Baseball is back??? If and when the Nationals host the Yankees on Thursday, July 23rd, Major League Baseball will successfully achieve its first goal in starting a shortened season. Obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic may end up ruining the efforts to finish the season, but for as long as we have baseball, I challenge everyone to enjoy it to its fullest. This will be a unique season, and it will be remembered for eternity- you’ll be watching documentaries about it one day.
Today, I’ll finish up by season predictions by picking award winners, as well as World Series champion. In just 60 games, it’s conceivable that any player can contend for the major awards; it takes 162 games for everything to regress to mean, which won’t happen this year. Meanwhile, the playoffs have been proven to be random, so nothing will change in that regard, other than the fact that there may be different teams in it.
AL MVP: 3B Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians
As mentioned multiple times, this won’t be a normal season, and, for that reason, I’ll stray away from the obvious “Mike Trout” for AL MVP pick. Rather, I’ll side with a player that has become severely overlooked. Between 2017 and 2018, Jose Ramirez posted an expected-weighted-on-base-average (xwOBA) over .390, which is well above-average, as was his 146 weighted-runs-created-plus. Heck, even in a down season last year, he still was an effective all-around third baseman, and there are plenty of reasons to believe that he’ll get back to being the MVP candidate he was previously. After a very poor first half (68 wrc+), the 27-year-old posted a 178 wrc+ in the second half, which I believe is a much better representation of his talent. Plus, he has generally had one of the lowest batting average on balls in play (BABIP), but in a short season, that may not necessarily be the case, and he hasn’t yet benefitted from the league-wide home run surge like others. Facing an easy schedule, I’m expecting him to go back to being a superb offensive presence, and you add in his elite base-running and strong defense, and he looks to be the best bet to prevent Trout from winning another MVP award.
Others Considered: CF Mike Trout (LAA), DH/SP Shohei Ohtani (LAA), Joey Gallo (TEX)
NL MVP: OF Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers
So much for staying away from the obvious pick? Whereas Mike Trout is considered the easy frontrunner for the AL MVP award, Mookie Betts doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. Based on my models, he’s clearly the second-best player in baseball, and is coming off of multiple seasons with an xwOBA of .406 or higher. He has almost as many walks as strikeouts over that span as well, and has massively improved his hard hit%; add in an increase to his launch angle, and his recent improvements are certainly legitimate. Oh, and, due to scheduling quirks, he’ll get to play 1/3 of his games against the Rockies and Giants- there is too much working in Betts’ favor for me not to pick him to win this award. In what’ll be the first of 13 seasons in Los Angeles, an NL MVP award would be quite the start.
Others Considered: OF Bryce Harper (PHI), OF Juan Soto (WSH), SS Trevor Story (COL)
AL Cy Young: Shane Bieber, Cleveland Indians
It’s a Cleveland sweep when it comes to major AL awards! In the first 329 innings of his big-league career, Shane Bieber has been excellent, posting a 3.29 xFIP and an absurd 5.98 K-BB ratio. Usually, when a pitcher can find such instant success, they’re able to sustain that production, assuming health, and after trading Corey Kluber, the Indians will be asking Bieber to be the ace of their pitching staff. As evidenced by that K-BB ratio, he grades out tremendously in stable metrics, and when you add in the innings he provides, is the best starting pitcher outside of the clear “big four” of Justin Verlander, Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole, and Max Scherzer. Sure, he allows a lot of hard contact and home runs, but those are unstable metrics, and in a short season, he’s someone that could benefit tremendously from certain peripherals not having time to revert to average. Cole seems to be everyone’s pick for this award, but if there is one pitcher that can be even more dominant than the Yankees’ $324 million man, it’s Bieber.
