With every new season comes new breakouts, milestones, and best of all, bold predictions. I’ve waited for weeks, probably months, with an overwhelming amount of excitement to write an article based on predictions and here it finally is. This list wasn’t made to be right or to show my wits. It was made for pure fun with emphasis on how awesome it would be if these events actually came to fruition. They’re mainly centered around offense, and they’re awfully specific, but they’re definitely bold and I’d be shocked to get more than one correct. Without further ado, let’s jump right into them.
1. Joey Gallo hits 60 homers and wins the AL MVP
In the history of baseball, there have only been eight individual seasons, and just five players, to hit more than 60 home runs in a single season. In 2020, I believe Joey Gallo will become sixth player to conquer the legendary home run feat. But he doesn’t just hit 60 taters, he slugs his way to ousting Mike Trout for the MVP title, doing so by a pretty large margin. In 2017, we saw Giancarlo Stanton fall one home run shy of the 60-mark and go on to win the NL MVP title. What’s stopping Gallo?
Gallo’s 2019 was unfortunately cut short by an injury, but before he got hurt he was on pace for his best season yet. He hit 22 home runs and also posted a .401 wOBA, 144 wRC+, and a 17.5% walk rate — all career bests. His xwOBA was nearly identical, his xSLG was 70 points above his actual SLG, and his barrel rate was increased by 4%. Gallo showed massive improvements last season and showed he has all the tools to being an elite hitter. So what would it take for him to hit 60 homers? Well looking at Stanton’s 2017 and Gallo’s 2019, there are three main things that need to happen. First, Gallo needs to stay healthy for the full season and accumulate as many plate appearances as he can. It seems rather simple, but it’s also the most important factor. Secondly, Gallo still needs to make more consistent contact. Although his 2019 batting average of .253 was a career best by almost 50 points, his BABIP was a profound .368 and his xBA was just .229. If he wants a chance to hit that many taters, he will need to put the ball in play more often, and hit near a .280 clip. Lastly, piggy backing off of his batting average, Gallo will need to cut his strikeout rate down significantly. Posting a consistent strikeout rate upwards of 35% doesn’t give Gallo enough of a chance to reach this historic milestone. If he can do all three, he has the potential to hit 60 homers. And if he can hit 60 homers, he will accumulate easily enough WAR to win the AL MVP title.
Go ahead and read that one again. We’re taking two players, ages 37 and 36, and picking two specific parts of their game — Shin-Soo Choo’s speed and Brett Gardner’s home run ability. Speed and power are two physical skills that often hindered by the aging curve, so I thought it would be a fun idea to look at two similarly-aged players and see how the skills play out. In 2019, Choo stole 15 bases and Gardner hit 28 home runs, his career-high in homers. So at the surface, it seems like this prediction is so bold that it is out of the realms of possibility, but I believe it has a chance.
Last season, Choo stole double-digit bags for second time in three seasons. In 2018, he stole just six bases, and in 2017, he stole 12 bases. But he has a pretty solid success rate, getting thrown out just five times over the same span. The biggest question regarding Choo is how often will he try to run? He hasn’t played less than 146 games in the past three seasons and has posted a .370+ OBP in the past two seasons, so the opportunities should be plenty. He will need to steal double digit bases again.
On the other hand, Gardner needs a mighty power regression in 2020. There’s enough evidence to say his 28 homers last season were not so deserving. He posted an abysmal barrel rate of 4.1%, his xSLG was .131 points lower than his actual SLG, and his hard hit rate was in the 22nd percentile of all hitters. Still, Gardner had a career high launch angle of 13.6 degrees, will continue to hit in the lefty-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium, and should receive plenty of plate appearances in the oft-injured Yankee outfield. The regression to Gardner’s power will need to hit really, really hard, and push him towards his 2018 power numbers, where he hit just 12 home runs.
If Choo can repeat the steals, and Gardner can heavily regress, we might just see Choo steal more bags than Gardner hits homers.
3. Frankie Montas will be a Top 3 AL Cy Young Finisher
Frankie Montas found his stride in 2019 before being suspended 80 games for testing positive for a banned performance enhancing substance called Ostarine. Prior to his suspension, he threw 96 innings with a 2.63 ERA, 3.00 FIP, and 3.76 SIERA. All three marks ranked as excellent or, at the minimum, above average. He posted a 26.1% strikeout rate, 5.8% walk rate, and accumulated 3.0 fWAR. Although Montas’ strikeout rate wasn’t necessarily something to write home about, his strikeout to walk rate of 20.3% was the AL’s 14th best. He also had the AL’s 7th best ground ball rate and the AL’s third-best defensive infield by Infield Outs Above Average. His ability to induce ground balls, and limit free bases, gives him surface potential to continue his breakout in 2020, but let’s look at the peripherals.
