MLB: The Best Quiet 2020 Seasons
(originally written 9/11/20)
By now, you're aware that Angels legend Mike Trout has reached a new level of greatness since becoming a papa in August 2020. You know that in 2020 Yu Darvish has returned to the form that netted him $126M from the Cubs two years ago.
As he was in 2019, Washington's Juan Soto is a 2020 star, perhaps even a superstar. Colorado's Charlie Blackmon flirted with .400 for a long while. And judging by his 2020 showing, Cleveland's Shane Bieber seems on his way to big things.
None of that is news.
What you're here to learn is, who is quietly excelling in 2020? Who is putting together what could be an All-Star campaign while flying almost totally under the radar? Who is being largely ignored by the networks and websites despite having some of 2020's better stats?
We're here to tell ya.
Washington's Trea Turner was batting .196 on 8/9/20 before taking off. He's currently got a nine-game hit streak.
C - Travis d'Arnaud, Braves
The former longtime Met has always been a capable offensive player, including as recently as last season, but he usually bats around .250. Not this year—through 9/6, d'Arnaud is slashing .310/.367/.534 for first-place Atlanta, with seven bombs in just 116 AB. And while he's thrown out just 3-of-20 attempted basestealers, he himself stole his second career base 7/31!
1B - Brandon Belt, Giants
Belt, something of a disappointment in recent years as he's battled injuries and the shift, opened this year on the IL but had been on a tear since 8/16, until a recent 0-for-8 slide. From 8/16 thru 9/8, Belt slashed .468/.554/.919 with six homers and 17 RBI, carrying the team for the first time in a long while.
For the year, Belt is at .312/.409/.606 with seven homers and 22 RBI.
2B - Donovan Solano, Giants
Out of MLB in 2017-18, Solano returned from the "dead" to bat .330 for the 2019 Giants and has not slowed down at all in 2020 (in fact, just a few days ago, he hit a difference-making two-run homer and missed the cycle by a triple). At present, he ranks 2nd in the NL in batting average (.352). And maybe seven people outside of the San Francisco area know anything about it.
3B - Brad Miller, Cardinals
Miller opened the year on the IL, but has since earned plenty of run for the Cardinals at 3B and DH (where his shaky defense hurts no one). A 30-homer man in 2016, by 2019 Miller was a reserve on his fourth team in two years, so St. Louis couldn't have expected a whole hell of a lot in 2020.
But through 9/6, the resurgent Miller was slashing .307/.436/.600 with five home runs; he had 20 RBI in just 24 games. Much of that came on 9/1, when Miller homered twice and drove home seven at Cincinnati. Note: Miller is 3-for-his-last-25, which I predicted was coming at the beginning of September.
SS - Trea Turner, Nationals
For a guy atop the NL leaderboard with a .360 average, pub for Turner has been relatively low—back when Charlie Blackmon held the top AVG spot, he was discussed incessantly. Whether it was comparisons to Ted Williams (wut) or what substances he puts in his beard, Blackmon was a focal point for a while. Turner? Not so much.
So we'll tell you the young vet is slugging .629 for the Nationals, and recently completed a 15-for-20 tear that vaulted him into the NL hitting lead (said tear wrapped a 16-game hit streak). The only downside to Turner's surge? He's racked up so many XBH that his steals are way down.
OF - Ian Happ, Cubs
Happ has always been a formidable power threat, but in 2020 he found his groove right from the start. Happ went yard in two of the first three games of the season and ripped 12 in his first 126 AB before a "drought" this past week; he's played no small role in the Cubs return to first place.
Overall, thru 9/11, Happ is slashing .283/.391/.599, all of which would shatter his four-year career highs should he maintain them. (Pub update: MLB.com recently referred to Happ as a Top-3 MVP candidate, so there's that.)
OF - Teoscar Hernandez, Blue Jays
Other than his run-scoring defensive mistake against Baltimore that MLB Network felt compelled to replay and analyze five times, Hernandez has by and large maintained a low profile in 2020—even though he's enjoying a very fine offensive season. The power has always been there, but this year (thru 9/11) Hernandez is batting .308, which is 71 points above his career average entering 2020.
Hernandez leads second-place Toronto in most critical categories, though that will likely change now that he's on the injured list.
Seattle's Marco Gonzalez allowed three home runs in his 8/5/20 start. He's allowed a combined three home runs in his other seven 2020 starts.
OF - Alex Verdugo, Red Sox
We heard for years how talented the kid was; turns out the hype was accurate. After teasing in a part-time role with the 2019 Dodgers, Verdugo has taken his opportunity with the 2020 Red Sox and ran with it, though he's not been noticed much since Boston is in last place.
Here are the numbers thru 9/11: a slashline of .313/.371/.513, 20 of 50 hits for extra bases, and most importantly, he's started 40 of Boston's 46 games.
