The Most Overhyped MLB Players of the 2020 Season
The 2020 season presented numerous challenges for MLB clubs and players alike.
All 30 franchises had to deal with a global pandemic, as well as a slew of rule changes and a ban on in-game video.
Pitchers, meanwhile, had to ramp up their activity during the "summer camp" portion of the season after months of relative inactivity and light throwing.
Some players had more notable struggles than others, especially if they entered the season with a good amount of hype.
Here are the most overhyped players of the season, based on 2020 production relative to reputation and the amount of attention they might have garnered in the past couple of seasons.
The San Diego Padres took a chance by making Chris Paddack a regular starter in 2019 considering he had yet to pitch above Double-A.
However, he appeared more than ready for the challenge. The native of Austin, Texas, had a 3.33 ERA in 26 starts with a sub-1.00 WHIP and nearly 10 strikeouts per nine innings.
Considering the Friars already boasted budding arm talent in MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patino, Paddack's emergence was one of the major reasons baseball heads felt San Diego could surprise in 2020.
The Padres did indeed meet those expectations, but Paddack took a big step back.
He had a 4.73 ERA in 12 starts, and the peripherals were even less encouraging. The strikeout rate dropped from 9.8 per nine innings to 8.8, and he was more susceptible to the long ball, giving up 14 homers in just 59 innings.
The 24-year-old ranked in the 10th percentile in average exit velocity and the 5th percentile in hard-hit rate, per Baseball Savant. Some pitchers can sustain these kinds of numbers if they generate lots of swings and misses, but Paddack ranked in just the 45th percentile in whiff rate.
There are still reasons for Padres fans to feel encouraged. Paddack dominated with the changeup yet again, a great sign for a young pitcher. He also had greater velocity with the heater, though he probably needs more fastball spin in order to get better results.
San Diego is building something special out west, especially after adding Mike Clevinger to the fold. But Paddack's 2020 will likely give some fans pause.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was one of the most highly anticipated arrivals in years when he made his MLB debut in 2019.
The son of the Hall of Fame outfielder mashed at every level of the minor leagues and seemed destined to follow in his father's footsteps as one of the best hitters in baseball.
But things have been a bit of a struggle for Vladdy. While he had a .772 OPS in his rookie campaign, he was one of the worst defensive third basemen in the game.
Guerrero upped the OPS to .791 this season as his slugging percentage jumped nearly 30 points. The 21-year-old's walk rate also remained nearly the same while the strikeout rate dropped, and he ranked in the 93rd percentile in average exit velocity and hard-hit rate, per Baseball Savant.
These numbers suggest Guerrero is bound for success, especially given the low strikeout rate. Yet it is hard to ignore the feeling he has not lived up to the hype.
While Toronto's other youngsters—notably Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Lourdes Gurriel Jr.—thrived, Guerrero underwhelmed in comparison and was also moved off the hot corner because of his defensive struggles. Casual fans are going to have a hard time looking past the traditional numbers and demanding more results.
Granted, Guerrero is still young, and the advanced hitting stats bode well for the remainder of his career. He has also stayed durable. Still, the production is yet to match the hype for a guy who was supposed to be the new face of the franchise.
Joey Gallo has been one of the most volatile players in baseball for some time.
The 2012 first-round pick established himself as the king of the three true outcomes (walk, home run or strikeout) early in his career. Gallo hit 81 combined homers in 2017 and 2018 but also struck out a combined 403 times.
However, he seemed to be rounding the corner in 2019. While the strikeout rate rose, the walk rate also jumped nearly 5 percent.
Gallo hunted fastballs and demolished hanging breaking balls, and he was willing to take more in order to find his pitch. The left-hander had a 40.7 percent swing rate in 2019 after swinging at 48.3 percent of all offerings in 2018, per FanGraphs.
It appeared Gallo had finally put it together as an elite power hitter who got on base at a steady clip and produced runs. But the 26-year-old reverted to some old habits this season.
His swing rate rose, and he had a mere 81.7 mph average exit velocity against breaking balls, per Baseball Savant. While the strikeout rate fell, the walk rate also declined. As a result, he had a .679 OPS.
Although he might have gotten unlucky against fastballs, Gallo's .523 expected slugging (xSLG) mark was still far lower than it has been in the past three seasons. The struggles against the fastball are curious, considering he has good bat speed and can turn around inside heat with relative ease. But he could not generate the results.
The Rangers can't expect Gallo to be a franchise player if he cannot hit above the Mendoza line. Perhaps that is why some teams sought to make a run at Gallo at the trade deadline, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.
