Opening Day is here. It’s almost hard to believe. The emotional and frustrating journey to get here is one that none of us will ever forget, and there are some still not fully comfortable with the idea of there being a season. But baseball is and always has been “America’s Favorite Pastime,” and for those who need a reminder, pastime simply means: an activity that someone does regularly for enjoyment rather than work.
The escape of the baseball season is something friends and family share with each other. Quality time spent with your dad, or your kids, and the comradery of cheering on a team and being emotionally invested in something you have no control over. Baseball is an amazing blend of physics and magic that can’t fully be quantified, but for those who are fans of the sport, it’s doesn’t have to be. Silly rules to “speed up the game” or attract new fans will come and go, but the spirit of the game remains the same.
Baseball is back, and I for one am ready for it. So let’s go through all 30 teams and discuss one question that I find intriguing heading into the season. It’s important to note that not all of these will be “important” questions, but simply ones that happen to jump out and pique my interest.
Q: Is Ketel Marte going to repeat his 2019 performance?
After finishing fourth in the MVP voting, and hitting .329 with 32 HR, Marte will make or break Arizona’s season. But an across the board improvement in EV, Barrel%, Hard Hit%, and plate discipline suggest that the breakout was very legitimate.
Ray Butler and Conner Kurcon of Prospects 365 wrote an article earlier this offseason discussing the “Beneficiaries of the 2019 Dragless Baseball,” in which they discuss and highlight which player’s performance may have been aided by the happy fun ball. I encourage you to read the article, but long story short, Ketel Marte comes out smelling likes roses, unlike teammate Eduardo Escobar.
Q: Who will step up to be the SP2 and help Mike Soroka?
Max Fried is certainly a name that has been a trendy sleeper to break out in 2020. We also know what Mike Foltynewisz is capable of, but his decreased velocity has left us with more questions than answers. So if the Braves are going to make a run at this, Fried may be the one who must fulfill his destiny.
In those two month stretch last season in April and May, Fried posted a 3.28 ERA in just over 60 innings with 56 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.21. He faded down the stretch, likely due to fatigue, but we know what kind of upside he can bring to the table. Fried sports one of the best curveballs in baseball, and if he can make the decision to throw it more to complement his upper 90s fastball and newly added change-up, the raves could be very dangerous.
Q: Which Chris Davis is going to show up?
I think we all know the answer here. Last year, Davis batted .179, and the year before, .168. in fact, Davis’ average in 2018, over the span of 128 games, was the worst for any qualified hitter in Major League Baseball history (162-game schedule).
But humor me. Chris Davis absolutely destroyed the ball in Spring Training, batting .467 with seven hits, three home runs, nine RBI’s, and nice walks. He has not been quite as hit in Summer Camp, but he has actually looked more like his old self than not. Davis has made hard contact of Steven Strasburg, taking him deep to the right-field corner, and doubled off the wall against Sean Doolittle.
We are likely in for the inevitable, but color me intrigued. It’s Opening Day.
Boston Red Sox
Q: Will Boston be closer to the playoffs than last place?
Sorry Red Sox nation, but you know this is a legitimate question. The current rotation of Eovaldi, Perez, Weber, Godley, and Hall is barely passable as a Triple-A rotation. Luckily, Eduardo Rodriguez has been cleared to return and should join the team shortly. But that still leaves a lot of questions about performance and injury concerns with the remaining staff.
The Yankees and Rays are clearly going to be competing for the division title, while the young homeless Blue Jays are poised to make some noise of their own. Boston still has a very talented lineup, led by Rafael Devers, J.D Martinez, and Xander Bogaerts, but can their superstars on offense make up for their deficiencies elsewhere in the rotation and bullpen? I think we are in for a disappointment and could see Boston closer to the Orioles than the Yankees.
Chicago White Sox
Q: Is this team ready to compete?
