1) The Pittsburgh Pirates will have a top-five rotation.
The Pirates rotation has been talked about a lot this offseason. On Twitter, we recently did a poll as to who's everyone’s favorite pitcher is post 200 ADP. The final came down to two Pirates pitchers who were Joe Musgrove (the winner) and Mitch Keller. It seems like a lot of people are in on this rotation this year. So why in the top five? With a new philosophy in Pittsburgh, it seems like they will finally allow their pitchers to throw more breaking balls. This benefits all of their pitchers greatly.
Musgrove has a mediocre fastball but his slider, changeup, and curveball are all above average. In fact, all three produced an SwStr% of 17.3% or higher, a rather impressive feat. Mitch Keller is a young and upcoming arm who could potentially have one of the more lethal sliders in the game. In 2019 his slider produced a .200 batting average against, .089 ISO, .226 wOBA, and 26.8 SwStr%. Chris Archer is a pitcher everyone can’t seem to quit and this year might be the year to get behind him. In the second half, he made legit pitch mix changes and had a 3.29 FIP. In 2019 Archer’s breaking balls hit the edge of the zone 15.8% of the time which was 15th best amongst starters. He also had a 43.0 K% when doing so which was 5th best. While Trevor Williams is a boring name, in 2018 we produced a 3.11 ERA in over 170 innings of work. As for whether their fifth starter is Chad Kuhl or Steven Brault remains to be seen.
If Musgrove, Archer, and Keller put up sub-four ERA’s along with Trevor Williams potentially matching them, this rotation could become one of the best in the league.
2) Garrett Richards finishes 2020 ranked higher than Dinelson Lamet.
Let’s start with Lamet first, we all know the main issue with him is that he gives up hard contact. Did you know Lamet had a Command+ of 89? That was ranked 262nd in the league amongst all pitchers. In 2017 Lamet had a BB% of 11.1% and in 2019 he had a BB% of 9.6%, the league average was 8.5%. Simply put, control is a big issue. What about the high strikeout upside? Yes, it certainly is there but it will be an up and down roller coaster. Lamet has one pitch, his slider, albeit it is quite the pitch. In 2019 in over 500 throws it produced a 41.1 O-Swing%, 23.2 SwStr%, and 12.0 pVAL. Sure, it is clearly an amazing pitch but that is all he has. The wRC+ on his four-seam and sinker are both over 160. The batting average against both of those pitches is over .326. If he has no slider, he doesn’t have anything.
Now for Garrett Richards, while health is the main concern here I am clearly betting on him staying healthy. In 2018 Richards pitched 76.1 innings producing a 3.66 ERA and 1.28 WHIP, both better numbers than what Lamet put up in 73.0 innings last year. Richards has a really good slider/four-seam combination that he has always utilized well. He uses the four-seam to create strikes and the slider to create swing and misses (19.4 SwStr% in 2018). The main worry is his fastball velocity and we have to see if it can get back to the 96/97 MPH range. With Richards’ history of having two above-average pitches, plus a decent third offering with his curveball he could certainly out produce Lamet.
3) Bo Bichette will be a first-round draft pick in 2021.
Bichette is a player to be very excited about, in 2019 he produced a .311 average, 11 home runs, 32 runs, 21 RBI’s, and 4 stolen bases in 212 plate appearances. Just for fun, let’s prorate those numbers to about 600 plate appearances. His line turns into 33 home runs, 96 runs, 63 RBI’s, and 12 stolen bases all while hitting around .300. Pretty good for a first-year player.
Bichette’s plate discipline is slightly interesting as his O-Swing%, and SwStr% were above the league average. Funny enough though, his BB% was better than average at 6.6%. Hitting leadoff might hurt the RBI potential but he will be part of a young exciting lineup in Toronto. With a shortened season we could certainly see Bichette go on a hot streak for three months, produce in every category and become a first-round draft pick.
4) The Washington Nationals don’t make the playoffs.
The Nationals lost one of the most consistent players in their lineup in Anthony Rendon. The addition of Starlin Castro helps but doesn’t fully fill that void. My main concern is the rotation, not in skill but in health. Scherzer clearly has back issues and Strasburg has never been the poster boy for health. If those two shut down in a shortened season how can you expect a rotation of Corbin, Voth, Ross, Sanchez, and Fedde to carry the Nationals?
Who will win the NL East? The Atlanta Braves are such a great young team and with a season under their belt, they seem primed to take the division.
Who takes the two wild-card spots? The NL central is very deep, the Brewers, Cubs, Cardinals, and Reds will all be very competitive. The NL west is also very deep, the Diamondbacks, Dodgers, and Padres will all be gunning for spots as well.
5) Taylor Rogers leads the league in saves.
What is the first ingredient for a relief pitcher to lead the league in saves? Being on a really good team. Rogers is on the Minnesota Twins and they have a very impressive offense that will generate a lot of wins and save opportunities. Rogers has been somewhat overlooked for two years now. Since 2018 Rogers holds a 2.62 ERA, 2.59 FIP, and 30.7 K%.
