The 2020 season is almost certainly going to produce some crazy statistics that will have asterisks beside them for many years to come. Here is just some of the zaniness that we could see in the two-month sprint that is set to begin Thursday.
A reliever leading the Majors in wins
With a short preparatory period and expanded rosters, teams are more likely than ever before to piece together their pitching workloads in the first few weeks of the season. And there are also concerns over both players being infected with COVID and coming down with injuries at a higher rate, which means that some clubs could see their staffs running on fumes down the stretch. The cumulative effect of starters throwing fewer innings will be lower win totals for the league leaders, which could allow a high-volume reliever to grab enough vulture wins to lead the Majors. For example, Red Sox reliever Marcus Walden picked up six wins in the initial 60 games last season. And six wins will be enough to contend for the league lead this year.
A .400 hitter
Many fantasy managers have likely heard by now that Chipper Jones (2008) is the only player this century to bat .400 through the initial 60 games of a season. While it is unlikely that baseball purists will have to spend the rest of eternity putting an asterisk beside the most recent .400 campaign, there remains the possibility that a player could channel his inner Ted Williams this year. If he gets enough playing time to qualify, Luis Arraez of the Twins has the perfect combination of a low strikeout rate and strong batted ball tendencies to threaten the .400 plateau. Astros outfielder Michael Brantley is another strong candidate, as he has a long pattern of ranking among the league leaders in all the categories that predict a high batting mark.
A starting pitcher with a sub-1.50 ERA
Although we have many times seen an ERA leader finish below the 2.00 mark, Bob Gibson (1.12, 1968) is the only qualified hurler in the past 100 years to finish a campaign with a sub-1.50 ERA. We could see a starter repeat Gibson’s feat, as posting a shockingly low ERA across roughly 70 innings is not too hard to imagine. In fact, Hyun-Jin Ryu opened 2019 by holding an eye-popping 1.27 ERA across his initial 15 starts and in 2018 Justin Verlander carried a 1.45 ERA through 13 outings. We could also witness a reliable starter burning fantasy managers in a big way, as Noah Syndergaard owned the highest ERA of any qualified pitcher (4.90) when most teams arrived at their 60-game mark a year ago.
The lowest batting average in MLB history
In 2018, Chris Davis had the dubious distinction of posting the lowest batting average (.168) of any qualified hitter in MLB history. And although some teams may try to protect their players from breaking that record, the brevity of the 2020 season could make it happen. Daniel Vogelbach is an excellent contender to break the record, as he has a full-time role on a rebuilding Mariners squad and hit .162 in the second half of last season. Another contender is Rougned Odor, who played poorly enough to grab the record (.165 average) through the Rangers initial 63 games of 2019.
No one stealing 15 bases
Adalberto Mondesi exploded out of the gate last season and surpassed the 20-steal plateau during the initial 60 games. But the second-highest total was just 15 (Tim Anderson) and just three players even attempted 15 swipes during that 60-game stretch. With managers worried about losing key contributors to injury for a significant chunk of a shortened campaign, many teams will be especially tentative on the basepaths. Not only will this be the first season since 1958 where no player steals 40 bases, but Mondesi might be the only man who can prevent the lowest league-leading total of all time.
A 3-game winner as team leader
Although the standings will be bunched this season, there are going to be some especially weak teams. A few clubs were already playing for 2021 and beyond, and one of those teams could become incredibly hopeless if they suffer a rash of injuries or COVID-related absences. The worst winning percentage in the past 80 years is the 1962 Mets, who went 40-120. We could see a club match that futility this year, with a 15-45 record. On such a club, there may be no hurler with more than three wins and the leading reliever could have a similar saves total. While fantasy managers can steer into the uncertainty with most clubs, rostering pitchers on the Mariners, Orioles, Marlins, Pirates, Giants, Royals and Tigers could be an exercise in futility.