Others Considered: Gerrit Cole (NYY), Tyler Glasnow (TB), Blake Snell (TB)
NL Cy Young: Yu Darvish, Chicago Cubs
This may seem like an odd pick, but when you dig deeper into the numbers, Yu Darvish may be the pitcher who benefits the most from a shorter season. For starters, he’s never been a true workhorse, which would usually hamper him, but that’s not necessarily the case this year. Therefore, if he’s going to win the NL Cy Young award, it needs to happen in this season, and he’s coming off a 2019 campaign in which he posted an elite 2.37x FIP and 16.86 K-BB ratio in the second half. Although betting on numbers in a small sample is always risky, it appears Darvish made the tweaks that the Cubs were hoping he’d make when they signed him, and purely based on quality/efficiency, he’s probably a top-ten starting pitcher. To top it all off, no pitcher had a higher HR/FB rate last season, and as with Bieber, if the 33-year-old gets a little luck in his 11 or 12 starts, he has the potential to post dominant numbers. It’s an upside play, but one that I’m confident making.
Others Considered: Stephen Strasburg (WSH), Trevor Bauer/Luis Castillo (CIN), Max Fried (ATL)
AL Rookie of the Year: RHP Brady Singer, Kansas City Royals
It feels as though everyone is picking White Sox center fielder Luis Robert to win the AL Rookie of the Year award, especially since lefties Jesus Luzardo and Brendan McKay are unlikely to start the season in their respective team’s rotation. Yet, Robert’s plate discipline issues mean that he shouldn’t be expected to immediately adjust to big-league pitching, so why not throw a curveball here? Well, when he’s right, Brady Singer relies on a loopy slider and a fastball that can play up due to a unique arm angle, but you get the point. In a full season, I’m not sure I’d pick the former first-round pick to win this award, as his strikeout numbers haven’t been spectacular in a short season. Yet, with his ability to induce ground balls, he’s the type of pitcher who feels likely to post a deceivingly low ERA in a short season, especially since the Royals have invested in their defense. In the future, Kansas City’s insistence on him throwing his sinker may hurt him, but, in the 12 or so starts he’ll get this season, it likely won’t come back to bite him.
Others Considered: LHP Jesus Luzardo (OAK), RHP Nate Pearson (TOR), C Sean Murphy (OAK)
NL Rookie of the Year: RHP Mitch Keller, Pittsburgh Pirates
Similarly to the American League, the National League Rookie of the Year award isn’t likely to go to one of the favorites- the Dodgers sent down second baseman Gavin Lux and Nationals third baseman Carter Kieboom appears likely to be only used in a platoon role. As a result, I’m rolling with another pitcher from a team that plays in a central division- Mitch Keller. A .475 BABIP allowed may have inflated his ERA (7.13) substantially, but in 48 innings in the majors last season, he had a 3.47 xFIP, which is due, in large part to his very high 12.19 K/9. Considering that the 24-year-old has consistently performed in the minors and is a well-regarded prospect, those numbers don’t appear to be a fluke, and it’s not as though the teams he’ll be facing are offensive powerhouses. There aren’t a lot of other options, yet even if Lux had started the year in the majors, Keller may have been the logical selection regardless.
Others Considered: 3B Carter Kieboom (WSH), RHP Dustin May (LAD), RHP Spencer Howard (PHI)
AL Manager of the Year: Dusty Baker, Houston Astros
It wouldn’t shock anyone if the Astros win the AL West. In fact, if they didn’t win. However, there aren’t many appealing options to be voted as the best manager from the American League, so Dusty Baker could win by default. Not only is Houston projected to finish with the top record in the conference, but they’ll have to deal with adversity- designated hitter Yordan Alvarez and starting pitcher Jose Urquidy won’t be available for the start of the season, while they’ve also had issues with COVID-19 testing. Add in the public scrutiny they’re facing, and Baker will be held in even higher regard if he can lead this team to the top seed in the American League. Plus, who doesn’t root for Dusty Baker?
