Major League Baseball decided on Monday that it would comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations of not organizing activities in which 50 or more people would gather together in the same space and moment for the next eight weeks. As a result, we know that we won’t see the season start until late May at the earliest, with June being a more likely scenario. The Yankees, therefore, are left waiting to see how things unfold in the next month or so.
It remains a possibility that the world, and most specifically the United States, can’t easily contain COVID-19 and prevent its mass propagation, so we may be in for a limited amount of games in 2020. There is no guarantee that baseball will be played by MLB teams in 2020. If it is, it’s going to be with a late start of the season that may force a shortened schedule.
If that’s the case, we may see some wild, fluky stat lines from the New York Yankees (and from other teams and players, too).
For example, consider Luke Voit. In the first half last year, he was among the best hitters in the American League with a 140 wRC+, 17 home runs, 53 runs, 50 RBI and a 14.0 BB%. Then he got injured and was never the same, but we know that he can rake for an extended period of time. In a shortened season, he could even fight for the Silver Slugger award at first base!
And he has done it before 2019, too. Remember that in 2018, he slashed .322/.398/.671 with 15 home runs in 47 games, with an unbelievable 189 wRC+.
Another candidate for an impressive stat line in a short season is DJ LeMahieu. He batted .336 in the first half last year, so he can take it up a notch and hit .350 or higher in 2020 if he starts off hot.
Think about a hitter with a .350 average in the era of triple-digit fastballs, knee-buckling curveballs and increased strikeouts. It would be a very cool feat. In fact, the last qualified player to hit at least .350 in a season was Josh Hamilton in 2010, with .359.
If there is a player on the Yankees’ roster capable of reaching an average that high, it is LeMahieu. He is fresh off a fantastic season, he can hit lefties, righties, fastballs, breaking balls and offspeed pitches with ease. And, as evidenced by his performance last year, he is still in his prime, although he is nearing the end of it.
There may even be room for players you probably don’t expect to have exciting seasonal stat lines. I could see Mike Ford putting very good power and on-base numbers with enough at-bats, or a healthy Giancarlo Stanton returning to a 50 homer-pace.
Moving to the pitching side of things, there is no better candidate to have a crazy-good stat line aided by a short season than Gerrit Cole. In fact, I could bet that the right-hander could have a 15-start run of a sub-2.00 ERA.
Yes, Jacob deGrom and Blake Snell both finished with a sub-2.00 ERA in 2018, but it isn’t easy to do. The feat has only been achieved eight times (by qualified pitchers) since the turn of the millennium, by seven hurlers: deGrom, Snell, Zack Greinke (2015), Jake Arrieta (2015), Clayton Kershaw (2013 and 2014), Roger Clemens (2005), and Pedro Martinez (2000).
All of the previously explained stat lines could be possible with a reduced season, because of a smaller sample size. The more at-bats a hitter accumulates in the major leagues, the more adjustments opposing pitchers can make. The same is true for hurlers: once a batter is more familiar with his stuff and there is more information available, hitters tend to adjust over time.
If you want to know how “sustainable” a stat line is, I will refer you, as always, to this information that the folks at FanGraphs put together:
“Stabilization” Points for Offense Statistics:
- 60 PA: Strikeout rate
- 120 PA: Walk rate
- 240 PA: HBP rate
- 290 PA: Single rate
- 1610 PA: XBH rate
- 170 PA: HR rate
- 910 AB: AVG
- 460 PA: OBP
- 320 AB: SLG
- 160 AB: ISO
- 80 BIP: GB rate
- 80 BIP: FB rate
- 600 BIP: LD rate
- 50 FBs: HR per FB
- 820 BIP: BABIP
“Stabilization” Points for Pitching Statistics:
- 70 BF: Strikeout rate
- 170 BF: Walk rate
- 640 BF: HBP rate
- 670 BF: Single rate
- 1450 BF: XBH rate
- 1320 BF: HR rate
- 630 BF: AVG
- 540 BF: OBP
- 550 AB: SLG
- 630 AB: ISO
- 70 BIP: GB rate
- 70 BIP: FB rate
- 650 BIP: LD rate
- 400 FB: HR per FB
- 2000 BIP: BABIP
Stabilization isn’t an exact science, but it helps us take some of the luck factor out of the equation. Many of those totals wouldn’t be met in a shortened season, which means that some stats may have more randomness to them.
A short season of, let’s say, 80 or 100 games, won’t necessarily mean that the hitter or pitcher is a legitimate star. But it could make for some amusingly interesting lines, right?