December 31, 2019
In just a few hours the calendar will read like an optometrist’s chart, and we will all see 2020. Unfortunately, we still won’t be able to see perfectly, because even 20/20 performance does not mean that one has perfect vision, only normal eyesight. The American Optometric Association website explains it this way:
20/20 vision is a term used to express normal visual acuity (the clarity or sharpness of vision) measured at a distance of 20 feet. If you have 20/20 vision, you can see clearly at 20 feet what should normally be seen at that distance.
So, 20/20 vision is a comparative test of your eyesight relative to the eyesight of an average person. I found that interesting because it essentially describes what we tried to measure when B.A.B.E.S. was founded in 2008 – testing our predictive acuity against that of professional sports commentators or prognosticators. https://babesbaseball.wordpress.com/309-2/. The fact that we were measuring ourselves against professionals rather than the “normal” fan does not change my opinion. Rather I believe it clarifies what is normal in the field of baseball forecasting – that there are no true experts, or that anyone can be an expert. In that sense, everyone has 20/20 vision, or no one does. Get the picture?
With that clear introduction, I begin this New Year’s 2020 post with these non-professional, visually imperfect Top 10 predictions for the coming MLB year, made with expert acuity or, I hope, acuity comparable to that of a normal fellow Society member:
- The Washington Nationals will not win the 2020 World Series. There has been no repeat MLB champion since NYY’s three-peat from 1998-2000. Re-signing Stephen Strasburg will keep them competitive, but losing Anthony Rendon will prevent the Nats from truly overcoming the “underachiever” reputation they earned prior to this year’s championship run as the #4 seed in the NL.
- The Seattle Mariners will continue to be the last franchise never to appear in the World Series. This is a virtual certainty. The Nationals finally getting to the Series in 2019 was a mild surprise, but only because they had been predicted to do so by so many of us for at least the previous five years, and had always failed. Almost no one has predicted that the Mariners would win the AL pennant in the past five years and I assume no one will make such a prediction in 2020. In fact, I am willing to bet that the team does not break the streak in its 43rd season, and I am not a betting man.
- None of the other five teams that have appeared in but never won a World Series will win the 2020 Series. MIL and TBR have legitimate chances and SDO is a possible Cinderella, but COL is a mess and TEX has missed out on all the meaningful free agents so far despite trying to gear up for the opening of a new park. I don’t think any of these teams can make it all the way through the post-season gauntlet that likely includes NYY, HOU, LAD, ATL, STL, OAK and, even WAS.
- If you are looking for a post-season Cinderella pick, think CWS, a team that hasn’t won a post-season series since sweeping the Astros in the 2005 World Series. I believe MIN was a bit of a fluke in 2019 and CLE may be about to enter a rebuilding phase, so the AL Central could be wide open. The White Sox re-signed Jose Abreu, signed free agents Dallas Keuchel, Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Encarnacion and Yasmani Grandal and traded for TEX starting right fielder Nomar Mazara. Add these to a solid group of young players – pitchers and fielders – and you have a team that could improve in the same way that MIN did in 2019. CWS likely will not win 100 games, but then I don’t expect MIN to do that again, either.
- Two of these three teams will not make the post-season – HOU, OAK and LAA. The AL West will be the best division in baseball, again. It was a cumulative 36 games over .500 last year and LAA did not have Trout for a full year, Ohtani pitching or Rendon at all (and no Joe Maddon, either). In other words, the Astros and A’s are still loaded, but now the Angels are as well. Something has to give, and I think these three teams will beat each other often and open the wild card races for teams in the East and Central (see point 4, above). And this is not even considering the potential impact of the sign-stealing investigation involving the Astros.
- Speaking of the Astros, they will not become the first team ever to win 100 games in four consecutive seasons. The combination of losing Gerritt Cole and having the hangover of the sign-stealing investigation, not to mention the increased competition from LAA, will certainly reduce their win total, and probably by more than seven games (they won 107 in 2018). Nevertheless, the fact that this prediction is not a certainty is a testament to just how successful the Houston organization has become. Let’s just hope they either prove themselves innocent of past wrong-doing or prove that they can win in the future without any unsportsmanlike advantage.
- Still speaking of the Astros, they will not eliminate the Yankees from the post-season for the fourth time in the past six years. Close elimination games in 2015 and 2017 and a NYY bullpen meltdown in 2019 allowed the Astros to defeat the Evil Empire three times and deny the franchise even a single World Series appearance in the 2010’s. But 2020 will likely not even see the teams match up in the post-season and if they do, NYY will win this time. (See point 6, above. Does anyone doubt that simply taking Cole off the Astros and putting him on the Yankees is enough to change a series outcome?)
- Now speaking of NYY, if they do not make it to the World Series in 2020, look for Brian Cashman’s run as General Manager to end after his 22nd season. I just don’t see Steinbrenner Two Generation accepting another whiff on the AL pennant after investing $324 million in one pitcher. Cashman could get fired even if the team wins the pennant but loses the World Series. I have often praised his work as NYY’s GM, but ten years years without a pennant, eleven years without a World Series title and only one championship in twenty years seems like “pink-slip time in the Bronx” to me. In fact, I think it would be well past time if The Boss were still alive.
