Pete Ball’s 10 Bold Predictions for the 2020 Season

Between La Potencia, the 1908 Cardinals, and more, Pete Ball gets bold.

If at the end of this article you think to yourself, “Like… none of these are probably going to happen,” then that’s a good thing! These are meant to be bold. So with that said, it’s time for some 2020 bold predictions. Let’s get weird!


1. A Middle Reliever Wins a Cy Young Award


In 2016, Andrew Miller was traded from the Yankees to the Indians in exchange for a package of prospects headlined by Clint Frazier. Although he was the best reliever on the team, Miller only recorded three saves in 29 IP with the Indians that season. This was because manager Terry Francona was willing to use Miller wherever and whenever he needed him. Miller was an assassin in this flexible role. His 1.55 ERA and 0.55 WHIP were a massive boost to Cleveland’s bullpen, assisted in getting the Indians to the postseason, and eventually the World Series. During the portion of the season he spent with the Indians, his 1.65 FIP and 14.16 K/9 ranked second-best in the American League. His 0.59 WHIP was the best. These were Miller’s numbers through the 59 games he spent with the Indians in 2016. In 2020, we’ll play 60.

This is an extreme example. Miller was unbelievable that season and was one of the best relievers of the last decade. Nevertheless, I expect many teams to use their best relievers in a similar role to the one Miller played for Cleveland in 2016. If any reliever can come close to that kind of success, and there are certainly some out there who could, I think we could have a player who largely played the role of “middle reliever” come away with a Cy Young Award. The amount of value that a relief pitcher like 2016 Miller can have for a team in such a tight window of time is immense.


2. Christian Yelich Wins the Triple Crown


With just 60 games on the schedule, Yelich could conceivably hit over .400. He is that good. Through the Brewers’ first 60 games last year, he was hitting .313 with 22 homers and 49 RBI. Granted, at this point in the season, Cody Bellinger had him beat in both RBI and BA. I wouldn’t rule him out to win the Triple Crown either, but I think Yelich is the “safer” bet for such a ridiculous prediction. He was clearly on some sort of pace last year up until his knee injury. Now healthy, with the DH, and a “full” season of Keston Hiura, Yelich will have a ton of chances to get those HR and RBI as the Brewers turn over the lineup a bunch. I’m willing to bet he takes full advantage and destroys NL Central and AL Central pitching all season. The Pirates, Tigers, and Royals were three of the five worst clubs by team ERA in 2019. Yelich is going to feast.


3. Yoenis Cespedes Hits the Second Most HR in Baseball (behind Yelich, of course)


La Potencia is back!

He already hit a blast off of one of the best relievers in baseball, Seth Lugo, in an intrasquad game, and with the DH now a part of the National League, this feels like the perfect situation for Cespedes. Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil have broken out, so he won’t be leaned on to carry an offense like he was when the Mets first traded for him back in 2015. He should also see more hittable pitches with such a potent offense around him. While he has missed a gargantuan amount of time the last few years (including all of 2019), he has hit 26 homers in just 468 plate appearances over the last two injury-plagued seasons where he was able to take the field. Considering he is (presumably) healthier now, I’m looking forward to Cespedes’ 2020 season and I would be hesitant to write him off. Sure, 2016 may feel like an eternity ago, but let’s not forget he was an All-Star, Silver Slugger, and finished eighth in NL MVP voting that season. He can get it back.


4. The Baltimore Orioles Set the MLB Record for Least Amount of Runs Scored in a Season


In 1908, the St. Louis Cardinals had the worst offensive season in MLB history. They scored the fewest runs ever by a team. Just 372 times did a Cardinal touch home plate that season. The Red Murray-led Red Birds were a disaster. Fortunately, their day in the record books of baseball embarrassments will end in 2020.

Now, let’s be fair here. This one sounds a lot bolder than it actually is. The Cardinals played 154 games in 1908. The Orioles will only play 60 in 2020 (hopefully). The Cardinals were so bad that season that they also set another MLB record: they were shutout 33 times. I mean, that is crazy amounts of bad. I obviously do not expect the Orioles to do that.

As a matter of fact, all 30 teams will finish with less than 372 runs.

A team would need to average over 6 runs per game to pass that 372 mark in just 60 games. So, maybe this isn’t so bold after all. That is until you consider that the Blue Jays, White Sox, Reds, Royals, Padres, Giants, Marlins, and Tigers all scored fewer runs than the Orioles did just last year.

So why is it the Orioles that will be historically bad?

Without Jonathan Villar or Trey Mancini (for the worst of reasons — get well, Trey!), their offense will take many steps back. Those two were in the top three on the team in HR, OPS, RBI, walks, hits, doubles, and, most importantly for this prediction, runs. Both scored over 100 runs in 2019. No one else on the team had more than 72. It’s going to be an ugly short season in Baltimore.

