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Ariel Cohen's 2020 MLB Awards Predictions


Baseball is back! Opening day is finally upon us. We can now finally log in to our fantasy leagues and observe as the statistics start to accumulate. What a great feeling! We had to wait a few months longer this year due to the tragic global pandemic of COVID-19, but we are finally here.

I do recognize that there is still suffering in the U.S. and in the rest of the world from the disease. I am not oblivious to the global situation. However, I do think that watching our nation’s pastime played day in and day out will aid the morale of the country. There will be many challenges along the way, but I am hopeful that the MLB will be able to finish the abbreviated 2020 season in its entirety.

Today, I will share with you my 2020 awards predictions with you. Some of them are bold, while a few might be seen as overly safe. That’s okay. The ATC Projections have helped shape much of my analysis in this article, and a few predictions arise from my own personal feelings on the particular player. I will then finish off the article with my 2020 league predictions.

Editor's Note: Get any full-season MLB Premium Pass for 50% off. Get access to our exclusive articles, rankings, projections, prospects coverage, 15 in-season lineup tools, daily expert DFS research, powerful Research Station, Lineup Optimizer and much more! Sign Up Now!

 

American League MVP: Rafael Devers

Rafael Devers was off to a blazing start last year. In just the first half alone, he hit 12 HR, knocked in 50 runs, scored 62 runs, and batted .322. He traded some batting average points in the second half – sinking all the way to .300, and hitting 20 home runs.

I believe that this breakout was not only real but is a trend for the young Boston infielder. Devers was able to bring his strikeout rate down last year, which was high in the minors. He had instituted a new contact approach which apparently worked. Devers sports a naturally high BABIP, which will provide a high batting average floor during his career. All indications say that his power is also indeed real.

The speed is a question mark. After stealing 8 bases in the first half, Devers went 0 for 3 in the latter part of the season. Is it possible that fatigue set in? Is it possible that the manager shut him down on the base paths? Hard to tell.

Rafael might be hurt in the real-life MVP award decision, as the Red Sox are not currently projected to make the playoffs. Both the Yankees and Rays project to outplay Boston – which could hurt his chances of obtaining votes. However, now that the playoffs have been expanded, anything is possible.

Devers is projected to be almost 2 standard deviations better than the average rosterable fantasy player in most of his 5x5 scoring categories. Devers is just 23 years old and still on the rise. The best is yet to come.

 

National League MVP: Juan Soto

I believe that Juan Soto may be the first player to surpass Mike Trout as the “Best Player in Baseball” sometime in the next few years. In 2019, Soto hit 34 home runs. He scored and knocked in 110 runs, stealing 12 bases and batting .282. This mature hitting profile came at an incredibly young age of just 20 years old for this budding league star. Think about that – he could not legally buy an alcoholic beverage, yet he amassed a 4.8 WAR.

* Projections generated prior to the news of Soto's COVID-19 positive test results.

Just as with Rafael Devers, Soto has a naturally high BABIP – which will keep his batting average high through the course of a season. In fact, it has typically been higher than Devers.

What is most eye-catching to me are Soto’s medium and hard contact rates. In 2019, medium + hard contact accounted for 88% of his batted balls. That means that 8 out of 9 balls hit – are hit with authority! Those are top of the league levels.

Soto is both an elite baseball player as well as an elite fantasy asset. His propensity to steal bases gives him even more first-round staying power.

Two pessimistic items to share are:

  • The departure of Anthony Rendon in the Washington Nationals’ lineup, which could impact his run production totals.
  • Soto has tested positive for COVID-19 today. News of this came out right as I finished penning this article (I won’t change my MVP pick just yet, as it could have been a false positive test result).

These issues aside, Soto is a rising star who will perform at an MVP level – and as early as this season.

 

American League Cy Young: Gerrit Cole

I need not spend a lot of time talking about one of the universally recognized true aces in today’s game. No, I did not go the bold route for this prediction – I chose to be rather unextraordinary here.

Few pitchers could eclipse the 100 strikeout mark this season, and Cole is one of them. ATC projects Cole for 101 Ks on the season; the next highest player (Max Scherzer) is projected for only 89. Doing the Math – Cole is projected for 13% more strikeouts than the next highest player in all of baseball. That is rather special.

