Every baseball fan wants the season to begin as quickly as possible, and in a manner that ensures the health and safety of all Major League players. That being said, there is no legitimate timetable for baseball to return. Even the May proposal that would split Major League Baseball between Arizona and Florida (and possibly even Texas) still needs the approval from the player association and the CDC, as well as local, state, and federal governments. There could be more states involved, but the Arizona/Florida idea appears to be the most concrete plan thus far. Still, it seems the earliest baseball could start would be June, and even that is a stretch at this point. Nonetheless, if there is a 2020 season, one thing is for sure; teams will play to their strengths and give it their all in this shortened season. In a 100 or so game season, nearly every team has a shot at the playoffs. This kind of change warrants bold predictions because fringe playoff teams will do whatever is necessary to win, and really try to play to their strengths. We could see a resurgence in fundamental baseball; starters could pitch longer games, runners could steal more bases, top prospects could be called up earlier than expected, and strikeout rates and home run rates may even decrease from the 2019 season.
That being said, the predictions that follow assume that there will be a 100 game season, and teams will play in the newly proposed divisions. If the season is even shorter than that, the predictions still hold but the numbers would change proportionally. For example, if the prediction is someone steals 40 bags in an 100 game season, and the season ends up being 80 games, then the prediction would be modified to 32 bases. Since there is a lot of thought and detail in each prediction, this bold prediction series will be split into two parts; one about the Grapefruit League (teams that will play in Florida) and the other about the Cactus League (teams that will play in Arizona) that will appear in another article.
Grapefruit League North
Detroit Tigers: Win a Maximum of 32 games. The Tigers had an MLB worst 47-114 record last season, and ended up with a .292 win percentage. Although they added Austin Romine, Cameron Maybin, Jonathan Scoop, and C.J. Cron, they still will be one of the worst teams in baseball. There could be slight improvement for the Tigers, but not much. Despite the Tigers not playing in the AL Central, which featured two 90+ win teams last year, their new division is still just as difficult for them.
Philadelphia Phillies: Still won’t make the playoffs (even in a new division). To many, the Phillies looked poised for a fourth place finish in the NL East, behind the Atlanta Braves, New York Mets, and Washington Nationals. They feature a lineup with upside, but one that struggled a lot last year. Although they acquired Zach Wheeler via free agency, after him and Aaron Nola, their rotation does not offer a lot of promise. As for their bullpen, it is certainly in the bottom half of Major League Baseball. In a new division, the Phillies are almost guaranteed a second place finish behind the Yankees, and can pick up some games against the Tigers, Pirates, and Blue Jays. However, there are plenty of other Wild Card contenders in the Grapefruit League (Tampa Bay Rays, Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, New York Mets, and St. Louis Cardinals) that are all better teams than the Phillies.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Win a maximum of 43 games. In the Grapefruit North, the Pirates are not the worst team in the division anymore so could pick up some extra games. Although the Pirates finished 69-93 in 2019, good for a .426 win percentage, they should not really be too much better in 2020. This is because the Pirates traded arguably their best player (Starling Marte) in the offseason. Additionally, rookie Bryan Reynolds, who tied for sixth in the NL Batting Title, had a ridiculous .387 BABIP, and is thus due for some regression. That being said, the Pirates are poised to have a similar, if not worse record than last season.
Toronto Blue Jays: Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. hit at least 90 HRs. The Blue Jays have some of the most promising core players in all of baseball, such as Guerrero Jr. (15 HR in 123 G), Bichette (11 HR in 46 G), Biggio (16 HR in 100 G), and Gurriel Jr. (20 HR in 84 G). In a 100 game season, the quartet would have combined for 76 homers in 2019. Guerrero Jr. has ridiculous bat speed, and many experts predict he can eventually hit 30-40 home runs each year. Additionally, in 102 games across Triple-A and the Majors last year, Bichette had 19 HRs. Meanwhile, Biggio should be able to slug 15-20 HRs again in 100 games as he hit 22 HRs in 143 games between the Majors and Minors in 2019. Also, in 2018, Biggio had 26 HRs in 132 G in Double-A. Lastly, Gurriel Jr. had an impressive .264 ISO, and ranks in the 71st percentile across Major League Baseball in terms of exit velocity. With all this in mind, there is reason to believe that this group could even exceed hitting at least 90 HRs for the Blue Jays.
