In 2019, the eventual World Series champion Washington Nationals started the season 19-31 in their first 50 games. Had last year been a shortened season due to a worldwide pandemic, the Nationals wouldn’t have even made the playoffs.
Generally, over the span of a 162 game season, MLB teams will go through hot and cold streaks. The Nationals are a great example with the aforementioned cold streak that they started the season on, before finishing out on a hot streak in the 2nd half.
There are also lengthy injuries that can be overcome in a full season. If a star pitcher goes on the 60-day injured list in a normal season, he will still be available for approximately 100 games, or two-thirds of the season.
In a shortened 60 game season, all of the above goes out the window. Baseball is already the highest variance sport in terms of predictability. Even in games where the best hitters are facing the worst pitcher, they can still get out even if they hit the ball extremely hard.
The other big impact that this season’s schedule has on team outlooks is that each team is only receiving six days off. This means that the bullpens for every team are going to be heavily utilized, more so than normal. Teams with quality depth in the bullpen will have a leg up on the teams that don’t.
To win the World Series this year, teams are going to have to avoid the injury bug, and come out of the gates hot. With the shortened time frame though, we can embrace this variance and it gives teams that would typically be unlikely longshots to win a more even playing field with the favorites. Below are some of the teams I think have great value to win it all, and the reasons why!
Chicago White Sox: 30-1 to win World Series
The White Sox have had one of the better offseasons in the league prior to the 2020 campaign. They signed two big name veteran bats and a veteran starting pitcher to help bolster their young, talented roster.
Yasmani Grandal and Edwin Encarnacion are the newest offensive additions to the team and they are now going to hit in the heart of the order. Since 2012, Encarnacion has hit 32+ homers in every season. Since 2016, Grandal has hit 22+ homers in every season. Grandal has historically played in the National League as well where there is no DH. With his transition to the AL, he no longer has to catch to get into the lineup. This should result in Grandal having fresher legs throughout the season, especially in a shortened one, and could even lead to a small spike in production.
On the pitching side, the White Sox brought in Dallas Keuchel. He is a guy known for inducing soft contact and run prevention more so than racking up strikeouts. He sports a 3.74 and 3.75 ERA respectively,in his last two seasons, which are in line with his ERA estimators as well.
The White Sox are also calling up one of the top prospects in all of baseball, Luis Robert. He has the talent to be a middle of the order bat, but with the veteran presence on the team, that’s not necessary to start the year. A guy who has regularly hit .300+ across all levels of the minors, with a blend of power and speed, should contribute right away in his rookie year.
Pandemic related effects
As previously mentioned, bullpen depth is going to be a big factor in this season’s success. The White Sox arguably have one of the deepest bullpens, even though they don’t have some of the biggest name arms.
Alex Colome, Aaron Bummer, Steve Cishek, Evan Marshall, Jimmy Cordero and Kelvin Herrera headline the depth of the bullpen. Of these six guys, five of them sported an ERA below 3.00 in 2019, with Herrera being the only guy who didn’t. However, Herrera is a guy who has proven he can succeed at the major league level prior to 2019. From 2012-2018, Herrera only had one season with an ERA over 4.00, and sported a 2.75 or lower in five of those seasons. The one concern with him is his average fastball velocity has started to drop from the 97-98 range to the 95-96 range. The good news for the White Sox is even if Herrera can’t find his old form, their bullpen is deep.
We discussed the veteran bats that the White Sox added, but their offensive core they have added around was already promising.
Tim Anderson is set to continue leading off after hitting .335 with 18 homers and 17 steals last year.
Yoan Moncada should be the every day 2-hole guy hitting behind Anderson. Moncada is the highly regarded prospect that was traded to the White Sox from the Red Sox for ace Chris Sale a couple years back. Moncada hit .315 last season with 25 homers and 10 steals.
Jose Abreu is another middle of the order staple that is set to return. He’s a .293 career hitter who has hit 22+ homers in every season, and four of his six seasons have resulted in 30+ homers.