Gallo would seemingly be better served to take more often at the dish, as he did in 2019. But it remains to be seen whether he has the discipline to do so going forward.
Once upon a time, Gary Sanchez was seen as the first key cog in a new wave of Yankees youngsters who would help lead the Bronx Bombers back to World Series glory.
But after another frustrating season behind the plate, it's reasonable to wonder whether Sanchez will even be on the roster next season.
Sanchez slashed .147/.253/.365 with a career-worst 36 percent strikeout rate. He also ranked 52nd out of 62 qualified catchers in pitch framing, per Baseball Savant.
With his struggles with the bat and behind the dish, Sanchez was supplanted by Kyle Higashioka in the playoffs, and it's unclear how the front office sees him with respect to the team's future going forward.
The Yankees have had previous grumbles about Sanchez's work ethic. He came under fire in 2018 for failing to hustle on a pair of costly plays in a game against the Tampa Bay Rays, though an injury also seemed to play a role. Additionally, while he worked on framing in the offseason, he hardly showed improvement.
Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reported the Yankees considered dealing Sanchez at the deadline and also opined the Bronx Bombers could go after J.T. Realmuto this offseason. Realmuto's consistency as a two-way star at the position would be an upgrade, though the Yankees might not have the flexibility to sign him to a long-term deal.
Regardless of Sanchez's future in the Big Apple, his star has fallen once again after he experienced a bounce-back year in 2019.
Much like Sanchez, Kyle Schwarber was among a crop of players expected to lead the Chicago Cubs to the World Series when he arrived in 2015.
Indeed, the former Indiana University catcher miraculously returned from a serious knee injury suffered early in the 2016 season to be one of the team's best hitters in the Fall Classic.
Schwarber's star was on the rise, or so it seemed. While an experiment at leadoff resulted in early-season struggles in 2017, he recovered to mash 30 homers. He then posted an .823 OPS in 2018 before a monster second half resulted in 38 homers and an .871 OPS last summer.
The 27-year-old figured to be one of the most productive bats in Chicago's lineup this year, but like many of his teammates, Schwarber took a big step back.
He slashed .188/.308/.393 along with a strikeout rate close to 30 percent. The 2014 fourth overall pick still ranked in the 95th percentile in average exit velocity, per Baseball Savant. But opposing pitchers got him to pound the ball into the ground. According to FanGraphs, Schwarber's ground-ball rate skyrocketed above 50 percent.
Considering opposing defenses shift Schwarber to the right side of the infield, the hard contact means little if it comes in the form of ground balls. Throw in the high strikeout rate, and he was mostly unproductive at the dish.
Schwarber was even less productive in the outfield. Two years tying for fourth in MLB in outfield assists, he ranked 112th out of 120 outfielders in outs above average, per Baseball Savant.
The Cubs had a number of disappointing performances in 2020, especially from Kris Bryant and Javier Baez. But Schwarber has been probably the most inconsistent player in the group despite his upside at the plate.
Perhaps more fans and writers should have seen regression coming from Marcus Semien.
The A's shortstop finished third in American League MVP voting in 2019 after clubbing 33 homers to go along with an .892 OPS and tremendous defense. But the season was an outlier.
Semien had never posted an OPS+ above 100 before his 139 OPS+ in 2019. He also had a slight bump in exit velocities, though nothing too noticeable. Yet despite all the signs that pointed to regression, Semien generated buzz as possibly the best position player available in free agency in the winter of 2020.
But Semien produced more in accordance with the rest of his career numbers this season, and it's hard to say how high he will be valued on the open market.
The 30-year-old hit just .223 with a .679 OPS. He ranked in the 12th percentile in average exit velocity and 9th percentile in hard-hit rate, per Baseball Savant.
What kind of player is Semien, really? Is he more valuable than Didi Gregorius, who will also be available in free agency this winter? These are questions interested general managers will have to consider after Semien failed to live up to the hype in 2020.
Contrary to some of Semien's advanced hitting stats, nothing about Josh Bell's breakout 2019 suggested he would struggle so badly in 2020.
Bell ranked 14th in average exit velocity and 15th in barreled balls during the 2019 campaign, per Baseball Savant, and he clubbed 37 homers to go along with 116 RBI and a .936 OPS.
Much like Schwarber, however, an increase in both strikeout and ground-ball rates doomed Bell's 2020 campaign. He slashed .226/.305/.364 with just eight homers, and a typically low career strikeout rate jumped to 26.5 percent.