The White Sox lineup is flush with talent, albeit without a natural leadoff hitter aside from rookie Nick Madrigal. Tim Anderson is fresh off winning a batting title but comes with many BABIP related question marks regarding his future in 2020. The same can be said for Yoan Moncada, but his batted ball profile suggests he is every bit as legitimate as you can be. Add in veterans Edwin Encarnacion, Yasmani Grandal, and Jose Abreu to go along with young stars Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez and it’s hard not to get excited.
But are they ready to compete in 2020? Yasmani Grandal should be able to pull every bit of latent talent out of this rotation, but aside from Lucas Giolito there is not a ton of certainly. Michael Kopech has already opted out, leaving Dylan Cease and Reynoldo Lopez as the young guns that need to step up. Veteran lefties Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez could surprise, especially with Grandal behind the plate, but it’s difficult to rely on them.
Q: Is Kris Bryant past his prime?
The once reigning MVP has struggled to region his former glory coming off a shoulder injury from 2018. His EV, Barrel%, and Hard Hit% were all disappointing, leaving many to be misled by his .282/.382/.521 slash line in 2019. While he did hit 31 HR and 35 doubles, his xBA of .247 and xSLG of .461 paint a more accurate picture.
But Bryant is now another year removed from his shoulder woes, and it still just 28 years old. He has spent most of the offseason filing a grievance against his own team regarding service time and is constantly the topic of trade rumors. So can Bryant step up and return to from amid all of these variables?
Q: Will poor defense drown this talented team?
The Reds have a fantastic lineup, boosted by the additions of Mike Moustakas and Nick Castellanos. Cincinnati also has a tremendous pitching staff, led by Luis Castillo and the resurgent Sonny Gray. The big issue, that no one seems to be addressing, is their nightmarish defense.
The Reds signed third basemen Moustakas to play 2nd base, and they did not do it for his glove. The Reds outfield, already manned by Jesse Winker and his 4th percentile OAA (outs above average), will be joined by Nick Castellanos who is one of the worst outfielders in baseball. The obvious plan would be to send Casty to the newly added DH role, but he has been quoted as saying he does not want to do that. Hopefully, Cincinnati does us and his pitching staff a favor by ignoring him.
Q: Can Jose Ramirez keep it together for an entire season?
Jose Ramirez had a great first half in 2018, followed by a poor second half. Only to follow that up with a poor first half in 2019 and a strong second half. Most of these struggles, in my opinion, came down to an error in approach. Jose was simply trying to elevate the ball too much, and once he made adjustments to his launch angle to return to his line drive form, he was able to shine. Check out my thread from earlier this offseason for a full breakdown:
Next up in my #2020PlayerBreakdowns Series is:
Jose Ramirez, 3B
27 years old
Drafted: N/A, Int’l FA
Let’s get started…
— Matt Williams (@MattWi77iams) March 6, 2020
If Ramirez can perform to his all-star capabilities over the full 60-games, the Indians will be dangerous.
Q: Can David Dahl stay healthy?
In his last fully healthy season (2016), between AA/AAA/MLB, Dahl put together 25 HR and 22 SB while scoring 115 runs and driving in 85 runs. In just 222 at-bats with the big team, he hit .315 with 7 HR and 5 SB.
Last season, in 413 PA, Dahl batted .302/.353/.524 with 15 HR and four stolen bases. There is not much to say here other than: Can he stay healthy? Between foot fractures and high ankle sprains, we have not been able to see a full major league season from Dahl. He has all of the tools to be a superstar, especially in Coors Field.
Q: Who will make their major league debut in 2020?
There have been rumors that the Tigers may abandon the traditional route of burying prospects with a service time agenda. Casey Mize, Matt Manning, and maybe even Tarik Skubal are ready to improve the Detroit rotation as early as today. Even 2020 first-round pick Spencer Torkelson was added to the 60-man roster when Summer Camp began.
Unfortunately, the Tigers are going to finish in last place with or without these young stars. The question is, will they try to jump-start their young core by giving them a taste of the majors? Or are Tigers fans simply waiting out whatever milestone Miguel Cabrera has left to conquer?
