Every hit is falling. Each pitch is going right where you want it. You feel locked in … for 60 games. Then boom – the offseason hits shortly after 2020 began. You were just starting to get in a rhythm and now must hang up the spikes for the winter.
Following up a strong performance in the next season is tough to do. Doing so after the 60-game COVID sprint may prove even more difficult.
In a 60-game season, short-term variance plays a bigger role in the numbers. This makes it very complicated to determine whether increases in numbers are earned or simply random luck.
In a sport where games are played nearly every day and routines are essential, a long offseason followed by a 60-game sprint and another long offseason may prove detrimental toward developmental progress, especially of young players.
Below are 3 players who posted tremendous numbers in the short 2020 COVID campaign. These are my “COVID stars”. We are accustomed to good numbers from some of these players – it is the first time for others.
Moving forward, we need to figure out whether the good play can be trusted to continue and whether we should be putting down our hard-earned money on these guys in our season-long leagues, daily fantasy, and Vegas MLB betting.
Abreu has collected some hardware in his 8-year career – including AL Rookie of the Year (2014), 2020 MVP, and 3 All-Star selections.
Abreu played in all 60 games in 2020 (tied for the league lead), recording 76 hits (led American league) and 60 RBIs (leading the entire MLB).
Abreu hit .317 last year with an on-base of .370 and an American League-high slugging percentage of .617.
In a season where the MLB leader in homers hit 22, Abreu finished 2nd among all sluggers with 19 dingers. Abreu was also tied for 11th in the MLB with 15 doubles – making 2020 the second time the Cuban product tallied more homers than two-baggers.
As Jose Abreu was already considered one of the more talented hitters in the league pre-COVID, his 2020 MVP season is not a massive surprise. This campaign came on the heels of a 2019 in which Abreu hit .284 with 33 homers, 38 doubles, and an American League-leading 123 RBIs.
Looking deeper at Abreu’s advanced batting statistics show only minor changes in 2020. For one, Abreu hit more balls to center field last year than he ever had before in his career.
When a batter begins using center field more, it indicates he is squaring up the ball very well. Accompanying the rise in centered up baseballs is a slight uptick in line drive rate for Abreu in 2020.
In 2019, 26.2% of Abreu’s batted balls were line drives while 21.1% were lifted in the air. In 2020, Abreu increased his line drive rate to 31.3% while reducing the fly balls to 19.2%.
Abreu became slightly more selective at the plate in 2020 – reducing his O-Swing% from 37.3% in 2019 to 36.4% in 2020. Opposing pitchers actually missed Abreu’s bat in the zone more often in 2020 – holding Abreu to a 82.4 Z-Contact% compared to 89.2% in 2019.
Given that Abreu has always raked and that 2020 showcased only minor tweaks to his approach, there is no reason to expect a decline for Abreu in 2021. His production should again put him in the MVP conversation.
Lamet had long been found on preseason lists of “Potential Breakouts” before finally emerging in the shortened 2020 campaign.
Not only did Lamet post his first winning season in 2020 (3-1) but he kept his ERA down at 2.09 with an 0.86 WHIP and 12.13 K/9.
Walks had long plagued Lamet. The 6’4 righty walked 4.25 per nine innings in his rookie 2017 season and then posted a BB/9 of 3.70 in 2019. Lamet missed the entire 2018 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Lamet worked that BB/9 number all the way down to 2.61 in 2020 – which is not great but is excellent considering where he once was.
The greatest improvement in Lamet’s game in 2020 came in the form of limited homeruns. Lamet could not keep the ball in the park to save his life in 2017 and 2019 – posting HR/FB rates of 14.8% and 19.7% respectively.
These are astronomically high. As a result, Lamet could not keep base runners from scoring – posting left-on-base rates of 69.2% and 73.6% respectively, which are quite low.
Turns out that many of these home runs were deserves – the results of meaty pitches in the middle of the strike zone. Check out these two graphs. They compare the pitch locations of Lamet from his 2017 and 2019 seasons to his locations in 2020. Notice how he began leaving far fewer pitches down the heart of the plate last season.
Working the ball down in the zone has made all the difference for the 28-year-old Lamet. His HR/FB rate diminished all the way down to 7.9% in 2020 and his ERA dropped from mid-4s to low-2s!
Lamet has not yet made a start in 2021 due to an elbow injury. Watch this guy closely when he gets back on the mound!
If Lamet continues to show good control and the ability to keep the ball down in the zone, he is going to be a top-30 pitcher in the MLB. Should the command leave him, however, he will be a stop-gap option at best.
A change of scenery in 2020 has redefined the career of Dylan Bundy. Once the #2 prospect in all of baseball behind Jurickson Profar (of all people), Bundy could never put it all together with the team that drafted him – Baltimore.
Bundy’s years with the O’s were defined by disappointing starts, underwhelming numbers, and a lack of progress.
While in Baltimore, Bundy could never improve on his 4.02 rookie season ERA or his 1.20 WHIP in 2017. Check out these numbers – they are not what the Orioles were expecting when they spent the 4th overall pick on Bundy in 2011.
Finally fed up with Bundy, the Orioles shipped him off to Los Angeles for a few prospects. The Angels were hoping that a change of scenery and new coaches could extract the talent out of Bundy that made him a top-2 prospect.
The gamble paid off. Check out those numbers! Bundy morphed from a walking gasoline can to a legitimate staple in the Angels’ rotation.
Taking a peek behind the curtain at the advanced statistics is the only way to determine whether Bundy’s strong 2020 performance can be expected to continue in 2021.
The first quality to love about the improved Dylan Bundy is a sharp decrease in walk rate. Dwelling in the high-2s and low-3s in BB/9, Bundy brought that number all the way down to 2.33 in 2020 – the main reason for his uptick in K/BB.
Opponents also had far less success hitting off of Bundy in 2020. His opponent batting average was a mere .207 in the COVID season after averaging north of .250 his entire career.
How was Bundy able to limit the hits and walks? What changed? The answer to this question will provide valuable intel on the trustworthiness of Bundy in 2021.
The most notable adjustment Bundy made after his move to the Angels was relying more on his offspeed pitches. Bundy was always a fastball pitcher – throwing it between 50-65% of the time with a velocity anywhere from 91-93.
Bundy is no flamethrower and this low-90s cheese was good enough the first time through an order but not the 2nd or 3rd time. Sustained success was nearly impossible for Bundy considering his main pitch was not a “plus” pitch.
The Angels recognized this and began to rework Bundy’s repertoire. Bundy threw his fastball only 41.9% of the time in 2020 – easily his career low.
In its place, Bundy threw more changeups in 2020 than he had in any previous season and threw the most curveballs since his rookie year. The results speak for themselves.
Bundy began getting more hitters out on pitches in the strike zone in 2020. His Z-Swing% against was 60.0% last year after sitting in the high-60s his entire career. What does this mean? Bundy was fooling more batters.
His Z-Contact% against also fell a few points – 82.5% in 2020 compared to 84-86% each of the last 4 seasons.
Given this info, I love Bundy moving forward. The increased production can be linked directly to a change in game plan. I would not hesitate to trust Bundy in a fantasy league or with my bets on Bovada Sportsbook.