The Orioles have a bright future with prospects like Ryan Mountcastle, Adley Rustchman, and Grayson Rodriguez waiting in the wings, but it won’t be this year that we see it.

Though it may be marked with an asterisk that reads “Only 60 Games Played Due to COVID-19,” the Orioles will enter the record books as the team that scored the least amount of runs ever in an MLB season.


5. Alex Verdugo Finishes Higher Among Outfielders in Roto Leagues than Mookie Betts


The last one certainly wasn’t the boldest of all predictions, so how about a juicy one?

As we all know, the Red Sox dealt away Mookie Betts and David Price for a package that included outfielder Alex Verdugo. In March, Verdugo was set to start the season on the IL due to a stress fracture in his back. After the delay, though, he is fully healthy to play.

Teammate Xander Bogaerts was impressed with his new teammate after watching him in camp. He was quoted by MassLive saying, “[Verdugo] was hitting that ball pretty good, to be honest… obviously that’s going to be a guy that we lean heavy on.”

Verdugo has been plagued by inconsistent playtime and injuries during his time with the Dodgers. Now with a guaranteed spot in the Red Sox lineup, I expect him to bat for a pretty high average and potentially score a ton of runs if he finds himself atop a lineup that still includes JD Martinez, Rafael Devers, and Bogaerts. According to Baseball Savant, he saw his hard-hit percentage jump from 34.5% in 2018 to 39.2% in 2019, perhaps indicating he is ready to hit for some more power.

Betts, on the other hand, will be playing under a lot of pressure. Not only have the Dodgers lost two of the last three World Series and are looking at Betts to put them over the top, but he is also trying to showcase his abilities one more time before trying to cash out in free agency. In addition, he got off to a bit of a slow start last year, hitting just nine homers and batting .275 through the Red Sox first 60 games. I think a similar start to 2020 for Betts could lead to Verdugo finishing the season as the better fantasy player.


6. No Team in the American League East Finishes the Season With the Same Closer They Planned On Having


For the Rays and Orioles, this one isn’t all that wild. Rays manager Kevin Cash wants to keep his bullpen “versatile,” so they may not have a committed closer all year. The Orioles closer, Mychal Givens, had a 4.50 FIP last year and blew eight saves in 19 chances. Assuming the breakdown of their bullpens will be different by the end of September is a totally fair assumption.

Brandon Workman of the Red Sox was a bit of a force to be reckoned with last year once he took over the closer’s role. An ERA under 2.00, a WHIP of 1.03, a K/9 over 13.0, and the best HR/FB ratio in baseball (min. 70 IP) were all apart of the best season of the 31-year-old’s career. Pitcher List’s Michael Ajeto wrote a great Going Deep about Workman’s new unorthodox approach. If Workman’s BB% continues to increase, Matt Barnes is waiting in the wings to take that job. I also really like Darwinzon Hernandez as a potential closer. His raw stuff is better than just about any of the arms in the Sox pen and his two-pitch approach leads me to believe that his future is in relief. I’d wager that one of these two takes Workman’s job by the end of the season.

That leaves the two actually proven and reliable closers in the AL East — Ken Giles and Aroldis Chapman. Giles is a bit easier to see not being the Blue Jays closer by season’s end. He has dealt with a fair amount of injuries in his career but if that doesn’t sideline him from closing for the Jays, then perhaps a trade does. Without expanded playoffs agreed upon, the Blue Jays are pretty unlikely to make the playoffs barring some 60-game-season flukes. If they’re out of it by the deadline, Giles is a pretty clear rental given that this is the last year of his current contract. That exact situation will probably play out. A reliable fireballer out of the pen like Giles is just what many teams will probably be looking for by the time that late August deadline rolls around.

While Chapman may not enter the season as the Yankees closer due to his recent bout with COVID-19, he is no doubt their preferred choice and the player that will take the role when healthy. He has experienced a bit of a skill decline in the last few years, though. Pretty much across the board, his Statcast data indicated a lot of career-worst marks: xBA, xWOBA, Sweet Spot%, and xERA, to name a few. He also saw a dip in his K%. The thing is, just about all of those “career-worst marks” in 2019 were still elite. Chapman is still a great pitcher. However, he may continue to decline and if he does, the Yankees bullpen is not short of potential closing options. It would not shock me to see someone like Zack Britton closing for the Yankees in September.


