JABO: The Sprint Is Over, My Awards Ballot, 2020 Playoff Predictions
Table of Contents
The Opener: Thoughts On The 2020 Season
My Ballot For Cy Young, MVP, etc
unless otherwise stated, all stats are via Baseball Reference
The Opener: Thoughts On The 2020 Season
Columbus (OH) - The sprint that started on July 23 in Washington, D.C. concluded 66 days later in Minneapolis, Minnesota on September 27. The New York Yankees opened against the Washington Nationals, and the last game in the 2020 season to conclude was between the Cincinnati Reds and Minnesota Twins. A nugget that may not actually be that interesting: the road team (Yankees, Reds) won both of those games. Take that information as you will--maybe it will help you win trivia night.
It would behoove me not to discuss the four major rule changes that took place this season. Let’s start with seven-inning doubleheaders. Originally, I was not a fan of the rule. I am a fan who screamed “BASEBALL IS NINE INNINGS AND SHOULD BE PLAYED AS SUCH!!!” from the hilltops for most of my life, however, it would be hypocritical to dislike this rule but in the same breath advocate for pitchers hitting because of the strategy. In a seven-inning game, managers must game plan most heavily towards using closers and setup men earlier in games, and knowing when, and how to use them is a huge part of what makes seven-inning doubleheaders fun. Another part about the new doubleheaders is how much more urgency there is from teams to score early and often, which makes the quality of play even better.
Next, I will keep it short with the universal designated hitter. I did not like the rule originally and I still do not like the rule. Saying that the DH makes the game more exciting is a lazy take. This year, designated hitters batted .232, hitting, on average per team, 9 home runs, and had a Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, of 0.3.
There have been over 19,000 players who have stepped foot on a major league field. Of those 19,000, not a single of those players have batted .232, hit nine home runs, and had a WAR of 0.3 in a season.
There were two occurrences that came remarkably close. First is Mark Salas -- who had 38 career home runs in eight seasons -- batted .232, compiled a WAR of 0.4, and hit nine home runs in 1990. Salas that season only had 164 at-bats -- in 74 games. If that qualifies to you as a small sample size, I present to you, Cesar Cedeno. Cedeno hit 199 career home runs in 17 seasons, and in 1983 for the Cincinnati Reds, he had 332 at-bats, hit .232, compiled a WAR of 0.4, and hit nine home runs. Simply, the DH did not make that much of a difference. #AbolishTheDH. (Remember when I said I would keep it short?).
Third, to keep it even shorter, the three batter minimum made sense if you were a pace of play type of guy, but when you consider on average a nine-inning game went three hours and seven minutes this year, it doesn’t seem like it sped up the game. That is because it didn’t.
Longest Average Nine Inning Games, All-Time
3. 2017 -- 3 hours, 5 minutes
2. 2019 -- 3 hours, 5 minutes
1. 2020 -- 3 hours, 7 minutes
Yeah, let’s just get rid of the three batter minimum.
Finally, let’s talk about the runner on second base to start extra innings. I loved the rule in the World Baseball Classic. However, I did not think it would translate to Major League Baseball all too well. I would like to admit I was wrong, I like the rule--with some slight modifications.
Instead of starting the runner at second base, let’s start the runner at first. Once we reach the 12th inning, then put the runner on second, and then if we reach the 14th inning, put the runner on third. Heightened drama. Is it a crazy idea? Sure, but how could you not be romantic about baseball?
The longest game this year went 13 innings and considering that every season since 2010 has had at least one game go 19 innings, the rule worked as intended. (Except the 2018 season, which saw the longest game go only 17 innings).
It has been well documented that the 2020 season did not go off without a hitch. The St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins were the teams most notably impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the gusto shown by both teams to make the playoffs speaks to the levels of their organizations.
As far as on the field, there were a few surprises, good and bad, per usual. Let’s start with the bad. The Nationals (26-34), Mets (26-34), and Diamondbacks (25-35) were the disappointing teams in the National League. The Nationals were expected to defend their championship more than finishing three games back of the eighth and final playoff spot. The Mets dealt with A LOT of internal and external issues, so it is truly a remarkable feat that they only finished eight games below .500. The Diamondbacks made a lot of splashes in free agency and were the flashy pick to not only make the playoffs but to also make some noise once they got in. In the American League, the Astros (29-31), Angels (26-34), and Rangers (22-38) were the most disappointing, and they all played in the AL West! For the Astros, this is the lowest winning percentage they’ve had in a season (.492) since they went 70-92 in 2014 (.432). Another fun fact about the Astros is they’ve lost to the eventual World Series Champ -- or won the World Series -- every year they’ve been in the playoffs since 2005, take a look:
2005: Lost World Series (4-0) against the White Sox.