New York Yankees: After Gerrit Cole, the rest of the rotation averages 5.0 IP/G. The Yankees projected starters after Gerrit Cole are Masahiro Tanaka (5.63 IP/G), James Paxton (5.17 IP/G) , Jordan Montgomery (5.36 IP/G in 2017), and J.A. Happ (5.21 IP/G). All together they averaged 5.36 IP/G. Although each of these starters averaged well over 5.0 IP/G, Happ could be even worse than last season as he is now 37 years old; meanwhile, Jordan Montgomery has not pitched a full year since 2017. Additionally, Paxton is quite injury prone, and spot starters Jonathan Loaisiga, Delvi Garcia, and Michael King are all bound to have growing pains. Oh and don’t forget the Yankees might use Chad Green as an opener every now and again. Furthermore, since the season is so short, the Yankees might use their bullpen even more than 2019, especially in games that Cole does not pitch in. All together, the Yankees are destined to average around 5.0 IP/G.
Grapefruit League South
Atlanta Braves: Ronald Acuña Jr. steals at least 30 SB, while Ender Inciarte and Ozzie Albies steal at least 15 SB each. The Braves lost Josh Donaldson’s bat, and tried to compensate for his loss by acquiring Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna is a great player, but no Josh Donaldson. Additionally, Mike Soroka and Max Fried might regress a little in Year 2. Furthermore, the Braves new division might be tougher than they’re used to; it is essentially a toss up between the Twins, Braves, and Rays. Because of the loss of Donaldson and expected regression, the Braves should play to their strengths and steal more bases. Acuña Jr., who nearly missed a 40-40 campaign last season (he had 41 HR and 37 SB), wants to be MLB’s first 50-50 player. While that seems improbable, Acuña Jr. stole 24 bases in the second half (66 games), and stole 12 bases in the month of July, so 30 SB in 100 games is not too much of a stretch. Meanwhile, Albies has stolen about 10 bases every 100 games in the Majors, but he has the speed to steal even more bases. In fact, during his Minor League career, Albies averaged 26 SB per 100 games. As for Inciarte, he has moved to the fourth outfielder role for the Braves, but is just two years removed from stealing 28 bags over a full season. If the Braves can utilize their speed, then they can improve their chances at winning a tough Grapefruit League South.
Baltimore Orioles: Have the worst record in baseball (even worse than the Tigers). The Orioles lost 108 games, and are playing in a Grapefruit South division with the Red Sox, Braves, Rays, and Twins; only the Red Sox are a non-playoff team within that division. Additionally, unlike the Tigers, the Orioles arguably got worse during the offseason as they traded away Dylan Bundy and Jonathan Villar. As a result, the Tigers do not look like the worst team in baseball this year.
Boston Red Sox: Win a maximum of 45 games. After the Mookie Betts and David Price trade, as well as Chris Sale opting for Tommy John surgery, the Red Sox have lost a lot of firepower as they head into the 2020 season. In 2019, they went 84-78; a 24 game decrease from their World Series winning 2018 season. Many believed they would win as a fringe .500 team heading into the year. However, since the Red Sox are playing in a tougher division and traded away some of their best players, they might be well under the .500 game mark.
Minnesota Twins: Hit 200+ HRs. For the Twins to accomplish this feat, they would hit an average of at least 2.0 HR/G for the entire season. Although this may seem impossible, the Twins slugged 307 HRs in a full 162 game season in 2019 (~1.90 HR/G). The Twins then boosted their offense by adding Josh Donaldson, who hit 37 HRs last season. Many of their players, including Nelson Cruz, Miguel Sano, Mitch Garver, and Eddie Rosario are poised to have 30 HR campaigns again. If any team could average 2.0 HR/G, it would be the Twins.
Tampa Bay Rays: Use an opener less than 10 times. The Rays originally used an opener because they did not have five quality starters, but a lot of excellent relievers. For those that do not know, an opener is an elite reliever that starts the game and throws 1-2 innings pitched before handing the game to the bullpen. Usually an opener is paired with a long reliever that is expected to pitch at least 3.0 IP. Two of these long relievers (Ryan Yarborough and Yonny Chirinos) have turned into effective starters. In 14 GS, Yarborough pitched 85.2 IP with a 4.31 ERA, and held opposing batters to a .229/.271/.362 slash line with a .276 wOBA. Meanwhile, in 18 GS, Chirinos pitched 104.1 IP with a 3.54 ERA, and held hitters to a .222/.267/.392 slash line with a .277 wOBA. Both of these pitchers have proven themselves as back of the rotation starters. Additionally, Charlie Morton, Blake Snell, and Tyler Glasnow are all healthy, so the Rays have a full five man rotation and thus have little reason to use an opener as frequently.