Q: Which Jose Altuve are we going to see?
Last season we witnessed a brand new Jose Altuve. Rather than a batting champion with league-leading speed, we witnessed a pull happy power hitter unwilling to be aggressive on the basepaths.
Altuve batted .298/.353/.550 with 31 hr (previous career-high 24) and just six stolen bases. The bigger concern was the fact that he was also caught stealing five times. This may have been due to a hamstring strain he suffered in May, but he still kept an 84th percentile sprint speed.
Altuve saw his pull% jump from the low 40’s to an even 50% last season, which powered his home run increase. So is this what we are going to get from here on out?
Kansas City Royals
Q: Will Whit Merrifield run?
Last season Whit Merrifield was quoted as saying that he “…made the conscious decision to sort of take it easy on my body,” in regards to stealing bases. This was in the context of their being “no point” since the Royals were out of it. But after seeing his SB success rate decline from 82% to 66% last season, and his Sprint Speed (29 to 28.6) it’s not hard to imagine that at 31 yards old we may not see another huge season of speed from Merrifield.
Next up in my #2020PlayerBreakdowns Series is:
Whit Merrifield, 2B/OF
Kansas City #Royals
31 years old
Drafted: 2010, Round 9; Pick 4
Let’s get started…
— Matt Williams (@MattWi77iams) February 25, 2020
There are multiple negative trends happening with Merrifled, but he is still coming off a season batting .302 and scoring over 100 runs. If the Royals are going to make a miracle run at the 60-game crown, they need the old Whit Merrifield to show up.
Los Angeles Angels
Q: How many games will Mike Trout miss?
There was once concern that Mike Trout may simply opt-out of playing in 2020 due to COVID concerns with him becoming a father in the near future. Those concerns appear to have been put to rest with yesterday’s comments that he is more comfortable with the current playing conditions.
Mike Trout says he’s feeling better about the conditions now. “I’m playing.” #Angels
— Jeff Fletcher (@JeffFletcherOCR) July 22, 2020
However, Trout has made it very clear he will not be missing the birth of his first child, due some time in August. Quarantine protocols and an obvious priority for family safety will still keep the Angels superstar away for a period of time. The question is how long? Even a week away is 10% of the season missed, and the Angels can certainly not afford that loss.
Either way, Trout is justified in making any decision he chooses, even if that means changing his tune and sitting out the rest of the season once his newborn arrives.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Q: Can the Dodgers actually win the World Series?
The ink is barely dried on the new 12-year $365 million dollar extension for Mookie Betts, locking him up until 2032. But now that they have removed that distraction from the table can the Dodgers finally cash in on their status as World Series favorite and capture a championship?
Mookie Betts: "I'm here to win some rings."
— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) July 22, 2020
Reigning MVP Cody Bellinger, clearly not satisfied with being named the best player in the league, has been working on a new swing to erase some flaws he found late in the 2019 season. Let’s see how that goes…
But either way, this Dodgers team has a loaded offense with two former MVPs, a resurgent Corey Seager, and the always underrated Justin Turner. Add in two favorites to win the Cy Young and with Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler and you have a ton of potential and no excuses.
But that folks, as they say, is why they play the games.
“It’s supposed to be hard, if it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard, is what makes it great.” – Jimmy Dugan
Q: Can Jorge Alfaro take a step forward?
Jorge Alfaro is a Statcast monster, somewhat like Yandy Diaz. Both falling below the lofty expectations set by the imagination of “what-if.” Alfaro was able to hit .262 with 18 HR last season despite a middling 4.8 degree launch angle.
The exciting part comes in the form of a man named James Rowson. He was hired by the Marlins as a bench coach and given the title “Offensive Coordinator.” Rowson is responsible for the shift in approach in Minnesota that led to the Twins having 11 players with double-digit HR, eight with 20+, and five with 30+. Pull and elevate.
