Ranking MLB's Best Hitting Duos in 2020

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistDecember 18, 2019

Ranking MLB's Best Hitting Duos in 2020

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    They may have missed out on signing Gerrit Cole, but that didn't stop the Los Angeles Angels from making one of the biggest splashes of the offseason.

    Third baseman Anthony Rendon signed a seven-year, $245 million deal, and he'll join Mike Trout to form one of the most dynamic offensive duos in baseball.

    But do they take the No. 1 spot on that list?

    Ahead, we've chosen the 10 best offensive twosomes in baseball, based on expectations for the upcoming season. A look at each player's 2019 stats and 2020 projections is included, though those only served as a guide, and the rankings were ultimately subjective.

    Let's get started with a few honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions

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    The most difficult omission was the New York Mets. In the end, both Jeff McNeil (potential regression) and Michael Conforto (injury history) come with big enough question marks as the potential No. 2 guy alongside Pete Alonso that they wound up in the No. 11 spot.

    The San Diego Padres also just missed the list, and with a healthy season from rising superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. and a bounce-back year from Manny Machado, they could easily push their way into the top-10 conversation.

    The same is true of the Cleveland Indians, provided Francisco Lindor is on the roster by the time Opening Day rolls around and Jose Ramirez avoid another slow start. Ramirez hit just .218 with a .652 OPS before the All-Star break and then exploded for a .327 average and 1.105 OPS in 44 games during the second half.

    For the Cincinnati Reds, some combination of Eugenio Suarez, Joey Votto and newcomer Mike Moustakas could earn them a top 10 spot.

    The Philadelphia Phillies have a solid stable of offensive talent in Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen and Didi Gregorius, though no single duo from that group was good enough to earn a top-10 spot.

    Then, we have the teams on the rise.

    The Toronto Blue Jays duo of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette will find their way onto this list in the years to come. The same could be true of the Chicago White Sox outfield tandem of Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert.

    If there's a dark horse, it's the Milwaukee Brewers, who have one of the league's best hitters in Christian Yelich and a rising star in Keston Hiura. If Hiura can build on his debut, they will be comfortably inside the top 10 by the end of 2020.

10. Colorado Rockies

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    3B Nolan Arenado

    2019 Stats: 128 wRC+, 73 XBH (41 HR), 118 RBI, 102 R
    2020 Projections: 124 wRC+, 78 XBH (40 HR), 114 RBI, 101 R

    RF Charlie Blackmon

    2019 Stats: 125 wRC+, 81 XBH (32 HR), 86 RBI, 112 R
    2020 Projections: 111 w RC+, 69 XBH (30 HR), 83 RBI, 103 R

    How many imaginary points do we have to deduct from Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon for playing half their games in the hitter's paradise that is Coors Field?

    The No. 10 spot seems fair.

    Among qualified hitters, they ranked 37th (Arenado, 128) and tied for 42nd (Blackmon, 125) in wRC+ last season, so while their counting numbers were impressive, they fell a bit short of elite-level production.

    As you might expect, both players saw a significant downturn in their production away from Coors Field:

    • Arenado: Home (1.057 OPS, 21 HR), Away (.866 OPS, 20 HR)
    • Blackmon: Home (1.174 OPS, 22 HR), Away (.731 OPS, 10 HR)

    So while it's worth digesting their numbers with a grain of salt, there's no denying this has been one of the most productive duos in baseball for several years running, and unless one of them is traded, that should once again be true in 2020.

    Shortstop Trevor Story also belongs in the conversation here after he slugged 72 home runs the past two seasons. However, his high strikeout rate (26.5 percent in 2019) and potential for regression after posting a .361 BABIPthe fourth-highest mark among qualified hitterswere enough to make Blackmon the choice.