When it comes down to arsenal Rogers has it all. He utilizes a sinker to provide strikes when needed, a curveball that he can hit in the zone for weak contact, and a slider as a swing and miss pitch. Both his curveball and slider were absolutely lethal last year as their batting averages were .196 and .138. With three pitches at Rogers’ disposal he will have no issues putting hitters away.
6) Gerrit Cole finishes with an ERA near 4.00.
Yes, one of my bold predictions is that a pitcher who has posted to sub-three ERAs in the last two years will finish with an ERA around 4.00. Cole dominated 2019 and was essentially robbed of a CY Young away. He put up some really gaudy numbers: 2.50 ERA, 2.64 FIP, 2.62 SIERA, 34.0 K-BB%, and a 35.7 CSW. Absurd. My thinking behind this is strictly based on a shortened season and a theory I have expressed in the past.
Let’s say we end up with a three month season, here are a few reasons to be concerned. Reason one, Yankee Stadium isn’t easy to pitch in and there certainly comes an adjustment period as you saw last year with James Paxton. Reason number two, he just signed a massive contract with the Yankees. It is easy to see that he could go out there and try to earn his contract which can cause him to overthrow, thus ruining his mechanics. Reason number three, if you look back at Cole’s pitching career some of the seasons he started off slow. Take a look at last year even, his ERA in April was 3.95 and his ERA in May was 4.13.
Given we could be seeing a very short season, if Cole overthrows, starts slow, or can’t adjust to Yankee Stadium quickly would it be crazy to see a high three ERA from him?
7) The Toronto Blue Jays will finish second in the division.
Let’s start off with the Blue Jays first, a great young lineup that a lot of people see potential in. If Bichette, Biggio, Gurriel Jr, Guerrero Jr, Shaw, Grichuk, and Hernandez all hit they could be one of the best offenses in the league. This lineup has a lot of power and speed which makes them a lot of fun to watch. For the Blue Jays to succeed it comes down to the rotation. If they call up Pearson and add him with Ryu, a healthy Shoemaker, and Trent Thornton who is working on new pitches it could be enough.
Well, who are they going to have a better record then? Well let’s eliminate the obvious, the Orioles and Red Sox are looking at down years. Which means they would have to surpass the Yankees or Rays. In a short season, this could be done especially if one team starts off cold or the Blue Jays start off hot. If they can win big games against either one of these teams they could see themselves in second hunting for a wild card.
8) Frankie Montas contends for a CY Young.
In the past, I did a deep dive into Frankie Montas and I liked what I saw. He uses his two-seam/sinker to pound the zone, has a filthy slider, and an even more filthy split-finger. Montas can certainly take another step forward by lowering his two-seam/sinker usage slightly and relying on the slider and split-finger more.
Like the other predictions, the shortened season is really what does this prediction justice. In 96 innings last year he pitched to a 2.63 ERA, 3.00 FIP, and 1.11 WHIP. Those are CY Young numbers and since Montas has produced once before why can’t he do it again?
9) The Cincinnati Reds will have the best rotation in baseball.
I don’t think I could be more in love with a rotation the way I love the Cincinnati Reds starting pitchers. Sonny Gray is a master at painting the edges and has a four-pitch arsenal to his disposal. Gray is extremely crafty and while I don’t expect a repeat of 2019, I do expect another above-average season. Luis Castillo will be a top ten pitcher this year! The changeup is the best in the league and his two-seam gives me the feels. Plus when was the last time you saw a pitcher that was top two in GB% amongst starters while also producing a high strikeout rate. Trevor Bauer is an enigma of sorts as he basically mimicked his pitch sequencing from 2018 to 2019. Yet 2019 resulted in an ERA by almost two runs higher. Bauer has the skill and talent to become a sub-three ERA pitcher once again and will be a pitcher who can win you your league. People forget that Wade Miley had an amazing season last year. Take away the disaster of a September and his worst ERA in any month was 3.76. Anthony DeSclafani and Tyler Mahle round off the rotation (DeSclafani has the spot) and both are very serviceable. The Reds could be looking at having four to five pitchers with a sub-four ERA.
10) Kyle Freeland rebounds and becomes a top 50 starter.
Saved the best for last! Yes, Kyle Freeland will rebound, beat Coors once again and become a viable fantasy option in 2020. Kyle Freeland last year was ranked 28th in Command+ and was tied with Brandon Woodruff, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Zack Wheeler. You could certainly deem him as unlucky as he had an extremely low 62.1 LOB% and his FIP was almost an entire run lower. If you look at Freeland’s 2018 and 2019 pitch metrics he essentially left everything the same. His pitches actually created a lot more swing and misses in 2019 compared to the year prior. The main difference was the homer runs and hard contact. Both of his Barrel% and HR/FB went dramatically up. Just to cap it off, his HR/9 went from 0.76 to 2.16.
Now to look towards projections of a pitcher going in the top 50 let’s look at Jake Odorizzi. According to ATC projects Odorizzi to have a stat line of a 4.31 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. If the league goes back to a different ball and those HR/9 go down for Freeland you can easily see Freeland putting up those kinds of numbers.