- Still speaking of Brian Cashman, the Yankees will win the AL and probably save his job for another year. (See point 7, above). This team was already stacked and I don’t see how it does not win the American League with the addition of Gerritt Cole. The same could be said for the World Series, too. I know that several members of the Yankee organization played the role of Clark Kent/Superman in 2019 – Torres, Urshela, Voit, even Tauchman – and all of them could regress in 2020. But they would have to fall a long way to fail to succeed along with the proven Superheroes such as Judge, Tanaka and Britton, everymen like Brett Gardner and Gary Sanchez, fragile but dangerous G. Stanton, really good but injured Severino and Andujar, and…. Ah, never mind, as I said before, the entire roster is stacked. So perhaps I should revise this prediction to say that Cashman should be fired if NYY does not win World Championship #28.
- And still speaking of Brian Cashman and NYY, they will, in fact, win World Championship #28 in 2020. And perhaps Cashman will then retire. Everyone expects the Yankees to win and then they will immediately begin anticipating #29, and if Title 29 does not come in 2021 Cashman will be on the hot seat again, so why not just take a fifth Championship ring and be done with it? Why start trying for rings for the other hand when you will have to keep going until you win five more, or get fired trying? See, I am ranting now because I hate the thought of the Yankees winning one more championship, let alone five. This feeling goes back many years. https://babesbaseball.wordpress.com/2012/12/01/love-your-enemies-part-1-the-yankees/. I know that these are not The Boss’ Yankees, just like the Core Four of 1998-2000 dynasty did not reflect the Boss’ personality, but still, TWENTY-EIGHT titles? SERIOUSLY? (See points 2 and 3 above for a little perspective.) I don’t care if it has been eleven years since the last one, I am still nauseated by the memory of Alex Rodriguez actually performing well and helping NYY win Title 27. (Shouldn’t that one have an asterisk, at least?) And, horror of horrors, I might have to watch ARod on ESPN covering the Yankees’s winning Title 28. That thought alone is enough to make me take a sabbatical from baseball in 2020.
Clearly, my vision is not 20/20 when it comes to the Yankees. I ascribe to them evil intent and unfair success for their historic practice of outspending all other teams and essentially buying championships. I explained that view in detail in my 2012 post. While the 2020 Pinstripes version will be largely homegrown, it will still have purchased, as the highest bidder, the last piece of the title puzzle in Gerritt Cole. Of course, they took Cole from the Astros, my favorite team, which you may have noticed was the other main focus of the ten points above beside the Yankees. However, is Cashman’s move to sign Cole for $324 million truly different from what the Astros did in 2017 when they acquired Justin Verlander at the trade deadline? Perhaps there is a qualitative difference, in that a trade requires a different kind of negotiation than does a free-agent signing, but money is still definitely a factor. And even if Jeff Luhnow showed more skill in trading for Verlander in 2017 (and then for Zack Greinke in 2019), how will that success be tainted by the sign-stealing scandal? Can it be possible that he did not know about it, if it existed? Is it possible that the Astros are MLB’s version of the New England Patriots, only with five fewer championships? How do I admit that and still justify any criticism of the Yankee organization?
So I enter the new year, and the new decade, with blurred vision. My favorite team has become a turn-around story for the MLB ages, having lost 100 games three consecutive seasons and then won 100 games in three consecutive seasons, both within the same decade! Will that type of rags to riches story ever occur again? However, the Astros won only one championship and that is now under scrutiny for the unsportsmanlike way in which it may have been achieved. (Yu Darvish surely wants to know). On the other hand, during this period of rapid improvement by the Astros, they have been recognized for innovative use of analytics not just in defensive shift strategy but in individual performance. Charlie Morton and Gerritt Cole both resurrected their careers under pitching coach Brent Strom’s guidance. They both obtained lucrative free-agent offers after two years in Houston. Morton may have only gotten $45 million compared to Cole’s $324 million, but I assure you he is not complaining. He was practically out of baseball when the Astros offered him a two year $14 million deal.
No one has challenged the skill with which the Astros analytics department tutors individual players to get the most out of their skills. Yet the Commissioner of Baseball, and many media and fan representatives, have asserted that the fundamental shift in how the game is played (literally, with most position players aligned other than as traditionally placed) is bad for the game. Defensive alignment has taken away many hits, as has the batter’s swing path, now seeking to obtain a launch angle rather than just make good contact. Further, the size and strength of pitchers and the proliferation of pitching changes, all have driven the batting averages down and the time of the game up. So have the Astros improved the game or ruined it, even if they have not violated the rules of good sportsmanship? The picture is simply not clear.
The new year should provide some clarity on both the Astros’ degree of sportsmanship and permitted innovation. Commissioner Rob Manfred will be instrumental in clarifying both, first with the outcome of the investigation of the sign-stealing allegations and secondly with his on-going effort to fight the impact of analytics – limiting defensive shifts, limiting pitching changes and perhaps letting the ball be juiced, or at least the seams be raised. As I contemplate the potential outcomes, I admit to being slightly unsure about the coming year and decade. I just can’t get a clear picture of where my team stands, or where the game is going. Perhaps I will see better in 2021, but what if the Yankees are World Champions? I’m keeping my eyes closed.
(Moonlight and darkness over the Tower of the Americas, San Antonio, TX, 2019)