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The three biggest surprises of the Yankees’ 2020 season

In a season full of surprises, what were the biggest for the Yankees?

American League Division Series Game 2: New York Yankees v. Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The glory of a baseball season is that, no matter how much time you spend reading projections, analyzing rosters, and researching the league, there will always be something that surprises you. In a year where the world turned upside down, that was truer than ever. So let’s take a step back and look at this season’s biggest surprises.

The hope of young arms

Since Deivi García emerged on everybody’s radar as a potential top prospect last year following comparisons to Pedro Martinez, Yankees fans everywhere have been excited about the possibility of two homegrown aces heading the team’s rotation (Luis Severino being the other one). I myself have been following his rise through the farm system very closely, writing about it on multiple occasions last year. Despite his struggles at Triple-A Scranton last season and the Yankees’ acquisition of Gerrit Cole last winter, he nonetheless remained an eagerly-awaited prospect.

In that, 2020 did not disappoint. Looking at just his statline, you might be somewhat disappointed in García’s performance: he posted a 4.98 ERA (4.15 FIP) in 34 innings. Six of his 19 earned runs, however, came in one three-inning start against the Boston Red Sox on September 20; in his other five starts, he went at least six innings four times (including two in which he finished seven), giving up no more than four runs. He struck out 8.7 batters per nine innings, while walking only 1.6, despite the fact that he averaged four BB/9 throughout the minors. For a 21-year-old in his first taste of the Major Leagues, it was as good a start as could be hoped for.

Although it’s often been forgotten amidst his subpar in-season performance (five earned runs in 7.1 innings), Clarke Schmidt put himself on the map during Summer Camp, reminding everybody why the Yankees had drafted the right-hander in the first round of the 2017 draft despite the fact that he had just received Tommy John surgery. While he’s unlikely to be counted on for a major role on the 2021 Yankees (he had, after all, only three starts above Single-A in 2019), Schmidt nonetheless gives Yankees fans hope for a Cole/Severino/García/Schmidt partnership in the Yankees rotation.

Erik Kratz

Now, you may be wondering, what part of Erik Kratz’s performance is the most surprising? Was it the 112 OPS+ at the age of 40? His ability to mentor the young members of the Yankees pitching staff, whom he affectionately calls his children?

No. It was that knuckleball.

Twice in four days — first on September 20 against Boston, then again on September 23 against Toronto — Erik Kratz came in to pitch, in order to give the Yankees bullpen a rest during a blowout. And, to the surprise of everybody, he unleashed a knuckleball — a pretty good one too; the one shown above went only 66 MPH and had a minuscule 784 RPM spin rate. Although he did not strike anybody out, Kratz did not walk anybody, and only gave up two hits (albeit home runs), good for a 9.00 ERA.

Who knows? That was without preparing as a pitcher — perhaps Kratz and his knuckleball can give new life to the 40-year-old’s career?

We had a season at all

Back on July 23, the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals held the much-anticipated matchup between Gerrit Cole and Max Scherzer to ring in the much-delayed 2020 season.

Tonight, Game Three of the World Series will be played between the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers at Globe Life Field, the first World Series ever to be played in a neutral site and the first since 1944’s matchup between the St. Louis Cardinals and St. Louis Browns to be played at only one ballpark.

All this happened in the middle of the worst global pandemic in recent history, the COVID-19 pandemic, as the world has struggled to contain a viral outbreak that has caused more than a million deaths worldwide and more than 200 thousand in the United States alone.

Had Major League Baseball seen absolutely no cases, that would have been impressive enough. But it didn’t. No team went unaffected by the virus, either seeing players test positive for the virus (or, in the case of the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals, have outbreaks) or having their schedule changed due to rescheduled games. And somehow, not only did the entire season happen, but only two games throughout the entire league (both between the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals) were completely canceled.

Nothing, in 2020, can be more surprising than that.