9. Minnesota Twins

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    DH Nelson Cruz

    2019 Stats: 163 wRC+, 67 XBH (41 HR), 108 RBI, 81 R
    2020 Projections: 134 wRC+, 68 XBH (40 HR), 113 RBI, 96 R

    3B Miguel Sano

    2019 Stats: 137 wRC+, 55 XBH (34 HR), 79 RBI, 76 R
    2020 Projections: 121 wRC+, 66 XBH (39 HR), 102 RBI, 89 R

    Nelson Cruz continues to defy Father Time, launching an MLB-leading 244 home runs over the past six seasons, including 41 in his age-38 season last year.

    That paced an offense that also received 30-homer seasons from Max Kepler (36), Miguel Sano (34), Eddie Rosario (32) and Mitch Garver (31).

    Sano, 26, reached that total in just 105 games and 439 plate appearances, and he has been viewed as a potential 40-homer slugger since his days as a top prospect in the Minnesota farm system.

    As long as he stays healthy after missing time last year with a right Achilles injury and back stiffness, Sano can be a high-volume run producer in a stacked Twins lineup.

    Otherwise, the Cruz and Kepler duo would still rank fairly high on this list.

8. Oakland Athletics

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    3B Matt Chapman

    2019 Stats: 125 wRC+, 75 XBH (36 HR), 91 RBI, 102 R
    2020 Projections: 126 wRC+, 70 XBH (33 HR), 93 RBI, 90 R

    1B Matt Olson

    2019 Stats: 134 wRC+, 62 XBH (36 HR), 91 RBI, 73 R
    2020 Projections: 125 wRC+, 67 XBH (37 HR), 99 RBI, 89 R

    While Mark Canha (146 wRC+) and Marcus Semien (137 wRC+) had better offensive seasons last year, it is corner infielders Matt Chapman and Matt Olson who are the best bets to lead the Oakland offense in 2020.

    Chapman, 26, quietly raised his walk rate (+1.5%) and trimmed his strikeout rate (-1.8%) while slugging a career-high 36 home runs last year, and there is still room for growth offensively.

    Olson, 25, missed more than a month with a broken hamate bone, and he still managed to slug 36 home runs in 127 games.

    This is a tandem on the rise.

7. Los Angeles Dodgers

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    1B/OF Cody Bellinger

    2019 Stats: 162 wRC+, 84 XBH (47 HR), 115 RBI, 121 R
    2020 Projections: 147 wRC+, 74 XBH (41 HR), 112 RBI, 99 R

    3B Justin Turner

    2019 Stats: 132 wRC+, 51 XBH (27 HR), 67 RBI, 80 R
    2020 Projections: 125 wRC+, 59 XBH (26 HR), 85 RBI, 88 R

    It was a no-brainer that NL MVP Cody Bellinger would fill one spot in the Los Angeles Dodgers tandem, even after he endured a slight downturn in production after the All-Star break.

    The No. 2 spot is up for debate.

    Max Muncy has hit 35 home runs in back-to-back seasons, logging a .381 on-base percentage and 145 OPS+ during that span. Truth be told, the Bellinger-Muncy tandem would also fill the No. 7 spot on this list, so it's really a matter of preference.

    However, the nod here goes to third baseman Justin Turner.

    Over the past three seasons, Turner has hit an excellent .307/.397/.519 for a 143 OPS+, and while Muncy offers more power, Turner is a more complete hitter with a strikeout rate that is 9.3 percent lower.

    The 35-year-old is entering the final season of a four-year, $64 million deal.

6. Chicago Cubs

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    1B Anthony Rizzo

    2019 Stats: 141 wRC+, 59 XBH (27 HR), 94 RBI, 89 R
    2020 Projections: 135 wRC+, 67 XBH (32 HR), 98 RBI, 98 R

    3B Kris Bryant

    2019 Stats: 135 wRC+, 67 XBH (31 HR), 77 RBI, 108 R
    2020 Projections: 129 wRC+, 68 XBH (31 HR), 91 RBI, 101 R

    Will Kris Bryant still be wearing a Chicago Cubs uniform when Opening Day rolls around?