2015: Lost ALDS (3-2) against the Royals; Royals won the World Series.
2017: Won World Series (4-3) against the Dodgers.
2018: Lost ALCS (4-1) against the Red Sox; Red Sox won the World Series
2019: Lost World Series (4-3) against the Nationals.
Those 10-1 World Series odds for the Twins look pretty good right now.
The Angels had higher expectations bringing in Joe Maddon and Anthony Rendon, however, they fell short after their pitching fell flat and Shohei Ohtani had a disastrous 2020 both on the mound and at the plate. The Rangers had high expectations after adding Corey Kluber to a rotation that already featured the likes of Mike Minor and Lance Lynn, and the opening of a brand new ballpark had fans (in a normal year of course) excited as well.
Now the good. First, in the American League, the Rays (40-20), Athletics (36-24), and Seattle (27-33) were the biggest surprises (the good kind). Tampa Bay did not have a lot of believers coming into the season (despite winning 96 games in 2019 and bringing back a majority of their roster). The most impressive part of the Rays success is their ability to win, dominate, and execute their gameplans despite all of their injuries that occurred in a 60-game season. Much like the Rays, the Athletics were slept on by many people coming into this season despite winning 97 games in 2019. However, they won the AL West with relative ease, and open the playoffs against the Chicago White Sox. More on that later. Finally, the Seattle Mariners winning 27 games and almost making the playoffs after very few people saw them winning even 20 games shows the potential they have not only heading into 2021 but into the foreseeable future. (Honorable mention of course goes to the White Sox who made the playoffs for the first time since 2008).
Pivoting to the National League, there were only a couple of surprises. First Miami making the playoffs for the first time since 2003 is quite the feat. All of the moves Derek Jeter has made in the past few offseasons have been criticized by many, but so far they have worked out for the better and the Marlins are set up for a fun decade of baseball. The other good surprise comes from the west coast. The San Diego Padres won 37 games (and still finished six full games back of first place!) when many people believed they were a year away from doing practically anything. Fernando Tatis Jr. erupted onto the scene and was even the front runner for MVP for a few weeks, and the resurgence of Wil Myers and Eric Hosmer has been a pleasant surprise. Those two players playing up to their expectations is awesome for the sport, as Myers was once a top prospect before sizzling out, and Hosmer was the guy in Kansas City before heading to San Diego. Not only Hosmer, who signed an eight-year $144 million with San Diego in the winter of 2017, but superstar Manny Machado, who signed a contract worth well over $300 million in the spring of 2019, bought into the culture and the plan, and it is now paying dividends.
If the 2020 playoffs are anything like the regular season, it should be a treat.
Now that the regular season has concluded, it is time to hand out some hardware! From Cy Young to Manager of the Year, here are my unofficial votes for numerous awards:
Cy Young: Shane Bieber, Cleveland Indians; 8-1, 1.63 ERA, 281 ERA+, 3.3 WAR
MVP: Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox; .321 AVG, 19 HR, 60 RBI, 2.7 WAR, 168 OPS+
Rookie of the Year: Kyle Lewis, Seattle Mariners; .266 AVG, 11 HR, 28 RBI, 128 OPS+
Manager of the Year: Rick Renteria, Chicago White Sox; 35-25, first playoff appearance since 2008.
Cy Young: Trevor Bauer, Cincinnati Reds; 5-4, 1.73 ERA, 275 ERA+, 2.7 WAR
MVP: Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves; .343 AVG, 13 HR, 53 RBI, 2.9 WAR, 188 OPS+
Rookie of the Year: Devin Williams, Milwaukee Brewers; 4-1, 0.33 ERA (22 appearances), 53 strikeouts, 1.2 WAR
Manager of the Year: Don Mattingly, Miami Marlins, 31-29, first playoff appearance since 2003.
The Closer: Playoff Predictions
At the beginning of the 2020 season, I picked the Reds and Indians to meet in the World Series--without an Ohio bias.