7. Carter Kieboom Leads the Nationals in Home Runs


This one is pretty self-explanatory. With the news that Kieboom has the starting 3B job, there is no doubt he will get the opportunities he needs to replace the production of Anthony Rendon as best he can. He disappointed in his cup of coffee with the Nationals last year but posted a .493 SLG% with an OPS over .900 through 494 PAs in the PCL. For the record, I am not predicting Juan Soto to have a bad season. Rather, I think Kieboom will just be really, really good. Soto did only have 10 homers through the Nationals first 60 games in 2019. If he gets off to a similar, somewhat power-light start, I think it is quite conceivable that Kieboom could out-homer his all-world-talented teammate and hit the most homers for the reigning World Series champs.


8. A Team Finishes the Season with Single-Digit Errors


This one might be a little too bold, even for a bold predictions article, but let’s roll with it anyway. To up the specificity, I think if a team is to do this, it will be the Astros. They only had 71 errors last year, good enough for second-best in baseball (Cardinals). Still, 71 errors over 162 games average out to 0.44 errors per game. If the Astros repeated that rate over the course of 60 games, they would finish with about 26 errors, far exceeding my single-digit prediction.

Let’s say the Astros maximize the single-digit aspect of this and finish 2020 with nine errors. To do so, they would need to improve their errors per game figure from 0.44 to 0.15. So, how could they improve an already outstanding number of 0.44 errors per game to the insane 0.15 needed to make this prediction come true?

Well, for starters, strikeouts are up across baseball. Every season since 2011 has seen an increase from the previous season in strikeouts per nine innings. Over the same time span, the league-wide K/9 has jumped from 7.13 to 8.88! Such a leap has coincided with a general decrease in errors given that fewer balls are being put in play. Combine that with the already elite defense of the Astros and that, for now, they seem healthy, and you have quite the case building. Now add in the fact that whatever impact crowd noise and pressure play in committing errors won’t be there for 2020. Games may have a more relaxed scrimmage feel to them, leading to fewer errors across the board. I think we have a chance at historically low errors (obviously, because of just 60 games being played) but also crazy-low errors per game numbers from teams. I expect the Astros to lead the pack and they may finish the season with just single-digit errors.


9. Jose Peraza Leads the American League in Stolen Bases


As fantasy players are acutely aware of, finding stolen bases is difficult. The league-wide stolen base total has gone down each season since 2016. With so few other players actually trying to steal bases, this is Peraza’s opening. Though he will need to fight for at-bats with Michael Chavis, Peraza will lead the AL in SBs. The Red Sox will need to try a little harder to manufacture runs with Betts out of the picture, and Peraza has one of the fastest sprint speeds on the team. He ranked in the 75th-percentile in sprint speed in 2019. He’s stolen over 20 bags in three separate seasons and at just 26 years old, he should still have the juice in his legs to continue to swipe bags. Though he is not a high-OBP hitter, few base stealers are (look at Mallex Smith, for example). When he’s on base, I expect the Red Sox to turn him loose and the competition for Peraza doesn’t really concern me.

Adalberto Mondesi is an IL frequent flier and in a season where even just one week missed due to injury could be devastating, Mondesi may take a more conservative approach to swiping bags than we’re used to seeing. Smith himself was an atrocious hitter last year and may force the Mariners’ hand to take away ABs. Jonathan Villar and Tommy Pham are now in the NL. Even a fellow dark horse candidate to lead the league in steals, Jorge Mateo, was also traded to the NL. The door is wide open for Peraza to become the AL’s SB King in 2020.


10. The Padres Win the World Series


Though this season is only going to be 60 games long, it is going to be an arduous grind. Sixty games in 63 days is a tall order, and that doesn’t count the abbreviated amount of time to get ready in camp or the playoffs at the end. Though experience is never a bad thing, I think youth will be particularly helpful for the 2020 season.

The Padres are one of the youngest teams in baseball. Unlike some of the other very young teams, though, the Padres also have multiple players with World Series experience (Eric Hosmer, Manny Machado). I think this mix of players that San Diego has going on could be perfect for this quick season. They have an ace in Chris Paddack, an elite bullpen, and an improved offense with a healthy Fernando Tatis Jr. and a newly acquired Tommy Pham. Starters like Dinelson Lamet and MacKenzie Gore (should we be lucky enough to see him in 2020) do not have to be concerned with the fact that they have never pitched a typical starter’s load of innings because of how short the season is and will be instead turned loose on the league. Don’t rule out Gore, either — AJ Preller is one of the most aggressive GMs in baseball. The guy wants to win. The Pads taxi squad will be deep with young talent that Preller can pull from in order to make a deadline deal or instead to simply bolster the Major League roster. The Padres will hoist the World Series trophy in October.


Yelich by Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire Kieboom by Mary Holt/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Zach Ennis (@zachennis on Twitter and Instagram)

Pete Ball

Pete Ball is a graduate of Emmanuel College and a die-hard Red Sox fan. Most of his work for Pitcher List can be heard, not read, on the Keep or Kut Podcast. Download and listen to hear his undying love for Tanner Houck.

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