I think Montas has some room to grow as a pitcher. Overall, his hard hit rate was in the 66th percentile and his average exit velocity ranked even better, falling in the 76th percentile. He threw mostly sinkers, throwing them 38% of the time, but he has a solid fastball that he could utilize more up in the zone. Last season, his fastball velocity was in the 93rd percentile and fastball spin was in the 76th percentile. His four-seam fastball average velocity sat at 96.8 MPH, 7th best in the league among starting pitchers. Additionally, his slider had a run value of 9.9 runs, which was 7th best in AL. It’s even more impressive when you remember that he threw less than 100 innings! If Montas can repeat his results from 2019, and maybe even improve with his four-seam fastball, we could be looking at a leading candidate in the AL Cy Young race.
Not long ago, I wrote a Going Deep article about how great Mike Tauchman is (found here), so it’s no surprise that he’s on my bold prediction list. I’m putting Tauchman’s power up against Jeff McNeil’s plate discipline and predicting that Tauchman’s home run total will surpass McNeil’s total walks (excluding intentional walks). For reference, McNeil had his career high in walks of 35 in his first full season last year, a walk rate good for 6.2%. So this means that I am putting Tauchman’s home run total somewhere in the 30-35 home run range and assuming that McNeil’s plate discipline won’t improve at all. However, if McNeil fails to play a full season I will consider this prediction nullified.
For Tauchman to hit upwards of 30 home runs, he’ll need to have consistent playing time, and pull the ball at home a lot more. In 2019, Yankee stadium was understandably one of the most friendliest parks for left-handed hit home runs. Tauchman performed well in 2019, hitting 13 homers in just 296 PA’s. This would be a 26 home run pace. But, Tauchman didn’t hit the ball awfully hard and significantly over performed his expected statistics, so it’s an easy assumption that he will likely regress in the power department. But it has already been a dreadful start to the Yankees outfield, with both Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton ruled out for Opening Day, so someone will have to step up. My guess? Tauchman will fill that hole and do so slugging his way past McNeil’s walk total.
5. Fernando Tatis Jr. will produce less than 75% of his 2019 fWAR
Fernando Tatis Jr. is often talked about as being a prime candidate for regression in 2020, but I don’t think anyone thinks it will be this bad. If Tatis produced 3.6 wins by Fangraphs’ WAR calculations and he did it in only 84 games. This would put him on a 162-game pace of producing a 6.9 fWAR value, putting him right in the middle of Xander Bogaerts and Anthony Rendon. By my prediction, he will finish 2020 with an fWAR of no greater than 2.7 wins. But before I get into why I think so, I want to note that this prediction is assuming he will play a full season. An injury that cuts his season short, like in 2019, will obviously limit his chances to produce more WAR. So, this prediction should only be considered valid if Tatis finishes the season as a qualified hitter.
Before he got hurt, Tatis was one of the best offensive producers in baseball. He produced a 150 wRC+ by slashing .317/.379/.590 with 22 home runs and 16 stolen bases. Altogether, this created 27.3 offensive runs above average. But I don’t think Tatis’ true offensive talent is 50% better than league average. Although he finished with a very solid barrel rate and hard hit rate, his average exit velocity and walk rate were roughly average, and he benefited from an extremely unsustainable .410 BABIP. Additionally, Tatis’ wOBA overperformed by about 53 points, when comparing it to his xwOBA. Chances are he will still be a competent, if not above-average, hitter in the upcoming season, but a knock to his hard contact could really put him in a hole.
Defensively, Tatis is no where the plus-defender that his highlight plays and reputation tell us. In fact, by Outs Above Average Tatis was the 4th WORST infielder. DRS was too high on him either, rewarding his defense with -3 runs and UZR, Fangraph’s defensive component to WAR, said his defense was worth -5.8 runs. It doesn’t matter which way you cut it, Tatis was a bad defender. This doesn’t mean he will be bad in 2020, he’s still just 21-years-old, in the 95th percentile in sprint speed, and easily one of the most athletic players in the league. But, if he doesn’t improve his defense, and his offense gets hit by an Eric Hosmer regression, he could be looking at a 2-3 win season.
6. Matt Olson will be the 2nd best hitter in the AL
Another Athletics finds his way onto my list. This time it’s 25 year-old first basemen Matt Olson. Before I get into why Olson could be the AL’s 2nd best hitter, let’s define how it will be measured. It’s simple… wRC+. In 2019, he hit 36 home runs, walked at a rate of 9.3%, and posted a 134 wRC+. The top-two league leaders in wRC+ were no other than Mike Trout and Alex Bregman, who posted 180 and 168 clips, respectively. This means Olson will likely have to put up a wRC+ in that range to have a chance to be the second-best hitter, but there’s some reason to believe it.
wRC+ is a derivative of wOBA, a stat that Olson ranked 17th best among AL hitters in 2019. However, his xwOBA ranked the 6th best in the AL. Olson’s success stemmed from his ability to hit the ball very hard and very consistently. Looking at Statcast’s metrics, Olson was in the 94th percentile of all hitters in average exit velocity, the 98th percentile in hard hit rate, and had a barrel rate in the 94th percentile. His walk rate of 9.3% was decent, but will need to improve if he is going to be the second-best hitter in the American League. Olson will need his best year yet, but it’s possible. And in case you were wondering why Olson doesn’t finish as the best hitter in the AL? Well… Trout.
