting average, and leads the San Francisco Giants in hits. Posey is currently registering the highest xBA and HardHit% of his career, and has hit the ball harder than he has since 2015.
Posey had hip surgery in 2018 and the ailment lingered into 2019, but with a full year off from baseball Posey is “really pleased” with his overall health this season — and it shows. While a year off from the repetition and touch of pitching seems to be effecting the arms who opted out of last season, Posey may be an example of a player who benefited.
Photos by Dirk Hansen/Flicker & Icon Sportswire | Feature Image by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitte)