Best, Worst and Outrageous MLB Stat Leaders, Standings of Simulated 2020 Season
The 2020 Major League Baseball season is not currently happening. Except, it is. Sort of.
While games aren't yet being played, they are being simulated. There's even a simulation going on at Baseball Reference—the Internet's foremost curator of baseball data—that is getting results via the latest iteration of Out of the Park Baseball.
Is any of this information useful? Not really. But it's delightfully weird. And to paraphrase something a wise man once said: When the going gets weird, the weird get to work.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let's first look at the simulated standings through May 27, 2020.
American League East
- 1. New York Yankees: 34-22
- 2. Tampa Bay Rays: 30-28
- 3. Toronto Blue Jays: 26-30
- 4. Boston Red Sox: 25-32
- 5. Baltimore Orioles: 21-35
American League Central
- 1. Cleveland Indians: 34-23
- 2. Minnesota Twins: 31-25
- 3. Chicago White Sox: 28-28
- 4. Kansas City Royals: 23-33
- 5. Detroit Tigers: 21-34
American League West
- 1. Seattle Mariners: 34-23
- 2. Houston Astros: 33-23
- 3. Oakland Athletics: 33-24
- 4. Los Angeles Angels: 28-27
- 5. Texas Rangers: 16-39
National League East
- 1. Atlanta Braves: 35-22
- 2. Washington Nationals: 29-25
- 3. New York Mets: 29-26
- 4. Philadelphia Phillies: 23-31
- 5. Miami Marlins: 23-33
National League Central
- 1. St. Louis Cardinals: 36-21
- 2. Pittsburgh Pirates: 29-26
- 3. Cincinnati Reds: 28-27
- 4. Milwaukee Brewers: 28-28
- 5. Chicago Cubs: 21-35
National League West
- 1. Los Angeles Dodgers: 38-16
- 2. Colorado Rockies: 30-24
- 3. Arizona Diamondbacks: 26-29
- 4. San Francisco Giants: 22-33
- 5. San Diego Padres: 22-34
The Seattle Mariners Are the Best of the AL West?
In Major League Baseball's simulated environment, the best team in the American League West isn't the Houston Astros. Or the Oakland Athletics. Or even the Los Angeles Angels or Texas Rangers.
It's...[double-checks notes]...the Seattle Mariners?
Indeed, there they sit with a record of 34-23. That puts them ahead of the Astros and A's, who combined for 204 wins in 2019.
It helps that these Mariners somehow ended up with a handful of players that they didn't have at last check, but they're more so being driven by some unexpected breakouts. To wit, Shed Long and Mallex Smith have 3.5 WAR between them, while pitchers Yusei Kikuchi and Marco Gonzales have teamed up for 2.3 WAR.
Given that he broke through with a solid .787 OPS for the Mariners last season, Long's simulated breakout isn't entirely unbelievable. Otherwise, it's not so easy to buy into the notion that a team that lost 94 games amid a rebuilding year in 2019 is truly capable of achieving a 96-win pace in real life.
The Texas Rangers Are Baseball's Worst Team?
According to the simulation, the Rangers aren't just the worst team in the AL West. With a record of 16-39, they're the worst team in all of Major League Baseball.
This isn't exactly what the Rangers have planned for this reality. After all, they went a solid 78-84 last season and then spent the winter making a push to contend in 2020.
One bright side is that Joey Gallo is about as dominant in the simulated world as one would expect. He's put up a .907 OPS with 17 home runs and 1.9 WAR. Those numbers are in step with his 2019 season, in which he posted a .986 OPS, 22 homers and 3.1 WAR in only 70 games.
Trouble is, the simulated Gallo isn't getting much support from Texas' pitchers. That includes offseason additions Corey Kluber (5.21 ERA) and Kyle Gibson (6.58 ERA). Because both are north of 30 and coming off difficult '19 seasons, the possibility of them flopping isn't beyond the pale.
Harder to explain, though, is what's happening with the Rangers ace.
Mike Minor Is the Rangers' Worst Pitcher Now?
As bad as Kluber and Gibson have been for the not-the-real-Rangers, Mike Minor has been worse.
Minor's simulated self has a 6.94 ERA, and he's surrendered more earned runs (45) than any other pitcher on the Rangers staff. For that matter, only three pitchers in the entire league have served up more earned runs than Minor.
This doesn't quite strain belief to its breaking point. The 32-year-old Minor is no spring chicken, and his recent past includes two whole seasons missed recovering from shoulder surgery. He was also a full-time reliever as recently as 2017.
In the actual 2019 season, however, Minor led all major league pitchers with 7.8 WAR. And his dominance actually dates back to 2018, which he finished with a 3.23 ERA over his final 17 starts. He also boasts some good numbers under the hood, such as a fastball spin rate in the 99th percentile.
In short, we're inclined to give this one a "nah."
The Chicago Cubs Are the NL's Worst Team?
The Chicago Cubs as we know them are hoping for a fresh start in 2020.
They reached the top of the baseball world and ended a 108-year curse when they won 103 games and the World Series in 2016. But following three straight years of diminishing returns under manager Joe Maddon, they let him go and brought in former catcher David Ross to steer the ship back on course.
Per Baseball Reference's simulation, they're apparently doomed to hit an iceberg. At 21-35, the Cubs have the worst record in the National League.
This points, in part, to a worst-case scenario that isn't actually that unrealistic. The real-life Cubs' starting rotation is full of 30-somethings, each of whom is arguably past his prime. As such, the 5.42 ERA they have in the simulation could portend a looming disaster in the real world.
Granted, it's less realistic that Chicago's offense is also having a hard time. That's especially true of two outfielders who are inexplicably getting the Minor treatment.
Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber Aren't That Bad, Are They?
In the simulation, five position players have posted as much as minus-0.8 WAR.
Those are Manuel Margot, Kole Calhoun, Starling Marte and, shockingly, two members of the Cubs outfield: Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward.
That might seem to make sense with Heyward, who's been a notorious bust since inking an eight-year, $184 million contract with the Cubs in 2015. But even his "bust" self has still averaged 1.8 WAR per year, and he's coming off a rebirth that saw him finish 2019 with a .772 OPS and 21 home runs.
As for Schwarber, it's fair to say he hasn't lived up to expectations since joining the Cubs as a much-hyped prospect in 2015. But he's also coming off a strong '19 season in which he set career highs with an .871 OPS and 38 homers. And while he won't win any Gold Gloves, he's been better than expected in left field.
Clearly, the idea that these two are among the league's worst players deserves another "nah."
J.D. Martinez Suddenly Can't Hit Anymore?
J.D. Martinez is a very good hitter. Elite, even.
By no means should this be a controversial take. Over the last six years, the Boston Red Sox's designated hitter and sometimes outfielder has averaged a .954 OPS and 35 home runs per season. Out of all hitters who've taken 3,000 plate appearances in this span, his 152 OPS+ ranks second to only Mike Trout.
But in the simulation, he's barely getting by with a .214/.282/.389 batting line. He's hit 10 home runs, but he's also struck out 70 times. That's roughly half as many strikeouts (138) as he had in all of 2019.
In fairness, Martinez is 32, and he ended the 2019 season in something of a rut. In 22 games last September, he hit just .228 with a .713 OPS and three homers.
Still, that Martinez could go from there to hitting like he's going up to the plate with a rolled-up newspaper is an idea that doesn't quite pass the smell test. Surely, the end of his prime isn't that nigh.
Juan Soto Is Apparently Unstoppable?
Juan Soto, meanwhile, is basically the anti-Martinez in the simulated world.
Thus far, the hypothetical version of the Washington Nationals' young slugger has exploded for a .367/.471/.724 line and 16 home runs. He's already up to 3.9 WAR, which leads all position players.
Is this a bit much? Yes. But is it rooted in some semblance of truth? Also, yes.
Though Soto only turned 21 in October, his major league record already includes 266 games, a .937 OPS and 56 homers. By OPS+, the only other guys who've hit so well at such a young age are Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle and Mel Ott.
Even if he weren't motivated to get any better, it would be easy to believe that Soto can keep taking additional steps just by accident. Since he indeed is motivated, him actually achieving his simulated numbers in real life isn't that far outside the realm of possibility.
Ozzie Albies Is Basically Mike Trout Now?
Apart from Soto, it makes sense that the best player in the NL East would be a member of the Atlanta Braves.
But in this simulation, it's not Ronald Acuna Jr. It's Ozzie Albies.
The diminutive second baseman has accounted for a .381/.419/.582 line with eight homers and 17 stolen bases. He has 3.2 WAR, which puts him just a smidgen ahead of a certain Los Angeles Angels star named Mike Trout.
To be sure, this is worthy of raised eyebrows. Albies has peaked at 24 homers and 15 stolen bases, not to mention an .852 OPS and 5.2 WAR. Though the simulation is portraying him as a superstar, he's at best a very good player.
But while Albies' projection doesn't quite emit Soto-ish levels of believability, this is also a "never say never" situation. He's only 23, so it's too soon to assume his very good self is the last self he'll ever inhabit. It might not be in 2020, but he may yet evolve into something truly special.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Has Made the Superstar Leap?
Let's take a detour and check out the simulation's home run leaders:
- 1. Pete Alonso, NYM (20): Sure, that checks out.
- T-2. Nolan Arenado, COL (19): Coors.
- T-2. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., TOR (19): Oh?
Guerrero's 19 homers exceed the 15 he hit in 123 games with the Toronto Blue Jays as a rookie in 2019. It was a solid yet also somewhat disappointing result for a young hitter who had been billed as The Next Big Thing.
But lest anyone take too much credit away from Guerrero, he played all of last season as a mere 20-year-old. Moreover, this particular 20-year-old had played only 39 games at the Triple-A level before getting called to the majors.
Guerrero's Hall of Fame bloodlines probably had something to do with his accelerated journey to the majors. It had more to do, however, with the utter waste he laid to minor league pitchers. In four seasons, he torched them to the tune of a .331/.414/.531 batting line.
So, file a sudden and huge breakout for him under "Stranger Things Have Happened."
Walker Buehler Is the Best Pitcher in Baseball?
Lastly, there's the somewhat surprising name amid the simulation's four-way tie for pitching WAR.
It's not Gerrit Cole or Max Scherzer, because duh. It's also not Clayton Kershaw, because his overall track record is strong enough to warrant that kind of optimism.
But right there with Kershaw at 3.0 WAR is Los Angeles Dodgers teammate Walker Buehler. His other numbers also sparkle, as he boasts a 1.75 ERA with 102 strikeouts, 10 walks and only 37 hits allowed in 72 innings.
Buehler, 25, only posted 2.0 WAR last year. But before anyone mistakes that as a sign that he did something wrong, it's actually a figure to take with a grain of salt. How a pitcher with a 3.26 ERA and a 5.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 182.1 innings doesn't rate higher in that category is a mystery.
Further, Buehler absolutely has it in him to build on that performance. From his fastball velocity to his spin rate, pretty much all his peripherals jump off the page.