We are now more than a quarter of the way through this strange 2020 MLB season. Typically at this point in the season, things seem to settle down. Players catch their groove and teams get into a rhythm. This is the stage at which we usually start interpreting the players’ averages and teams’ performances so we can respond accordingly in our Fantasy Leagues...
The first two weeks of the 2020 season got off to a pretty slow start with the league’s batting average lingering around .230 – which is down 20 points from the 2019 season and an all-time low by 7 points. The BABIP (batting average on balls in play) stats across the league were dreadfully low. Major league teams have not had a combined batting average this low for decades. And the last time it occurred, back in 1968, it led to the league implementing several rule changes.
For over 25 years, from 1993 to 2019, the league maintained a steady BABIP, never falling under .293 or rising above .302. In comparison to these numbers, this year’s average (at least, as it stood after the first couple of weeks) would’ve been surprising. But we have all been keeping a pretty open mind about the season considering the extenuating circumstances caused by the ongoing global pandemic.
Why the slow start this year?During a normal baseball season, a slow start could be chalked up to the batters still getting their field-legs or could even be a result of the weather. A baseball doesn’t travel the same speed or distance when it is cold out. With the first few weeks of a normal season taking place in March or April, certain ballparks are still experiencing colder temperatures.
There are plenty of reasons why a normal campaign might demonstrate a slow first couple weeks. But can we attribute this year’s early display of poor offensive performances to the same causes? Or should we look to other contributing factors? After all, the 2020 season has been riddled with obstacles from the get-go.
It’s easy to assume that the months leading up to the start of the season have a lot to do with it. There were months of back and forth negotiations and controversy that left players, staff members and the league uncertain of what the season would look like. It even led to several players deciding not to participate in the season. Spring training was cut way too short. COVID-19 outbreaks have led to several games being postponed. The list goes on and on…
However, in the third week of this year’s crazy run, things seemed to turn around. Batting averages climbed. We started to see normal offensive activity and the numbers shifted to match those of last year and the year before. In fact, as it stands right now, the league’s batting average is pretty much identical to 2019, and the BABIP is once again reaching the range of .290 and more.
Since 2012, we’ve seen this kind of trend unfold. Past seasons have demonstrated the same slow start within the first two weeks as players get into the swing of things and each year, like clockwork, we’ve witnessed the numbers bounce back.
But this year we’re dealing with completely new, uncharted circumstances. So it makes you wonder...
What does this mean?Of course if this were a regular, pandemic-less campaign with a full-length training season and 162-game run, we wouldn’t be brooding over this sudden spike in the averages. We would give it a conversation or two and then switch gears in anticipation of the remainder of the season.
The current conditions, however, present a different context. The limited preparation for the season definitely had everyone feeling nervous about how things were going to pan out, while Opening Day in July resulted in much warmer weather, which had experts believing that the early games would come with an advantage for the offense side. Throw in a few controversial rule changes, cardboard cutouts of fans in the stands, fake cheering and booing sounds, and a collective feeling of concern for the players and MLB staff in the back of everyone’s minds… this first quarter has definitely had players, staff, and fans all over the country on the edge of their seats.
However, I don’t think any spectator could have guessed that the season would play out this way. What does it mean? There are just too many factors to consider in order to pinpoint just one explanation. No matter what your prediction was for this unusual season or what it might be for the rest of the year, numbers are in! Let’s take a look at some of the unexpected as well as some of the not so surprising 2020 MLB statistics.
1. Orioles’ José Iglesias’s .395 batting averageAs a defender who has not been known for his batting performances, Iglesias has surely surprised us this year reaching a .395 batting average. He started this year with a .687 OPS and has stayed in the bottom 3 percent of the AL in exit velocity since 2015.
2. Royals take the AL lead in total bases
Another surprising statistic came from the fifth-place Royals, who currently hold the lead in total bases with a whopping 270. This has put them in a leading position ahead of the Yankees and the Dodgers, even though they are only 13th in home run rankings.
3. Tigers’ JaCoby Jones keeping the team aheadAlso seeing some unexpected success in the AL Central is the Tigers. Jones has taken the team from selecting first overall in the Draft to holding the second-best record in their league. As of right now, his slugging percentage of .730 places him at third in the Majors. Plus, his five home-runs have the Tigers at a remarkable advantage.