Grapefruit League East
Houston Astros: Justin Verlander and Zach Greinke average at least 6 and two thirds IP each. The Astros have a Gerrit Cole (and to a lesser extent Wade Miley) size hole in their rotation. The only two constants are Verlander (37) and Greinke (36) at the top of the rotation. Afterwards, a mix of Lance McCullers, Josh James, and Jose Urquidy round out the rotation—all of them are either unproven or injury prone. Verlander himself suffered from a groin injury in spring training but should be ready to go when the season eventually begins. Even with age, Verlander (6.59 IP/G) and Greinke (6.52 IP/G) have a good chance to average at least 6 and two thirds IP/G, especially with a top-heavy rotation and a good, but not great bullpen.
Miami Marlins: Jonathan Villar steals 35+ bags. Villar was perhaps the quietest 20-20 player in all of baseball in 2019. In fact, he was the only 20-40 player last season. During the offseason, Villar signed a one-year/$8.2 million deal, which is perfect for the rebuilding Marlins. The Marlins will not be competitive in the loaded Grapefruit League East as the Washington Nationals, Houston Astros, New York Mets, and St. Louis Cardinals are all contenders. However, Villar is their biggest trade chip, and he can increase his stock by running wild on the base paths. The Marlins have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. If Villar has another great year, the Marlins can receive some good prospects in return for him.
New York Mets: Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, and Steven Matz average 6.0 IP/G. The Mets had one of the worst bullpens in baseball in 2019, which was the main reason why the Mets failed to make the playoffs last season. Additionally, their starting rotation took a major hit as Noah Syndergaard is out for the year with Tommy John surgery. As a result, Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha are now the Mets 4th and 5th starters; both are a shell of their former dominant selves. That being said, in a shorter season, the Mets should play to their strength and have their first three starters go deeper into games. Averaging 6.0 IP/G is not too much of a stretch as deGrom (6.38 IP/G), Stroman (5.76 IP/G), Steven Matz (5.31 IP/G). As a whole, the trio averaged 5.83 IP/G in 2019. If the Mets want to make a playoff run in the tough Grapefruit League East, they will need more innings from this trio.
St. Louis Cardinals: Dylan Carlson replaces Harrison Bader within the first 30 games.
The Cardinals are in desperate need of offense. In 2019, only three Cardinals players posted average or above average wRC+; these players were Paul Goldschmidt (116 wRC+), Kolten Wong (108 wRC+), and Paul DeJong (100 wRC+). The Cardinals need look no further than top prospect Dylan Carlson, who had a 20-20 season in the Minors last year. Additionally, he had a 142 wRC+ in 108 games in Double-A, and sported a 161 wRC+ in 18 games in Triple-A. Meanwhile, the Cardinals current center fielder, Harrison Bader, had a paltry 81 wRC+ in 108 games last season. A shortened season emphasizes the importance of every single game, so Carlson should take over for Bader pretty early into the season to the benefit of the Cards.
Washington Nationals: Trea Turner leads MLB with 45+ steals. Trea Turner had the second fastest Sprint Speed in all of baseball last year (30.1 ft/s), right behind Tim Locastro on the Arizona Diamondbacks. Also, Turner has swiped 157 bases in the last four seasons (455 G), which means he steals a base every 2.90 games. Furthermore, Turner is third in the Majors in stolen bases since 2016, right behind Billy Hamilton (who is no longer a starter), and Jonathan Villar. Thus, Turner is more than capable of leading the league in stolen bases. Meanwhile, the Nationals have an Anthony Rendon sized hole at 3B, and phenom Juan Soto cannot carry the offense all by himself. As a result, there is a good chance the Nationals will let Turner run rampant on the base paths.
BABIP: Batted Balls in Play. The batting average when a hitter with the exception of strikeouts. MLB average: .300 BABIP.
HR: Home Runs
ISO: Isolated Power ((Doubles*1+Triples*2+Home Runs*3/At Bats)). MLB average: .183 ISO.
IP/G: Innings Pitched per game (started)
SB: Stolen base
.500 team: A team with the same number of wins and losses
ERA: Earned Run Average. MLB average: 4.49 ERA
Triple slash line—BA(AVG)/OBP/SLG: An important measurement of a player’s ability to hit. Batting average is derived by the formula (Hits/At Bats), On Base Percentage is determined by the formula ((Hits+Walks+Hit By Pitches)/Plate Appearances), and Slugging Percentage can be found by the formula ((Singles+Doubles*2+Triples*3+Home Runs*4)/At Bats). MLB average: .252/.323/.435.
wOBA: Weighted On Base Percentage. An offensive stat that is a truer version of OBP. MLB average: .320 wOBA.
20-20 player: A player that has at least 20 HR and 20 SB.
20-40 player: A player that has at least 20 HR and 40 SB.
wRC+: Weighted runs created plus. A stat that quantifies total offensive value and factors in the different dimensions of each ballpark. A wRC+ of 100 is replacement level, and anything above that is X% above league average (i.e. a wRC+ of 101 is 1% above league average offensively).