    That's the big question on the North Side, and it's one that will need to be answered soon as the front office tries to navigate payroll limitations to address needs on the pitching side.

    The 2019 season was a trying one for Bryant, who dealt with myriad injuries, including a bum shoulder that sapped him of his power and limited him to just 14 home runs after the All-Star break.

    Despite that, he still finished with a 135 wRC+ that was tied for 22nd among all qualified hitters. Assuming he's healthy after an offseason of rest, he's capable of posting big numbers in 2020.

    As for his teammate, Anthony Rizzo, he remains a model of consistency, posting a wRC+ of at least 125 and hitting at least 25 home runs in each of the past six seasons.

    For those wondering about Javier Baez, his middling on-base percentage continues to limit his overall offensive value, and he ranked well below the other two in 2019 wRC+ (114) and projected wRC+ in 2020 (106).

5. New York Yankees

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    RF Aaron Judge

    2019 Stats: 141 wRC+, 46 XBH (27 HR), 55 RBI, 75 R
    2020 Projections: 134 wRC+, 66 XBH (41 HR), 101 RBI, 105 R

    SS Gleyber Torres

    2019 Stats: 125 wRC+, 64 XBH (38 HR), 90 RBI, 96 R
    2020 Projections: 120 wRC+, 59 XBH (33 HR), 93 RBI, 85 R

    Settling on two players to represent the New York Yankees was tough.

    Giancarlo Stanton is actually projected to lead the team in wRC+ (142). But after he played just 18 games last season and didn't dispel his long history of injuries, it's hard to count on him to stay on the field.

    DJ LeMahieu was arguably the team's most important player last year, and he wound up finishing fourth in AL MVP voting. However, he's going to have a hard time duplicating a 19.3 percent home run-to-fly ball rate considering that was more than double his 9.6 percent career mark.

    In the end, we went with established superstar Aaron Judge and rising star Gleyber Torres, who led the team and finished sixth in the AL with 38 home runs during his age-22 season.

    The fact there are so many viable options here should give you an idea of just how dangerous this lineup will be if everyone stays healthy. That said, there are still a few better tandems elsewhere.

4. Atlanta Braves

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    1B Freddie Freeman

    2019 Stats: 138 wRC+, 74 XBH (38 HR), 121 RBI, 113 R
    2020 Projections: 135 wRC+, 71 XBH (33 HR), 103 RBI, 99 R

    CF Ronald Acuna Jr.

    2019 Stats: 126 wRC+, 65 XBH (41 HR), 101 RBI, 127 R
    2020 Projections: 127 wRC+, 68 XBH (37 HR), 92 RBI, 106 R

    Freddie Freeman hit a career-high 38 home runs last season and logged a wRC+ north of 130 for the seventh straight season as the veteran centerpiece of a young Atlanta Braves lineup.

    That performance was good enough for an eighth-place finish in NL MVP voting, but he was largely overshadowed by his dynamic teammate Ronald Acuna Jr.

    The 21-year-old built on his NL Rookie of the Year performance by making a legitimate run at a 40-40 season, finishing with an NL-leading 37 stolen bases and 41 home runs while also pacing the Senior Circuit with 127 runs scored.

    There might not be a player in baseball today with more long-term potential.

    Even with the potential departure of 37-homer slugger Josh Donaldson in free agency, the Braves still have an impressive offensive attack, and it's Freeman and Acuna leading the way.

3. Houston Astros

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    3B Alex Bregman

    2019 Stats: 168 wRC+, 80 XBH (41 HR), 112 RBI, 122 R
    2020 Projections: 150 wRC+, 71 XBH (32 HR), 99 RBI, 109 R

    DH Yordan Alvarez

    2019 Stats: 178 wRC+, 53 XBH (27 HR), 78 RBI, 58 R
    2020 Projections: 140 wRC+, 65 XBH (37 HR), 98 RBI, 92 R

    We could just as easily plug George Springer or Jose Altuve into the second spot alongside Alex Bregman and the Houston Astros would still have a strong case for a spot inside the top five.