The lofty strikeout totals are the product of a high K/9 rate (which was 14 K/9 in 2019), with the largest projected innings total of any pitcher in baseball. Cole will be relied upon to pitch deep into ballgames. As a $36m a year pitcher, the Yankees will make him the workhorse.

Cole is projected to pitch into the 7th inning of ballgames on average. With a strong supporting lineup, Cole will be in line to be among the league leaders in wins this year. Gerrit has such a superior projection, that rather going bold with this awards prediction, I have chosen to play it safe.

 

National League Cy Young: Stephen Strasburg

Unlike Cole, I went with more of a bold prediction for the National League Cy Young award. There is a lot to like about Strasburg in this short season. The Nationals hurler is often injured, but after throwing 209 innings in 2019 – I believe he has a good chance to make it through 2020 without hitting the IL.

In 2019, Strasburg compiled a WAR of 5.7, which was third-most among pitchers of the National League. Only Jacob deGrom and teammate Max Scherzer had a higher WAR. He accumulated 251 strikeouts – the most of his career. He managed to lower his WHIP to 1.04, which was the best full-season mark for him in almost 10 years.

The keys are in his underlying component trends. His strikeouts are holding steady at 11 K/9. His walk rate has been ticking downward. His groundball rate was up to 51% in ‘19, which was key for him. It was a distinct difference to the 30%-45% it had been in recent history.

One reason to believe that Strasburg will take yet another step forward was bad luck in 2019. His HR/FB rate (16.2%) was noticeably higher than normal – and if that should stabilize, his ERA will lower even further.

Like Cole, Strasburg will be relied upon to pitch deep into games. That will also afford him the possibility of accumulating a large number of wins. He was a contender for the award in 2019, and the Nationals stud pitcher will make a push for the hardware in 2020 as well.

 

American League Rookie of the Year: Luis Robert

Luis Robert is projected to be the most valuable rookie according to ATC Projections, and I concur. The White Sox worked out a $50m contract with him in the offseason, without ever playing a single game in the majors.

Let’s start with his defense – I had the pleasure of watching his highlight reel from the other night where he robbed Ben Gamel of a homer in an exhibition game. Even players with a poor bat, can maintain consistent playing time simply by employing a solid glove in the field. In Robert’s case – his offense speaks for itself.

In 2019, Robert started in high-A, moved to AA, and by the year’s end found himself in Triple-A. Through all three minor league stops in 2019, Robert slashed .328/.376/.624 wit 32 HRs and 36 SB.

Robert will hit for power, a decent average, and will provide plenty of speed. The White Sox have an undervalued lineup, so I expect Robert to enjoy excellent run production metrics in 2020.

There are a number of other excellent rookie candidates for the award, but many of them will be held down in the minors to start the season over service time concerns. Robert will be an impact player from the very start – and all season long.

 

National League Rookie of the Year: Mitch Keller

In 2019, Mitch Keller threw 48 innings of atrocious ball, compiling a 7.13 ERA with a 1.83 WHIP. Those are outright awful numbers.

Keller has an electric skills set – and it seemed to translate from the minors. He struck out 29% of all hitters, displayed a mid-90s fastball, and only walked seven percent of batters that he faced. In the second half of ’19, his swinging strike rate actually went up to 13%.

His 2019 line was clearly not indicative of his true talent. He was unusually unlucky last year. Other than strikeouts and home runs, pitchers typically do not exhibit much control over how their hits fall in. Voros McCracken pioneered the statistic called BABIP, which illustrates that. A typical BABIP for pitchers lies around the .300 mark. Any large deviation off of the .300 mark indicates that luck was involved; a low BABIP means that a pitcher was lucky in the season, while a high one means that hits were unluckily falling in between fielders.

Keller’s 2019 BABIP was at an almost unimaginable .475! It indicates that he surrendered almost 60% more hits than what a luck-neutral pitcher should have. On top of that, Keller’s strand rate was sub-60%. Runners on base scored over 40% of the time, well above league average. Do not take his surface stats at face value – he pitched considerably better than his line would indicate.

ATC projections value the Pirates rookie as a $5 player in the NFBC format (5x5 15-team roto). If Keller does not succumb to bad luck once again, he will compete for Rookie of the Year honors in 2020.