I felt that the Cincinnati Reds’ offense would out-slug teams, and other nights their stellar pitching would be the difference-maker. For the first 40 games, it looked like the Reds would fall flat on their face and miss the playoffs, leaving disappointment amongst fans and players alike. In July and August, the Reds went a combined 15-20, with a run differential of -15. Then, the calendar flipped to September, and Cincinnati went 16-9, with a run differential of +15. (Yes, this means their season run differential is 0). Yes, eight games against the Pirates helps. However, you are playing the schedule you are given, which also meant they had to play the White Sox, Twins, Cardinals, Cubs, and Brewers--all playoff teams. September was not a cakewalk by any means for the Reds. So, if it was not the schedule that favored them, what was it?
Seven inning doubleheaders and extra innings. The Reds went 20-26 in nine-inning games this season and were outscored 208-182 (-26) in those games. In seven-inning doubleheaders and extra-inning games? They went 11-3, and outscored their opponents 61-35! (+26). Unfortunately for the Reds, even if there would be a dreaded postseason doubleheader, it would be nine innings this time, not seven. I will get to my overall predictions for the postseason in a minute, however, I believe that the Reds are peaking at the right time and it will favor them going forward.
The Indians rotation--much like the Reds--had the potential to be really good this year, and they would likely carry them through most of the season, with the offense having the ability to win them some games. Spending a majority of the year without manager Terry Francona, which they will also do in the postseason, the Indians experienced serious ebbs and flows of a 162-game season, but in a sped-up 60-game version. At their worst, they were one game under .500, which is interesting considering they had an eight-game losing streak in the middle of it all! They went 8-2 against the White Sox and struggled against the Twins (3-7), and the Cubs (0-4). They went 17-9 against the Pirates, Royals, and Tigers, so they beat the teams they were supposed to. Shane Bieber has pitched like a true ace and is the runaway Cy Young award winner in the American League. However, the most pleasant surprise out of the rotation came from Carlos Carrasco, who for the second time in his career had an ERA under 3.00, and will start the second game in the best-of-three against the Yankees. (After Bieber). The key x-factor for the Indians will be Jose Ramirez. He hit .202 in the month of August, with five home runs, and 17 RBI in 27 games. In September, he flipped a switch, batting .366 with 10 home runs and 24 RBI in 23 games, propelling the Indians slugging offense forward, and making them a legit postseason threat. In games the Indians won, he hit .349, and in losses, hit .211. The offense for the Indians is much like a football team. Give Jose Ramirez the ball, and good things will happen.
Those were my original two representatives in the World Series in Summer Camp. Does it change? You will soon find out, as I will unveil my 2020 postseason predictions. The best-of-three Wild Card Series is going to be a crapshoot. Upsets will happen. Teams, we did not expect to lose, will lose. Craziness will ensue.
Welcome to October Madness, aka, the Fall Frenzy.
FIRST ROUND, BEST-OF-3:
(1) Tampa Bay Rays vs. (8) Toronto Blue Jays
This series will be entertaining and full of analytical chess-moves that would make Bill Belicheck proud. I wouldn’t be surprised at any result, but I love the Snell-Glasnow 1-2 punch the Rays will put out in the first two games of this series. Rays in 3
(4) Cleveland Indians vs. (5) New York Yankees
This might be the best series in the entire postseason and we get it in round 1. Shane Beiber versus Gerrit Cole in Game 1 will be the determining factor for the Yankees in this series because, after Cole, the Yankees will likely struggle to find meaningful innings from their rotation for the rest of the series. I love the Yankees offense, but I love Indians pitching more. Indians in 3.
(3) Minnesota Twins vs. (6) Houston Astros
This series might be the easiest to pick. The Astros lack any type of pitching depth behind Zack Greinke, and their bullpen has been atrocious, but give Dusty Baker credit. The first manager EVER to make the playoffs with five different teams! Unfortunately for Houston, I think the Twins will out-slug the Astros and will take this series early. Twins in 2.
(2) Oakland Athletics vs. (7) Chicago White Sox
This is probably the second-best series of the first round, and it will likely come down to a coin flip, and the Athletics playing at home will make the difference in the end. However, without Matt Chapman, it would not be surprising if the White Sox don’t need to rely too heavily on pitching and just out-slug the Athletics. With that being said, A’s in 3.
FIRST ROUND, BEST-OF-3:
(1) Los Angeles Dodgers vs. (8) Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers have always played the Dodgers well in the playoffs, however, this Dodgers team is really good. They have flaws that might be exploited in the later rounds, but I think they survive the Brewers. Dodgers in 3.
