Tomorrow marks the beginning of the baseball season that no one thought would happen, and although my reservations remain I can't help but be excited. This year may be more exciting than any before it, because the large sample nature of baseball usually has a way of working its way out over the course of 162 games; but what about after 60? Anything can happen. Everyone talks about the Nationals record through 60 games last year (27-33) which equaled the 3rd worst record in the NL but when I say anything can happy, I mean anything:
.400 or Bust!
In 2010, between June 4th and August 14th, Josh Hamilton hit .427. Since 2010, he's not the only one to accomplish the feat; in 2017 Jose Altuve hit .420, 2016 Joey Votto hit .416, 2019 Cody Bellinger hit .409 and in 2012 Andrew McCutchen hit .403 over a 60 game stretch. For the first time since Tony Gwynn was wearing a uniform, there's a chance someone will hit .400. Since 2010, there have been 224,642 qualified 60 game stretches according to fangraphs data, and of those, 61 have seen the qualified hitter bat over .400; all of which have been listed above. That means roughly .02% of 60 game stretches since 2010 have resulted in the batter hitting over .400. Instead of there being roughly 22,500 60 game stretches this season, the number which would be played in an average 162 game season, there will be approximately two hundred and twenty 60 game stretches of qualified hitters this year. What does all that mumble jumble mean? It means there's between a 4-5% chance that someone hits .400 this year so.... who's it going to be?
Bold Prediction #1: Mookie Betts hits over .400. It would have been easy to pick Bellinger, or even Yelich, after witnessing the tears they went on last year. but I'm all in on Mookie. It would be easy to be weary of Betts given that he's about to sign the second largest contract in baseball history and the pressure that comes with that, in a major city that is starved for a championship and satisfied with nothing less is immense, but Betts is a special talent and he's going to be in a special lineup. Surrounded by Bellinger, Turner, Muncy and a healthy Seager, this may be the best lineup Betts has ever been in. Betts best 60 game stretch came in 2018 when he batted .368 in a little under 200 plate appearances. He'll need to find a little extra luck to get those 6-7 extra hits, but if Paul Konerko can run and hit his way to a .399 average over a 60 game stretch then Mookie Betts is capable of sneaking out .400 if a couple of duck snorts fall in.
While .400 may be the only surreal statistic to be chased this season, there are other things I don't think even Tangina could see coming:
Bold Predictions for 2020:
#2. Dylan Cease leads the AL in Strikeouts: There's a little bit of homerism to this prediction, but there's evidence to support it. In general, the strike-out crown can't be won by a pitcher in his first full big league season - he simply won't pitch enough innings to match the veterans who have similar K/9 rates. This year is different though; with 60 games, pitchers are going to throw similar inning counts assuming success and health, and there isn't an advantage for the Verlanders of the world who throw 220+ innings a year. When it comes to Cease, he has always had dominant stuff as he ascended through the minor leagues. His stint at AA saw him record 13.41 K/9, and while he struggled to command his fastball, during his first big league action, which limited the usefulness of his electric curveball, he still recorded nearly 10 K/9. This off-season, Cease reworked his delivery - shortening his extension to create a more compact drive to the plate. He did this in hopes of commanding his fastball better by eliminating the rise he had when he got underneath it. While the change is subtle, and not quite as noticeable as Giolito's last year, it has has led to some knee buckling outcomes in Summer Camp:
Last year, Gerrit Cole led all starters by over 1 K/9, at 13.82. While he may be the clear cut favorite to retain the strike out crown, Dylan Cease has a chance of dethroning the Oscar the Grouch of starting pitcher signings this past off-season. The development of Cease's change up, and his ability to keep the fastball up but in the zone will decide whether Cease is fighting for strike out crowns or the Saves crown. If the shortening of the arm extension works as well for Cease as it did for Giolito, we may see baseball go from the era of Launch Angle Rebels, to the Foulke Angle Outlaws.