Bell's issues at the dish present questions for the Pirates going forward, particularly given he is a less-than-stellar defensive first baseman.
Pittsburgh is only beginning what appears to be an arduous rebuild. Bell previously looked like a centerpiece of the rebuild. However, it bears wondering whether GM Ben Cherington—never afraid to mix things up—chooses to deal Bell and get what value he can for a guy under team control through 2022.
Bell has not been able to string seasons together. He hit 26 homers in a strong rookie season in 2017. While he saw slight increases in batting average and OBP in 2018, his slugging percentage dropped 55 points. The last two seasons have been on opposite ends of the spectrum.
What Cherington and the Pirates make of Bell is hard to say, but the Texas native didn't look like the 2019 All-Star version of himself this season.
Josh Hader has been one of the most dominant relief pitchers of this generation, if not the most dominant bullpen weapon in all of baseball the last few seasons.
Simultaneously, it is hard to ignore the drop-off Hader experienced in 2020.
Hader did not allow a hit in his first 11.2 innings, but his usual sharpness and command were not present. He walked five and gave up a pair of runs while blowing a save against the Pirates on Aug. 29, the beginning of a steep decline.
The left-hander had lost his aura of invincibility, as opponents hit three homers and had an .861 OPS against Hader in September. He finished the month with a 6.48 ERA in 10 appearances, an eye-popping mark for a reliever of his prominence.
One of the reasons Hader was dominant in 2018 and 2019 was the combination of a high strikeout rate and a low walk rate. He had 6.9 strikeouts per walk in 2018, overpowering opposing hitters and commanding his stuff in the zone.
But Hader had just 3.1 strikeouts per walk this season, and opponents appear more willing to sit on a fastball that lost a tick in velocity, per Baseball Savant.
Hader's struggles were more glaring amid the emergence of Brewers right-hander Devin Williams, who was named National League Reliever of the Year after posting a 0.33 ERA and using a devastating changeup to strike out 17.7 hitters per nine innings.
Hader is still an elite relief option, but it is hard not to feel disappointed with the results of his 2020 campaign.
Jorge Polanco had been in Minnesota's system for some time prior to his All-Star 2019 season.
The Dominican Republic native made his big league debut in 2014 at the age of 20 and played in 133 games for the Twins in 2017.
But Polanco really blossomed last year when he hit .295 with 22 homers and an .841 OPS at the top of a loaded Twins lineup nicknamed the "Bomba Squad." He seemed to be hitting his stride as a budding star on an emerging contender in the American League.
However, the switch-hitter's past exit velocities have not been measures of sustainable success, and a substantial decrease in barrel percentage this season resulted in just four homers and a .258/.304/.354 slash line.
The 27-year-old was one of the worst players in baseball in weighted runs created plus (wRC+), per FanGraphs, ranking just ahead of the likes of Bell and Gallo. His lack of success might have had a greater team effect, however, given he often hit at the top of the lineup.
Although the shortstop showed year-over-year improvement with the glove, he still ranked in just the 36th percentile in outs above average, per Baseball Savant.
Polanco's upside is hard to pin down. He rarely swings and misses (91st percentile in whiff rate), but he does not hit the ball very hard or steal bases and is also a poor defender.
It is possible Polanco is nothing more than an average piece for the Twins.
Andrew Benintendi has experienced as hard a fall as anyone in the past couple of years.
The Cincinnati native finished second in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2017 after hitting 20 homers and stealing 20 bases. Benintendi followed his debut season by posting an .830 OPS for the 2018 world champion Boston Red Sox.
This was supposed to mark the rise of Boston's next young star, another homegrown outfielder who was cementing his place as a key franchise piece. It has hardly panned out that way.
Benintendi's strikeout rate rose to nearly 23 percent in 2019. He still had a respectable .774 OPS but struggled in the leadoff role and added negative value as a defensive left fielder. This year was a disaster—he hit .103 with a 32.7 percent strikeout rate in 14 games before being placed on the injured list.
Red Sox president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom said in his postseason press conference the team still feels Benintendi has "great all-around ability."
However, he has failed to show any growth in the last couple of years. The swings and misses have increased, and he is not as threatening as he used to be as a base-stealer. The defense remains suspect too.
Boston desperately needs "Benny" to get back on track, especially in the aftermath of the Mookie Betts trade. But the 26-year-old does not resemble anything close to his former self, and there might be questions about his playability going forward.