Lucas Giolito was in the running for AL Cy Young last season, ultimately finishing 6th in the voting for the award. Giolito absolutely dominated hitters last season, striking out 32 percent of the hitters he faced, allowing a 1.06 WHIP and finishing with a 3.66 xFIP.
This is really a three team division. The Royals and the Tigers are not going to be very good, leaving the White Sox, Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians. The Indians have the offense to match the Twins and the White Sox, but the Twins and White Sox have the leg up on the pitching side of things. The playoff format in this shortened season puts the top two teams from each division into the playoffs, and I think the White Sox have a great shot at finishing top two with the Twins and can make a run at a title.
Tampa Bay Rays: 15-1 to win World Series
The Rays had a very good year last year finishing 96-66 which was good enough for one of the two AL wild card spots. They would go on to beat the A’s in the one-and-done wild card game, and would go on to face the best team in the AL and eventual World Series participant Houston Astros in the ALDS. They gave the Astros all they could handle forcing them to play the maximum number of games in a best of five game series, ultimately losing in game five.
The Rays were one of the teams to make some notable changes in the offseason. Most of the changes were for the better. They traded one of the best relief pitchers in the league (Emilio Pagan) to the Padres, however, they have an insane amount of bullpen depth already, so that didn’t hurt them too much.
The additions they made were the key to their offseason. The department where they needed to add the most production on offense was in the power (home run) category. Their lineup last year was filled with guys who know how to get on base as they ranked 13th in on-base percentage and 12th in batting average. However, their 21st ranking in home runs left a lot to be desired.
They made multiple trades with the Padres, but one big one was trading every day outfielder Tommy Pham for Hunter Renfroe, a big power bat. Pham hit 21 homers in 145 games last year, while Renfroe blasted 33 homers in 140 games. The Rays were apparently comfortable giving up some average and speed for a bit more power.
Another key offseason addition in the lineup is Yoshi Tsutsugo who was signed as a free agent from Japan. He’s a .282 career hitter and has averaged 34 homers in his last 4 years. He should be a key left handed power bat in the middle of the order.
The Rays also added another lefty masher in Jose Martinez who has a career .331 batting average and 160 wRC+ (a weighted runs created metric) against left-handed pitching. For those of you not keeping track at home, last year a 160 wRC+ would have ranked 6th in the majors.
On the pitching side, the Rays didn’t make any notable additions in the offseason, but we will touch on their pitching in a minute.
Pandemic related changes and effects
In the opener, I mentioned that teams with great bullpen depth would get an edge over other teams in a condensed season. This vaults the Rays to the top of the board.
Nick Anderson who should open as the team’s closer ranked 4th in xFIP (an ERA estimator) among qualified relievers, behind only Pressly, Hader and Yates who are three of the game’s most elite relievers.
Oliver Drake checked in at 21st and Diego Castillo checked in at 45th in this same metric. Jose Alvarado has been a high upside lefty with a blazing fastball who had a bit of a down year last year. However, some of Castillo’s peripherals suggest he was a bit unlucky. He should be able to serve as a high leverage lefty with success during 2020.
One of my favorite aspects of the Rays that has remained constant from last year and has contributed to their success is their starting pitching. Their rotation is led by a three-headed monster of Morton, Snell and Glasnow which is arguably one of the best three man combo of starters in the league.
Among starters who threw at least 100 innings in 2019, Morton ranked 9th and Snell ranked 10th in the league in the xFIP ERA estimator. Glasnow only threw 60 innings due to an injury, but his xFIP would have ranked 4th in the league among the leaders who threw 100 innings.
The Rays also return a few arms who pitched really well that can both start or come out of the pen. The versatile arms of Yarbrough and Chirinos can eat up quality innings. They also return two of their best relievers in Chaz Roe and Oliver Drake. Have I mentioned how deep this Rays pitching staff is?
The main competition this year for the Rays in the AL East is the New York Yankees. They currently have the best odds to win the division and 2nd best odds to win the World Series behind only the Dodgers. The new playoff format for this shortened season allows the top 2 teams from each division to make the playoffs, so I think the Rays are a great bet to be top 2 in the AL East this year, and with their pitching they can make a run at the title.