If Rowson can teach Mitch Garver to hit 31 bombs in 369 PA, imagine what he can do with Alfaro and his red ink potential.
Q: Will Lorenzo Cain bounce back?
Cain was one of the 10 worst hitters in baseball among qualified hitters last year in wRC+. Does that surprise you? In fact, he was just one point above Jason Kipnis.
Last season was the first time since 2012 that Cain had less than 3.0 WAR. After losing Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas, the Brewers need a strong bounce-back season from Lorenzo if they hope to compete in the NL Central.
Q: Will the rotation be enough to support the offense?
With the news that SP2 Jake Odorizzi will begin the season in the IL (back soreness), the Twins pitching staff is going to need to step up if they hope to contend. Jose Berrios has a brilliant first half in 2019, only to fade in the second half. In 60-games they will need him to take the next step and lead this Twins rotation and support their juggernaut offense.
BABIP differential may have jumped out at you (275 vs .332), but let’s take a look at his batted ball profile first to learn more:
Hard% 36.3 🚩
EV 86.5 mph
Barrels 6.5% 🚩
Statcast Hard% 32.0% pic.twitter.com/wyXtLvqcHX
— Matt Williams (@MattWi77iams) March 23, 2020
The delayed start certainly helped Rich Hill, who was recovering from elbow surgery and would not have been ready in the Spring. But lingering past issues with blisters and the aforementioned elbow surgery make him a big question mark.
That leaves us with newly acquired Kenta Maeda. Now that he is free from the circus that is the Dodgers rotation will he be able to put together 60-games of what we saw in the 2nd half of 2019? a 23% K-BB ratio, .199 BAA, and .271 wOBAA will certainly get the job done.
New York Yankees
Q: Is Aaron Judge cursed?
The recent “stiff neck” was not the world ending event many made it out to be, but it’s hard to ignore the recent chain of events that have taken place with Aaron Judge and the Yankees medical staff:
Fall 19’ – “Minor” rib injury
Feb 18th – Shut down due to same “minor” injury”
March 20 – Collapsed lung
May 5 – Judge healthy
May 14 – Cashman says Judge will miss significant time
May 20 – Judge optimistic
July 1 – Batting tee only
July 11 – Out with stiff neck
We know what Aaron Judge could be in 60-games, but will he make it 60-games?
New York Mets
Q: How many games will Yoenis Cespedes play?
It will have been two years and four days since Yoenis Cespedes last played in a major league game until he starts as the Mets designated hitters on Friday. After needing multiple surgeries to remove calcification from both heels, and a setback that involved getting attacked by a boar (fractured his right ankle), it was looking like we may never see Cespeodes play again.
But here we are. It is 2020 and the Mets are indicating that not only will Cespedes play, but will alternate between the DH and left field. Céspedes hit .282/.346/.543 with 74 home runs in 308 games with New York from 2015-18, so we all know (like Aaron Judge) what he could be. But at age 35, to years removed from playing, what should we expect to see?
The Mets traded for Yoenis in July of 2015, which ultimately proved to be the missing piece that led them to the World Series. That summer, in 249 plate appearances for the Mets, Cespedes hit .287/.337/.604 with 17 home runs. THAT is what is possible.
Q: What should we expect from Jesus Luzardo?
Back on July 7, Jesus Luzardo tested positive for COVID-19. He was immediately placed in quarantine, and fortunately, he was not sidelined that long and was able to join his teammates last Friday. But after having gone over five innings just once in his entire minor league career and with limited time stretch out, what limitations could there be on Luzardo?
In his 12 innings in the majors, Luzardo allowed just two runs on five hits, striking out 16 batters in the Oakland bullpen. Long term, Luzardo will be a future all-star, but how far are they willing to push him this season? With AJ Puk already injured and Luzardo already having dealt with Tommy John surgery, as well as rotator cuff and lat issues it’s possible the A’s take it easy with their young ace.
Q: Will Bryce Harper “earn his money”?