7. The New York Mets win 100+ games
It seems like every season the Mets are a let-down. Last year they started the season with the same rave, “just look at this team on paper”, and although they didn’t necessarily have a poor season, finishing with a record of 86-76, but they didn’t live up to their expectations. 2020 will be different. The Mets are already projected by Rotochamp to win 90 games, finishing first in the NL East, but I think they will do even better and break the 100 win mark.
The Mets’ lineup looks like it will be really solid. Last season, NL Rookie of the Year and home run title winner Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil both posted a fantastic 143 wRC+. Additionally, Michael Conforto turned in a great offensive season with a 126 wRC+, while Amed Rosario and Wilson Ramos were both roughly league average hitters. Their dark-horses are JD Davis, a Statcast machine who turned in a 136 wRC+, and Brandon Nimmo, who had a 148 wRC+ in 2018. The weakest part of this lineup is Robinson Cano! This lineup may end up being one of the best in the league.
The Mets’ pitching shouldn’t need to be talked about much. Back-to-back Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom will lead the staff, with Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman, Steven Matz, and Rick Porcello to follow. Syndergaard didn’t hand in his best performance in 2019, but depending on what you look at it wasn’t bad either. His 4.28 ERA and 4.02 SIERA weren’t spectacular, but his 3.60 FIP was pretty good! Stroman has a similar case, posting a 3.72 FIP but a 4.41 SIERA. Matz and Porcello were both around league average in 2019. The poor side of the Mets is mostly seen in their defense, where their infield was credited with -13 Outs Above Average and their outfield turned in just 2 Outs Above Average. It will take some improvements defensively and some luck, but the Mets could be looking at a 100 win season.
8. Corey Seager wins the NL batting title
Corey Seager is one of the few hitters that I am extremely confident in being primed for a bounce-back season. The world has seemingly forgotten the hitter Seager was before his unfortunate series of injuries, including a rare Tommy John surgery for a position player, and I’m here to remind you all that Seager can hit. In 2019, Seager was a 113 wRC+ hitter and slashed .272/.335/.483. Not an awful season, but certainly not what we’d expect from the former NL Rookie of the Year. But this was Seager’s first season back from his elbow surgery, and even missed a month because of a hamstring injury. Before his injuries, the 25-year-old had two straight full seasons of being an above average hitter, delivering a 136 wRC+ in 2016 and 127 wRC+ in 2017. In both seasons he was in the 86th percentile of hitters by average exit velocity, and had a hard hit rate in the 87th percentile in 2016 and 91st percentile in 2017. In both seasons, he produced an xBA that was well within the top 5% of the league. So where lies the difference? His quality of contact. Last season, Seager did not hit the ball hard at all. He was in the 44th percentile in average exit velocity and the 45th percentile in hard hit rate. His xBA fell in a similar range, putting him in the 48th percentile of hitters. But I’m optimistic of Seager in 2020. So much, that I even drafted him as my primary shortstop. Even in 2019 he looked poised and never once made a mechanical change to his swing. This tells me that his swing his fine, and maybe he just wasn’t at full strength. I believe a fully healthy and strengthened Seager will be back to an above average hitter, so much so, that he wins the NL batting title.
9. Chris Davis leads the AL East in homers
Ladies and gentlemen, he’s back. Chris Davis will return in 2020. And you ask why? Is it because he hit the ball hard last year? No. Is it because his barrel rate last season was a career high? Definitely not. The Washington Nationals have more World Series titles than Davis has reasons to lead the AL East in home runs. It’s just one of those things you have to believe in. If you want far-fetched evidence, Davis has three spring training home runs thus far, with two going to the opposite field and one off of a left-handed pitcher. He had just two opposite field home runs in 2019. Here’s to the return of Crush Davis.
10. The Cincinnati Reds win the World Series
I’m a Reds fan, so it’s only right that my last prediction is for them to win it all. It’s been two straight off-seasons where they have made moves to put themselves in the driver seat of the NL Central and it looks like now they finally have. Signings of Nick Castellanos, Mike Moustakas, and Shogo Akiyama help patch the holes to an under performing lineup in 2019 and their rotation of Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Trevor Bauer, Anthony DeSclafani, and Wade Miley is easily the best in the NL Central. They look posed to strike the playoffs for the first time in seven years, but do they really have enough fire power to win it all? They are projected for 85 wins, enough to make the postseason but not enough to call them a World Series threat. So what needs to happen?
The Reds are going to need some production from a lot of places in order to win the title. First, Joey Votto will need a big bounce back season. He had just a 101 wRC+, 12.5% walk rate, and .261 batting average in 2019, numbers that are very uncharacteristic of him. With his power in question, Votto will need to drastically improve that walk rate and batting average to reach the level of hitting the Reds need from him. Jesse Winker will need to finally put it all together for a full season. He’s a career 122 wRC+ hitter, but can’t seem to stay on the field. Bauer will need to return to the Cy Young form he showed in 2018. In fact, Castillo, Gray, and Bauer will probably all have to pitch as their best versions if the Reds are looking for a title. Lastly, their offense should be good, but it still has a hole at shortstop. A mid-season trade for a stud like Francisco Lindor will only help the Reds take it all home. It’s a tall task for a team that has struggled for so long, but it would be a lot of fun.