The 2020 baseball season is right around the corner and we have no idea what to expect. Players such as Buster Posey, David Price, Ian Desmond, and more have already opted out of playing in 2020, while others are testing positive for COVID-19 or have yet to report to their team’s summer training camp. It’s a messy situation overall, but the silver lining here is that we still get to see baseball played in some capacity this season.
60 games are scheduled per team and that could result in absolute fantasy madness. Remember last season when José Ramírez hit .207 with a .617 OPS in his first 60 games (255 PAs) of 2019? I sure do as I had several shares and it was not a fun time. Luckily, Mr. Lapara had time to rebound in the second half, but that’s the thing, there is no 2nd half in 2020, this is a sprint to the finish. Some players will underperform, some will overperform, and those overperformances could lead to an award at the end of the season. In this piece, all the end-season award winners will be predicted, but don’t expect to see your favorite 1st-round caliber players mentioned, because I’m coming in with the hot takes. Let’s get bold!
2020 AL MVP: Bo Bichette, Blue Jays, SS
Bichette made his presence known early and often in 2019, as he hit .406 and laced seven XBH, all within his first seven career MLB games. Bo wasn’t playing around, as he went on to finish his rookie season with a line of .311/32/11/21/4 in 212 PAs. He also hit a whopping .368 vs LHP and .288 vs RHP. In all, Bichette has few weakness to his game. He did have a .237 xBA vs breaking pitches last season, but that is likely to improve with experience.
Heading into the 2020 season, Bichette will most likely leadoff for the Blue Jays, allotting him plenty of chances to get on base, steal, and scores runs in an ever-improving offensive lineup. I expect Bichette to come out blazing. I anticipate Bichette leading the MLB in total bases while earning a line of .335/48/23/45/8 en route to the Blue Jays’ first AL MVP award since Josh Donaldson in 2015. I told you it’s about to get hot!
2020 NL MVP: Josh Bell, Pirates, 1B
If there was an MVP award for the 1st half of the MLB season, Bell would have been a front-runner in 2019. In the first 69 games of 2019, Bell earned a .323/51/19/64 line, with a 1.049 OPS, .335 ISO, and a 49.5% hard hit rate. He also showcased solid plate discipline with a 10.3% walk rate, 30.6% O-Swing, and an 80.8% Z-Swing. Bell was making hard contact, connecting on pitches he liked in the zone and finally putting his potential on display. His production gradually dropped off in the 2nd half, but again, in 2020 we only need one half season of elite production to be considered for an MVP award.
The last National League 1st baseman to win NL MVP without stealing 10+ bases was Ryan Howard in 2006. He hit 58 home runs that year with a .313 BA. The odds of Bell hitting 58 home runs this year are pretty slim, but 20+ home runs and a .300+ BA are definitely attainable. Bell will come out hitting and just won’t stop, just like last year. He has the talent, he has the solid bats hitting in front of him, and maybe most importantly, he knows what it takes to sustain a hot streak at the plate. Josh Bell for NL MVP! It’s certainly going to be interesting seeing who finishes as the NL MVP runner-up.
AL ROY: Evan White, Mariners, 1B
Get used to the name, folks, White is going to be around for a while. To start, his stellar defense along with the general lack of MLB-ready offensive talent on the Mariner’s 30-man roster right now should keep him in the lineup on a regular basis in 2020. In 2019, he hit 18 home runs with a .293 batting average and .838 OPS in 400 AAA plate appearances. In fact, he’s had a batting average better than .276 in every professional season since he was drafted back in 2017. White also possesses the abilities to get on-base at a solid clip, hit the ball hard, and hit the ball to all fields.
He should be playing almost everyday in 2020 and that will allow him to find his groove, and confidence, early on, all leading to a .290/33/9/39/3 line in about 200 PAs, and of course, the American League Rookie of the Year award.