4. Braves’ Catchers Hold .368/.421/.618 batting lineHolding it down in the NL East, the Braves’ batting line numbers are off the charts compared to the averages for catcher’s last year: .236/.308/.405. And it isn’t only one catcher pulling this off. Travis d’Arnaud (1.036 OPS in 37 PA), Tyler Flowers (1.233 in 18), and newbie William Contreras (4 for 10 w/ double) are all responsible for the upturn.
5. Nationals’ Juan Soto’s .364/.391/.773 batting lineAfter having to sit out for the first few games of the season because of COVID-19 regulations, Juan Soto came in swinging. Not surprisingly, coming off a World Series win at just 20 years old, he fired a record setting 463-footer during a three-hit game against the Mets.
6. Brewers’ Christian Yelich shocking .164 batting averageBrewers fans are holding out hope for their MVP to make a comeback this season. Starting August hitting just .037, Christian Yelich got off to a rough beginning out of the box. However, since then he has delivered three home runs and an OPS over 1.200. We don’t doubt that he’ll come back strong after this first quarter of the season.
7. Pirates’ Unfortunate .273 OBPA team hasn’t posted an OBP below .280 since 1965 Mets and before that it hadn’t happened since 1910. For the Pirates, having the worst 3-13 record in the league and a .273 OBP is certainly a tough pill to swallow. But the team is confident he won’t stay down for long!
8. Marlins’ Jesús Aguilar on track for 22 home runs this yearDespite a COVID-19 outbreak that caused the league to postpone a few of the Marlin’s games, Jesús Aguilar is holding it down for the Florida team. With a 60 game campaign, we probably won’t see a 35 home run streak like he had back in 2018, but with 4 home runs down he is on track for 22 home runs this season. This will make for a great comeback after struggling last year. He is at his career best with an average of .282/.333/.641 through 11 games.
9. Mets’ Jacob deGrom with a 98.5 fastball velocity averageLeading the league in fastball velocity and up 5 mph since 2016, deGrom isn’t making anyone question why he received multiple Cy Young Awards and will most likely win another. His average is up to 98.5 mph and he’s maintaining a 2.45 ERA this season.
10. Giants’ Donovan Solano with .458/.476/.661 batting lineThis year has proven to be pretty surprising to spectators regarding the Giants’ Donovan Solano. Many believed his .330 average in PT play back in 2019 could be attributed to some lucky ground balls and bounces. However, leading the Majors with nine doubles and a .458/.476/.661 at the batting line, it seems this year he is working to prove otherwise.
11. Rockies’ hot start with a 3.30 ERAThe Rockies entered the season with gusto this year. If you’re wondering why, take a look at their starting pitching. German Marquez and Kyle Freeland have brought the team back after a weak season in 2019 lowering their 5.87 mark by 2.5 runs. This average puts them just ahead of the Dodgers in the National League West.
12. Padres’ Fernando Tatis Jr. with 8 home runsThe Padres may have a secret weapon in the back pocket. With less than 100 big league games under his belt, 21-year old shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. is following close behind Aaron Judge (by one home run) for the MLB lead in home runs this season. In nearly every category, this newcomer is commanding the leaderboards.
He sits at seventh-most dingers hit in a player’s first hundred games, first in Majors in FanGraphs W.A.R, and he’s tied for #1 in stolen bases. That’s not all. He also has the third highest average for RBI and is one of the league’s leading players in average exit velocity as well as hard-hit percentage.
We all were expecting this year to be full of surprises and we’re happy to see that some of them are pretty pleasant! Some players seem to be on their way to having a record year. Some teams that we wouldn’t have bet on before are showing up to the plate and bringing the heat! Other players are having a season they’ll hope everyone forgets.
We’re still only a quarter of the way through, so we have quite a few games to go (although much less than usual). Our questions are... will the breakout players and teams maintain these promising statistics throughout the rest of the season? Will we continue to be surprised by some amazing performances and other less fortunate displays of the sport? Or is this blog post simply a future reminder that these numbers were actually achieved during this crazy season of baseball? Who knows! I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.