To be transparent, Bryce Harper is my prediction for the NL MVP award. In his first season in Philadephia, he slashed .260/.372/.510 with 35 home runs, mostly due to a monster second half. But despite those impressive totals, the season was seen as a disappointment among most as Harper failed to receive even one MVP vote. For context, Kolten Wong and Kevin Pillar each received an MVP vote.
I expect to see some fireworks in Philly this summer from Harper.
Q: Will Mitch Keller rebound from a rough 2019?
The 24-year-old right-hander earned the third spot in the Pirates rotation after going 1-5 with a 7.13 ERA and 1.83 WHIP in 2019. Keller was not nearly as bad as his stats would indicate and a lot of damage was done in short bursts as he allowed five or more runs in five of his 11 starts.
But with a four-seam fastball that tops out at 98.3 mph, Keller still led the Pirates in K/9 (12.2) despite his shortcomings. He came to training camp armed with a more consistent changeup, which is said to be more effective than his offering from last season (only three 3% of the time).
Keller spent the shutdown working with a Rapsodo machine to work on his spin rate on his fastball as well as develop his newly designed changeup grip. It all sounds great on paper, now let’s see it on the field. He should be exciting to watch.
San Diego Padres
Q: Can they contend in 2020?
The Padres have not made the playoffs since 2006. But the team comes into 2020 with a renewed sense of enthusiasm coming off the heels of an impressive rookie campaign (although cut short) by Fernando Tatis Jr.
Manny Machado had issues hitting right-handed pitchers for the first time in his career last season and just seemed uncomfortable in his new surroundings. So, in the end, Manny may be the biggest factor that determines how far the Padres can take this thing. But players like newly acquired Tommy Pham and a young rotation led by Chris Paddack, Dinelson Lamet, and maybe MacKenzie Gore could go a long way in supporting a winning season in San Deigo.
Eric Hosmer is said to have been working on his launch angle, which would be welcome considering his long history of being a groundball hitter. I will need to see it to believe it, but we can certainly add it to the optimism pile, along with the renewed life that the universal DH may have given Will Myers.
San Francisco Giants
Q: What are they doing?
San Francisco lost their biggest star in Bumgarner, yet they brought back 37-year-old Hunter Pence. The Giants also lost closer Will Smith and veteran Kevin Pillar while making no notable additions to the roster other than a salary dump transaction to acquire Zack Cosart from the Angels, whom they then released (they find pick up a free prospect though.)
Brandon Belt and Evan Longoria will begin the season on the IL, although it is nothing serious.
Buster Posey opted out of the 2020 season, so it will be interesting to see if they give Joey Bart an opportunity at the MLB level. He could certainly use more time in the minor leagues, but in case you hadn’t heard, there are no minor leagues. So where does that leave Bart? Does he get to hang out with the “alternate team” all season or make the trip to San Francisco?
The most exciting part of the season will likely just be the development of Mauricio Dubon and Mike Yastrzemski, but it will be a long and hard road with no lineup protection to assist them.
Q: Will they trade Kyle Seager?
The Mariners are obviously in rebuilding mode, but we are unlikely to see much out of their young outfielders Jarred Kelenic or Julio Rodgriguez. Although the is a small amount of hope that Seattle gives a shot to Kelenic at some point, Rodriguez is out indefinitely with a broken wrist suffered in Summer Camp.
Either way, the Mariners plans have no room for Kyle Seager in them and the biggest contribution Seattle will have on the playoff picture in 2020 is by trading him to a team in need.
Seager does not get a ton of respect in fantasy baseball, but has been one of the more consistent hitters in baseball in the last decade.
St. Louis Cardinals
Q: What will Jack Flaherty do for an encore?
Over 13 starts from July 29, 2019, through the end of the season, Flaherty went 7-2 with a 0.92 ERA and 0.65 WHIP, finishing fourth in the NL Cy Young voting. Overall he went 11-8 with 231 strikeouts and a 2.75 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in 196.1 innings.