 

2020 League Predictions

With the announcement of expanded playoffs for the 2020 season, predicting all of the playoff teams, the pennant winners and the world series champion is a crapshoot. For what it is worth, here are my predictions for this year’s division winners:

In the American League, Houston is a relatively “safe” choice. Tampa Bay is a good bet to make the playoffs, and I believe that they will finish a game or so ahead of the Yankees for the division title. The Rays have a fantastic bullpen this season, two frontline starters, and a terrific mix-and-match lineup. Look for them to maximize efficiencies on their team all season long.

The White Sox are my sleeper team for 2020. In the offseason, they added veterans Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez to their young core of Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dylan Cease. Their lineup contains exciting young players (Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert), a batting champion (Tim Anderson), and a prospect finally showing his potential (Yoan Moncada). The Sox also added a few new potent additions to the lineup (Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnacion, and Nomar Mazara) to go along with veteran Jose Abreu.

The Chicago Southside team’s bullpen is sneaky good. Alex Colome and Aaron Bummer will function as the closer and setup men. Steve Cishek comes over from the Northside of Chicago, with a career ERA of 2.69 and WHIP 1.15. The Sox also have a number of undervalued relievers as uncovered by my Weighted Plate Discipline Index (wPDI) statistic. This includes Jimmy Cordero, Evan Marshall, and Jace Fry in an immensely undervalued bullpen.

In the National League, the Dodgers have too much talent not to choose for the title winners. The Braves have an incredible lineup, to which they also added Marcell Ozuna (and also attempted to add Yasiel Puig). Good news Braves fans … Freddie Freeman should be back for Opening Day! With Soroka, Fried and Foltynewicz at the top of the rotation, and with an improved bullpen - the Braves should be at the top of the division all season long.

In the NL Central, I picked the Reds to outlast the other teams. There really isn’t a clear runaway team - this division will come down to the wire. The Reds have made a number of stark improvements over the past twelve months. Sonny Gray and Trevor Bauer will be on the team from the start of the season and will complement one of baseball’s best changeup artists in Luis Castillo. In the lineup - Shogo Akiyama, Mike Moustakas, and Nick Castellanos were fantastic offseason acquisitions. If Eugenio Suarez can sustain his power and Joey Votto can produce a bounceback season, the Reds will make the playoffs.

Just for fun, I’ll predict that the Dodgers will beat the Rays in 6 games in the 2020 World Series.

Enjoy the season!



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Week 6 was like the 2020 of fantasy football weeks. All those great matchups meant nothing, those studs let you down, and your bench likely went crazy. The good news is that we didn't have any season-ending injuries to running backs or games canceled due to COVID, so in retrospect maybe we shouldn't complain. The... Read More


FAB Bidding - Week 7 Waiver Wire Targets

Whether it's injuries, bye-week blues, or simply poor performance, we've got the waiver-wire cure...but it just might cost you! Alongside our famous waiver wire pickups list and our weekly waiver wire columns by position, this column focuses on suggested waiver wire bidding percentages for fantasy football owners in leagues using a Free Agent Budget (FAB). In... Read More


Waiver Wire Express - Week 7 Lightning Round

Week 6 was relatively healthy and had no coronavirus delays, so let's just take a moment to bask in that. That said, we still saw Miles Sanders (knee) and Zach Ertz (ankle) go down, while Mark Ingram (ankle) has a bye to get healthy. Week 7 byes are Baltimore, Indianapolis, Miami, and Minnesota. Let's get... Read More


Running Back Waiver Wire Pickups - Week 7

Fantasy GMs are to be commended for rising to the unique challenges that have unfolded during this regular season. Injuries to critical players is an unwelcome reality that occurs every year. This is also the case for backs that were expected to operate as RB1s, but have been relegated to committees. However, this season has... Read More


Wide Receiver Waiver Wire Pickups - Week 7

Six weeks of NFL football are behind us, aside from a pair of Monday games, including a late afternoon game between the Bills and the Chiefs. In terms of wide receiver production this week, we didn't have the huge breakouts like we had in Week 5. Chase Claypool didn't score four touchdowns. In fact, only... Read More


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Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 23rd, 2020

RotoBaller has assembled a list of daily MLB injury updates to help you prepare both your seasonal and daily fantasy baseball (DFS) lineups, every day of the MLB season. Below is our updated list of injured MLB players for October 23rd, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


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