#3. Someone will hit 28 homers... Joey Gallo... Cough: 72 home runs equals a home run in 44.4% of your games. 28 home runs equals a home run in 46.6% of your games. I was going to go with 30, but I didn't want to get greedy. Since 1975, only 9 players have hit at least 28 home runs in a 60 game stretch and none of them missed a game over that span; McGwire, Stanton, Belle, Bonds, Sosa, Dozier, Griffey Jr, Bagwell and the original White Sox great "sign 'em before they die to claim you had him" George Foster. In comparison, 26 players have hit .400 or better since 1975 in a 60 game stretch. My take away from that is it's really difficult to hit 28 home runs in a 60 game season. Yet, this season it will happen and it will be accomplished not by the person who holds the current record for homers in a 60 game span, Stanton (33), but by Joey Gallo. Among qualified hitters since 2010, Gallo has the 4th highest FB% in addition to the 2nd highest HR/FB rate. Last year, Gallo really started to come into his own; before his injury, he had the 2nd highest .ISO in baseball - a stat that quantifies that Gallo is strong - and he had a career high HR/FB rate of 34%. In addition, his hard hit rate went up for the third year in a row from 46.4% to 51.9%. Gallo tested positive for COVID-19, and missed the beginning of Summer Camp, but he was said to be asymptomatic and he may be immune from missing time the rest of the season due to COVID. If someone hits 28 home runs, they're going to join a club that is more exclusive than the .400 Club. Everything was coming together for Gallo last season before his season was cut short by a fluke injury, and this year Gallo is going to ascend to heights that even Felix Baumgartner would be jealous of.
#4. The season will be played to completion: This is likely the boldest prediction of all for many. While I don't think baseball should be played to completion while a virus rages out of control throughout all of our communities, I understand that money will reign over logic and decency. I predicated back when baseball announced their return that the government would do nothing to stop the return of sports; in fact, it would be to the contrary. Local governments are bleeding revenue dollars faster than a Kill Bill character, and without any help from the Federal Government they are desperate to generate money any way possible. The return of sports is being used as a distraction and a tool to show the people that things are returning to "normal," but that couldn't be further from the truth. I am excited for baseball, and I've accepted that the game will go on regardless of science or instruction to the contrary and it's not my fault... or your fault... or any fans fault so we might as well sit back and enjoy it.
Predictions: Below you will find my projected Standings for 2020:
AL East: Rays
AL Central: Twins AL West: Astros
NL East: Phillies NL Central: Brewers
NL West: Dodgers
AL Wild Card 1: Yankees
AL Wild Card 2: White Sox
AL Champion: Rays
NL Wild Card 1: Braves NL Wild Card 2: Cubs NL Champion: Dodgers World Series Champion: Dodgers in 6
AL ROY: Surprisingly, I'm going to pick a guy who my wife says has a similar build as me: Luis Robert
NL ROY: Shogo Akiyama - Unlike the American League, the National League doesn't have a lot of rookie star power. Dustin May and Gavin Lux are the favorites, but there's no guarantee either player gets significant playing time. Shogo will be given every opportunity to contribute, and with the season being abnormal he may be able to excel as an unknown commodity who the league has yet to adjust to.
AL Cy Young: Charlie Morton
NL Cy Young: Aaron Nola AL MVP: I am predicting that because Mike Trout believes in the concept of family, that he will miss at least 2 weeks of the season due to the birth of his son. When that happens, Yoan Moncada is going to swoop in and win and take the award away in the seasons final week.
NL MVP: Mookie Betts
The baseball season has finally arrived, and the boldest of the bold is more possible than ever. As the season goes on we will analyze and digest the good, the bad and the ugly that comes with a small sample variance in a sport meant to be decided by large sample outcomes.
Edit: Due to the MLB changing the rules of the game 4 minutes before the season started, I have added an additional 3 playoff teams for each league below:
AL 1: Red Sox
AL 2: Indians
AL 3: Angels
NL 1: Reds
NL 2: Diamondbacks
NL 3: Mets