NL ROY: Mitch Keller, Pirates, SP
Forget his 2019 surface numbers, there is more to the story here. Of all MLB pitchers who saw at least 200 batter plate appearances, Keller had the third highest difference between his ERA and xERA at 2.53, trailing only Wade Davis and Corbin Burnes, respectively (per baseballsavant). In fact, his 3.47 xFIP was tied with Frankie Montas and was just ahead of Luis Castillo. That’s fun company to be in. In all, Keller had an unlucky 2019 season, which stemmed largely from an ineffective fastball that allowed a whopping .461 BA on just 447 pitches. To put that into perspective, about 206 of the fastballs he threw out of the 447 went for hits, that’s pretty nuts, and I’d bet on that not happening again.
This offseason, Keller reportedly sought help from Rapsodo’s pitch design tools that help pitchers create more spin on their pitches. Whether this yields positive results or not remains to be seen. However, what is obvious is Keller’s mature approach to improving his game anyway he can. Feeling motivated after a rough 2019 season, Keller is going to come out slinging heat in 2020, to the tune of a 3.83 ERA and a 25.6% K-BB (yes, I’m predicting K-BB%) over 56 innings pitched.
AL CY Young: Charlie Morton, SP
If you’ve been following Morton his entire career, you understand just how remarkable of a career turnaround he’s had. In his first 875.2 innings pitched, Morton earned a 7.3% K-BB, 4.11 SIERA, and 7.4 WAR. In his next 525.2 innings, his K-BB% increased to 20.4% K-BB, his SIERA decreased to 3.54 and he earned 6.4 WAR. Now the question is: what changed?
One clear adjustment was Morton’s increased slider usage. From 2008-2018, he threw just 196 sliders, then in 2019, he threw 291. Increased breaking ball usage can help explain his increased K% ability, but in 2019, it was his curve that he favored the most. In fact, he threw it 1,170 times, 229 more times than other offering. It’s always been his best pitch for getting swinging strikes, but it became more effective now that Morton had other pitches to compliment it with. Morton is going to kickoff his campaign with a bang vs the Blue Jays, and by seasons-end, he’ll have pitched 78.2 innings, earning a 2.57 ERA, a 106:21 K:BB, and his first career CY Young award.
NL Cy Young: Zac Gallen, SP
Woah, woah, it’s not THAT crazy of a thought. This a guy who is showcasing a five-pitch arsenal at just 24-years-old, one that includes hard, breaking, and offspeed offerings. More than that, he can induce groundballs with multiple pitches, as his sinker, changeup, and curveball earned a groundball rate greater than 45.4% in 2019. Digging further into his arsenal, we find that his curveball, changeup, and slider all earned a O-Swing rate greater than 40.7% and swinging strike rate greater than 14.7%.
In short, Gallen can get you out on the ground, he can get you swinging at a high rate with several different pitches, and at 6’2”, 198 Ibs, he has a mound presence that ignores his age and speaks volumes towards his potential. With improved control of an occasionally erratic fastball, the sky is the limit for Gallen headed into 2020. In 81.1 2020 innings pitched, Gallen will earn a 2.31 ERA and a 110:35 K:BB, resulting in him being another worthy addition to the early-round starting pitching crop of 2021 redraft leagues.
Christian Walker, Diamondbacks, 1B
In 2019, his xBA was no less than .243 vs any type of pitch and he hit no worse than .241 vs LHP and RHP. Now for the fun stuff: he also earned a 13.1% barrel rate, 48.5% hard hit rate, .449 xwOBAcon, and a 91.1 mph exit velocity mark. His offensive impact will be undeniable in 2020, earning him his first career silver slugger award.
Ramón Laureano, Athletics, OF
In just 481 plate appearances, Laureano belted 24 long balls, and used his 84th percentile sprint speed to steal 13 bags. And from June 8th to the end of the season, 237 plate appearances, he earned a line of .319/45/16/44/7. If he does that in 2020, he may earn more than a Silver Slugger award, but I predict a solid line of .292/37/12/41/7, and a higher ADP heading into 2021.