Others Considered: Kevin Cash (TB), Joe Maddon (LAA), Rick Renteria (CHW)
NL Manager of the Year: Davis Ross, Chicago Cubs
There aren’t a lot of great options to win the NL Manager of the Year award, though, with the expanded playoffs a possibility, Jayce Tingler of the Padres may be an intriguing pick. To play it safe, though, I’ll go with another first-time manager- David Ross. The Cubs are currently my pick to win the NL Central, based on my model, and in a tough division, that may impress voters. Add in the fact that Ross is well liked, and that first-year managers tend to get an extra boost in the voting for this award, and he appears like a solid candidate to be voted as the NL’s top manager.
Others Considered: Jayce Tingler (SD), Craig Counsell (MIL), Dave Roberts (LAD)
AL Reliever of the Year: Nick Anderson, Tampa Bay Rays
It’s not often that a 29-year-old rookie is one of the top relievers in the MLB, but that’s exactly what Nick Anderson was last season. His 2.44 xFIP in 65 innings was very impressive on its own, and in 21.1 innings with Tampa, he posted an absurd 20.5 K-BB ratio and 1.19 xFIP. With an incredible vertical-moving fastball and a wipeout breaking ball, he has all the tools to continue to be absolutely dominant, and although the Rays won’t have a set closer, he should get enough saves to please old-school voters.
Others Considered: Taylor Rogers (MIN), Brad Hand (CLE), Liam Hendriks (OAK)
NL Reliever of the Year: Edwin Diaz, New York Mets
Whereas Anderson came out of nowhere to be an excellent reliever last season, Edwin Diaz has been in the spotlight for a while. The main piece of a blockbuster trade that sent premier prospect Jared Kelenic to the Mariners, the 26-year-old was expected to shut down games for the Mets. Instead, he struggled to the tune of a 5.59 ERA, and based off of WAR, was a replacement-level reliever. So, why is he my pick to be voted as the National League’s best reliever. Well, that 2019 season was a fluky as it gets. Diaz struck batters out (15.36 K/9) at a similar clip to 2018, and, as a result, still posted a 3.07 xFIP. In the end, poor batted-ball luck, especially with home runs, doomed him, while his hard contact rate allowed skyrocketed. However, those are unstable metrics, and as long as he’s missing a lot of bats, I have no doubts that he’ll get back on track. He’ll never be able to justify what was a disastrous trade for the Mets, but Diaz remains an elite reliever, and will show why you can’t ever judge a bullpen arm based on one season- due to small sample sizes, they’re subject to extreme volatility.
Other Considered: Hector Neris (PHI), Josh Hader (MIL), Craig Kimbrel (CHC)
I could write 1000 words or so trying to bring some sense to the playoffs, but it’s pretty much a crapshoot regardless, based on studies I’ve conducted. Instead, I’ll just list my postseason predictions, with brief analysis for my World Series prediction. This is assuming a normal playoff structure is in place, but if the expanded playoffs happen, the AL would include the Indians, White Sox, and Angels, while the NL would include the Braves, Padres, and Reds.
- AL: Rays over A’s
- NL: Mets over Brewers
- ALDS: Rays in 5 over Astros
- ALDS: Yankees in 5 over Twins
- NLDS: Dodgers in 3 over Mets
- NLDS: Nationals in 4 over Cubs
- ALCS: Rays in 7 over Yankees
- NLCS: Dodgers in 5 over Nationals
- ALCS MVP: Tyler Glasnow
- NLCS MVP: Max Muncy
- Dodgers over Rays in 5
- World Series MVP: Clayton Kershaw
Even though the postseason is random, there isn’t any way I can’t roll with the Dodgers as my World Series pick; they’re easily the best team in baseball, and may be the best team in the past decade. For the fun of it, I’ll be bold and trust the Rays to use their brainpower to sneak into the World Series, but, regardless, this is the Dodgers’ time to win that elusive World Series. To add even more intrigue, I’ll even predict that Clayton Kershaw gets his revenge by winning World Series MVP!
In a short season, an expanded playoffs would be very fascinating, though I’m hoping that we view this season as legitimate anyways- the postseason is random, so the best teams don’t win the World Series every year. Ultimately, we’ve all been waiting for baseball, so, no matter what, I encourage everyone to enjoy this season, and watch as much baseball as possible!