    However, it's the exciting offensive potential of Yordan Alvarez that vaults them into the No. 3 spot.

    Alvarez, 22, did not make his MLB debut until June 9, yet he still finished with 26 doubles and 27 home runs in 87 games. Among players with at least 300 plate appearances, his 178 wRC+ trailed only Mike Trout (180).

    When you add in his minor league production prior to debuting, he finished the 2019 season with 42 doubles, 50 home runs and 149 RBI in 622 plate appearances between Triple-A and the majors.

    Meanwhile, Bregman continued his ascent to superstardom, tallying more walks (119) than strikeouts (83) for the second straight season while raising his wRC+ from 156 to 168.

    He finished a close second to Mike Trout in AL MVP voting, snagging 13 of 30 first-place votes, and he should be squarely in the mix to take home the hardware once again in 2020.

2. Boston Red Sox

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    DH J.D. Martinez

    2019 Stats: 139 wRC+, 71 XBH (36 HR), 105 RBI, 98 R
    2020 Projections: 141 wRC+, 75 XBH (39 HR), 118 RBI, 102 R

    RF Mookie Betts

    2019 Stats: 135 wRC+, 74 XBH (29 HR), 80 RBI, 135 R
    2020 Projections: 139 wRC+, 76 XBH (32 HR), 95 RBI, 118 R

    It speaks to how much firepower there is in the Boston Red Sox lineup that the tandem of Xander Bogaerts (141 wRC+ in 2019) and Rafael Devers (132 wRC+ in 2019) would probably also crack the top 10 in these rankings.

    As it stands, Mookie Betts will be back in the leadoff spot in the lineup once again in 2020, though he has been a popular name on the rumor mill as the Red Sox continue to search for ways to trim payroll.

    His numbers dipped a bit from his AL MVP-winning 2018 performance when he led the AL in batting average (.346) and slugging (.640) en route to a 185 wRC+, but he was still an extremely productive table-setter with a .391 on-base percentage, 97 walks and an MLB-leading 135 runs scored.

    As for J.D. Martinez, he opted in to the final three years and $62.5 million on his contract, after racking up 79 home runs and 235 RBI during his first two seasons in a Red Sox uniform.

    There's a lot of uncertainty surrounding how the Red Sox roster will look on Opening Day, but as of now, they claim the No. 2 spot in these rankings.

1. Los Angeles Angels

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    CF Mike Trout

    2019 Stats: 180 wRC+, 74 XBH (45 HR), 104 RBI, 110 R
    2020 Projections: 173 wRC+, 76 XBH (44 HR), 113 RBI, 121 R

    3B Anthony Rendon

    2019 Stats: 154 wRC+, 81 XBH (34 HR), 126 RBI, 117 R
    2020 Projections: 133 wRC+, 66 XBH (27 HR), 95 RBI, 92 R

    Recency bias? Nope.

    Mike Trout is the best player on the planet, and if not for a right foot injury that prematurely ended his season on Sept. 7, his MVP-winning numbers would have looked even better.

    At 28 years old, he's in the prime of his career, and more of the same is to be expected in the years to come as long as he can avoid the injured list.

    Now, he'll be playing alongside arguably the best teammate he's ever had in Anthony Rendon, who took his game to another level in 2019.

    The 29-year-old set career highs in wRC+ (154), batting average (.319), on-base percentage (.412), slugging (.598), home runs (34), RBI (126), runs scored (117), and total bases (326) and helped the Washington Nationals win a World Series title.

    This tandem has a chance to be what Albert Pujols-Josh Hamilton were supposed to be for the Angels, and it could be the ticket to their first postseason appearance since 2014.

             

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs. Projections for the 2020 season refer to the Steamer projection system, which can also be found at FanGraphs.

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