(4) San Diego Padres vs. (5) St. Louis Cardinals
If you are the Cardinals, you’re happy you made the playoffs, but you, unfortunately, struck out on the draw. The Padres are too good. Fernando Tatis is not even the MVP on his own team, Manny Machado says hello. They have depth all over the field, and their offense will be the main difference-maker. The losses of Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet will likely hurt them in the later rounds but I do not think it will make much difference in round 1. Padres in 2.
(3) Chicago Cubs vs. (6) Miami Marlins
I spent a lot of time thinking about this series. The Cubs offense has been too inconsistent all year, and Bryant, Rizzo, and Baez have especially struggled at home, because 2020, and I think the Marlins have what it takes to take down the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Sixto Sanchez will set the tone for Miami in game one, and if the Cubs have to play a game 3, they would have to rely on an unreliable-of-late Jon Lester. I like the upset. Marlins in 3.
(2) Atlanta Braves vs. (7) Cincinnati Reds
The Reds are the seven seed, but they really could be the one seed. Much like a team with LeBron James on it, it does not matter the seed, if they get in, then lookout. The Braves playing at home with two guys who could win MVP (Freddie Freeman, Marcell Ozuna) most definitely favors them. However, I believe the Reds have found their mojo, and have some wins left in the tank. This rotation led by Trevor Bauer is going to carry them however far they go. Much like the Houston Rockets, the Cincinnati Reds will live and die by the three. (Trevor Bauer, Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo). I like the Reds in this series, although I would not necessarily call it an upset, despite Cincinnati being the lower seed. Reds in 3.
(1) Tampa Bay Rays vs. (4) Cleveland Indians
I love this matchup for Cleveland. If the offense can perform as it did in the month of September, then the Rays will be in trouble. It would likely be Snell-Bieber game one, but nothing to this point has not given me a reason NOT to believe in Bieber. I have Bieber fever. Indians in 4.
(2) Oakland Athletics vs. (3) Minnesota Twins
The Athletics will need somebody to step up in place of Matt Chapman, assuming they make it past the White Sox. Enter Jake Lamb. I think this is his coming-out party and will earn himself a nice payday after this postseason is over. I like the Athletics in this series against the Twins, especially with the A’s getting the last at-bat in every game. This will be a fun series regardless of who wins. A’s in 5.
(1) Los Angeles Dodgers vs. (4) San Diego Padres
The Dodgers and Padres. This series will be a sight for sore eyes, except plenty of offense, but expect Clayton Kershaw to pitch like he’s never done before in a playoff setting. With the unknowns for Clevinger and Lamet, the Dodgers will reign supreme, at least in this series. Dodgers in 4.
(6) Miami Marlins vs. (7) Cincinnati Reds
This series would have a lot of variables, but once again the Reds pitching is just too good, and this is when people will start to appreciate Joey Votto. The Marlins are a fun story and would love for them to go all the way to the World Series, however, the Reds are a buzzsaw, and they are on a mission. Reds in 4.
(2) Oakland Athletics vs. (4) Cleveland Indians
The Indians pitching, once again, really good. Much like 2016, they will thrive on having lockdown relievers. James Karinchak, Brad Hand, and Cal Quantrill are the three guys who will step up when and if the starters crumble. Oakland’s great season will end here, as the Indians will move on the World Series. Indians in 7.
(1) Los Angeles Dodgers vs. (7) Cincinnati Reds
The Dodgers are really good. They lost one series all year, and never lost more than two games in a row. I’m going to repeat that: the Dodgers never lost three games in a row all season. They are without a doubt the deepest team in the entire league. That being said, I’m not as sold on their pitching as I am their offense. However, Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May have been really good stories thus far, but I really like the Reds and can’t talk myself out of them. They’re clicking on all cylinders, winning five straight series to end the regular season, and that carries them all the way to the World Series. Reds in 7.
WORLD SERIES, BEST-OF-SEVEN:
(4) Cleveland Indians vs. (7) Cincinnati Reds
I can’t go against my preseason pick now, can I? Even if I did not pick these two teams at the beginning, I just love how both teams are playing right now, and can’t find reasons to pick against them. The two Cy Young award winners, Bieber v. Bauer, for game one of the World Series? Sign me up. This series will be entertaining, and the winner of this series will have bragging rights for the entire state of Ohio. I think this series will go all the way, with the Indians coming out on top with Bauer and Bieber facing each other on short rest. The Indians win the World Series because of their rotation depth, and will then go into an offseason full of questions about Francisco Lindor. Indians in 7.
Embrace the chaos, and let’s enjoy some postseason baseball!