San Diego Padres: 35-1 to win World Series
The Padres are perhaps my favorite longshot to make a run at a title in this shortened season. They have some very talented young starting pitching that is backed up by a veteran bullpen filled with depth and a talented lineup top to bottom.
This offseason, the Padres made it clear they are in win now mode. They made trades to secure both Tommy Pham and Emilio Pagán, two of the biggest names to be traded in the offseason.
Pham slots in as the third hitter in the batting order this year and has regularly hit .275 with 20+ homers and 20+ steals. He is a veteran bat who has proven he can produce at the major league level and compliments Tatis and Machado very well at the top of the order.
Emilio Pagán was one of the best relievers in baseball in 2019 and the Padres struck gold with this trade. He sported a 2.31 ERA on a 3.15 xFIP, striking out 36% of the batters he faced while walking only 5%. Pagán was slated to be the Rays closer until he got traded, so now he slots in as the setup guy in front of veteran closer Kirby Yates.
Outside of these two trades with the Rays, the Padres also acquired Jurickson Profar from the A’s. Profar has never been a guy who hits for high average, but he is a veteran bat who has been in the league since 2012. He has shown a solid power and speed combo over the last two years hitting 20 homers in both seasons and stealing 10 and 9 bases. Profar will also regularly hit in the middle of the order.
The Padres also acquired Zach Davies from the Brewers. He isn’t anything special, but there are definitely worse end of the rotation starters in the league. Davies has 10+ wins in three of his five years in the league, and has sported a sub 4.00 ERA in every season except one.
The main free agent signing the Padres made was Drew Pomeranz. A guy who was once with the Padres as a starting pitcher before being traded to the Red Sox, he has reinvented himself as a late-inning reliever. In relief last year, Pomeranz had a 1.88 ERA and a 47% K rate per MLB.com.
Pandemic related effects
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the bullpen depth is going to matter this season more than normal. MLB.com has ranked the Padres as the 2nd best bullpen in baseball with Yates, Pagán, Pomeranz and Stammen leading the way.
After touching on Pagán and Pomeranz, let’s highlight Yates and Stammen. Yates is one of the best closers in the majors. He has recorded a 2.14 and 1.19 ERA in his last two years which is accompanied by xFIPs of 2.64 and 2.25. His K rate is also absurd as he has struck out 38, 36 and 42 percent of hitters in his last three seasons. The game is essentially over when Yates takes the mound.
As for Stammen, he has logged an ERA of 3.14, 2.73 and 3.29 over his last three years with the Padres. He is not a big strikeout guy like Yates, but he doesn’t walk hitters and induces a high amount of ground balls (51 percent in 2019).
The main consistencies for the Padres are Yates and Stammen as discussed in addition to Fernando Tatis and Manny Machado at the top of the order. Tatis and Machado represent one of the more dangerous 1-2 combos in the majors.
In 2019, Tatis hit .317 with 22 homers and 16 steals in only 84 games. That my friends, is an absurd amount of homers and steals for only playing half of the season.
Machado had a down year for batting average by his standards, hitting only .256. However, the power numbers were still there as he hit 32 homers in a park that isn’t as homer friendly as his old stadium (Camden Yards) with the Orioles. In his second year in San Diego, on a team that has a shot to win it all, I think Machado has a monster year.
The Padres also have other veteran hitters throughout the order returning. Wil Myers and Eric Hosmer have both shown they can succeed at the major league level and present a challenge for opposing pitchers in the second half of the Padres lineup.
The Padres do play in the same division as the Los Angeles Dodgers, but luckily this year the top two teams in each division make the playoffs. The Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants will not be very competitive in 2020, leaving only the Dodgers, Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks competing for the top two spots.
The Padres have much better pitching depth than the Diamondbacks, especially in the bullpen, so I give them the edge. Once the Padres get into the playoffs, they have a shot to beat anyone in a five or seven-game series based on their overall roster construction. 40-1 is insanely too cheap for a team of this caliber. Prices this cheap create possible hedging opportunities as well, the closer the Padres inch towards the World Series.