The issue, of course, being that in his first 17 starts Flaherty complied a 4.90 ERA and 1.29 WHIP over 90 innings. He had a solid 26.8% K-rate in the first half, which jumped to 33.3% over the second half.
So which Jack Flaherty are we going to see?
Flaherty started the season throwing his fastball for almost half of his total pitch count to either side of the plate. He then made a simple, yet incredibly effective change, pitch mix. Flaherty simply decreased the use of his less effective pitches and increased the use of his better ones. Easy peasy.
Increase usage of his most lethal pitch, the slider, and drop the usage of his fastball (worst pitch). He also mixed in his curveball and sinker more, which ultimately lead to his fastball being more effective. Domino effect. Let’s just hope this change sticks, as there is no reason for it not to.
Tampa Bay Rays
Q: Is Tyler Glasnow as good as 2019 suggests?
Glasnow was utterly dominant in 2019 with a 1.78 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, and 33 K%. All with a repertoire that consists primarily of 70% fastballs and 30% curveballs. Glasnow carries a high-velocity fastball (94th percentile) that he was able to locate higher in the zone last season, and one of the hardest curveballs in the game (94% curve spin).
The issue is that his fastball generates a .221 BABIP, .290 wOBAcon, and .307 xwOBAcon. There is a certain regression coming. But STILL a great fastball (13.8 pVal).
Glasnow’s curveball is also pretty good. He was able to raise its pVal from 0.5 to 4.1. Not to mention that it was reported that Glasnow may have actually been tipping his curveball with glove placement, which has since been rectified. The question is will another year of experience and a change in glove placement offset regression?
Q: How will Globe Life Park play?
We can guess, but no one will know for certain how Globe Life Park will play until actual games are played there.
One awesome thing about the park is that the park dimensions are no accident:
- The foul pole down the line in left field is 329 feet from home plate for No. 29 Adrian Beltre
- Left field then deepens to 334 feet deep for No. 34 Nolan Ryan
- The left-center gap is 372 feet from the plate, to commemorate the franchise’s first year in Texas (1972)
- The deepest part of the park is 410 feet for No. 10 Michael Young
- Dead center is 407 feet to honor No. 7 Ivan Rodriguez
- The right-center gap is 374 feet away, which honors the 1974 Texas team that won 27 more games than the previous year
- The foul pole down the line in right field is 326 feet from home to honor of former manager Johnny Oates, whose No. 26 is retired by the team.
- Home plate is 42 from the backstop in honor of Jackie Robinson
That is pretty awesome.
Toronto Blue Jays
Q: Who will emerge as the dominant sophomore of the team in 2020?
Vladimir Gurrero Jr, Cavan Biggio, and Bo Bichette all had certain levels of success in 2019, and come with their own hype train due to their pedigree and talent. They are all going to be special, there is hardly a doubt. But how quickly can they make that jump to superstar? Is it possible that all three make that jump in 2020?
I am pretty sure Vlad is ready…
Vladdy launched one right out of Fenway Park. pic.twitter.com/FWacIfvsaU
— Ian Hunter (@BlueJayHunter) July 23, 2020
Q: Can the Nationals afford the loss of Anthony Rendon?
I like Howie Kendrick. He is a very underrated player who can bat .300 and give you a little pop. But he is not Anthony Rendon, and that is the spot he is currently occupying the Nationals lineup:
There is still a heap of talent, and the Nationals chances will likely come down to health. If Trea Turner and Adam Eaton are able to keep it together for 60-games, the Nationals and Juan Soto are going to be just fine. But the loss of Rendon leaves little room for error. How can you possibly lose a .319 average with 34 HR, 117 R, and 126 RBI and not feel it?
Starlin Castro was an underrated pick up by Washington, but he, along with fellow veteran Eric Thames, are unlikely to pick up the slack alone. The Nats will need a solid effort from their young core of Victor Robles and Carter Kieboom.