DH - Jose Iglesias, Orioles
Iglesias is quietly (VERY quietly) batting .355 in his 10th season, albeit with no power at all after a career-high 11 jacks in 2019. He's only got 107 AB thru 9/11, so he's not eligible for the AL batting leaderboard...yet.
SP - Zach Davies, Padres
Davies is no stranger to winning, as his 28 victories from 2016-17 confirm. And after a rough 2018, he bounced back with 10 more W's in 2019.
But as a new Padre in 2020 he's posted an ERA a full run-plus lower than his career ERA, which has the veteran tied atop the NL wins leaderboard with Chicago's Yu Darvish (who's gotten more than his share of press this season.) Not many outside of San Diego would have guessed that.
SP - Marco Gonzales, Mariners
The Mariners are actually threatening to make the playoffs, behind the efforts of Kyle Lewis, Kyle Seager, and the reliable lefty Gonzales. A 13-game winner last season, Gonzales has proven thus far that was no fluke, as he's gone 5-2, 3.02 for Seattle and has one of the precious few nine-inning complete games of 2020 (8/31 at LAA).
Gonzales has won each of his past three starts thru 9/10.
RP - Mark Melancon, Braves
Melancon's recent Giants tenure was injury-plagued and shaky, but so far in 2020 the veteran closer has bounced back nicely. He's gone 9-for-10 in save ops, allowed just one home run in 16.2 innings and sports a 2.16 ERA for the first-place Braves thru 9/11. And all while Cole Hamels, who's been hurt all year, gets the headlines.
RP - Brad Hand, Indians
Hand was a good bet to make his fourth straight All-Star Game in 2020, all of them on the relative down low as he continues his role as one of baseball's most obscure stars. Hand, who closed out 87 contests 2017-19, is the AL save leader no one hears about while teammates Shane Bieber, Carlos Carrasco, Zach Plesac and Adam Civale (all starting pitchers) receive the notoriety.
Hand is 12-for-12 protecting their leads in 2020, with a 0.88 WHIP and 19 K over 14.2 innings.
These fellas didn't make the "starting lineup" because A) they've gotten a bit too much pub and you may have heard how good they've been, or B) their seasons have not quite measured up to those of the "starters".
Dominic Smith, Mets
OK—Smith got a little pub yesterday when MLB Network's Dan O'Dowd placed him among the top 10 hitters in the game right now. Smith can indeed swing the bat; his average has climbed in all four of his Mets seasons and it currently (9/11) sits at .331. He's also got a league-high 17 doubles and has already obliterated his career high for RBI (leading the team in that department).
Smith is also third in the NL in slugging (.654 thru 9/11).
Houston's Kyle Tucker went 4-for-5 with a homer and four RBI at Colorado 8/19/20.
Kyle Tucker, Astros
With Michael Brantley, George Springer, Josh Reddick and Yordan Alvarez on the Astros roster, Tucker was still supposed to be blocked from regular playing time in 2020. But Alvarez has been hurt practically all year, creating the opening Tucker needed. He's started all but one game, either as a LF, RF or DH, and leads the AL with six triples thru 9/10.
Additionally, despite a lowish batting average (he's 1-for-his-past-17), Tucker is slugging .544, good for first among Astros.
Robinson Cano, Mets
Cano, who was on a Hall-of-Fame track until being busted for PED's two years ago, hasn't been much talked about since the Mets traded for him in late 2018. But the numbers don't lie—despite (presumably) being PED-free and 37 years old, Cano still has some game left.
Thru 9/11, the veteran 2B carries a .331/.364/.562 slashline, and as of this writing is fresh off a 3-for-4 performance in the Mets 18-1 win over Toronto.
Jake Cronenworth, Padres
Not many had even heard of this guy (acquired from Tampa in the Hunter Renfroe/Tommy Pham trade) entering the season, and now that we're three-quarters of the way into the season...he's still kind of a secret.
Cronenworth, San Diego's primary 2B who's also found time at 1B, is slashing .315/.371/.538 thru 9/11, and he either leads or co-leads the stacked Padres in doubles, triples and batting average!
Cronenworth's efforts earned him the August NL Rookie Of The Month award.
Pablo Lopez, Marlins
In his first six starts, Lopez was 3-2, 2.10 for Miami. But he's since allowed 12 ER in his past 5.2 innings.
David Peterson, Mets
The massive rookie lefty was 4-1, 3.03 for the Mets thru 9/2, but took a beating from Philadelphia in his last start.
Darren O'Day, Braves
Sidewinding O'Day was barely available to pitch 2018-19, but he's rediscovered health and effectiveness in 2020. Thru 9/10, he's 3-0, 0.71 in 14 games, with an 0.78 WHIP. No one has taken him deep so far this season, which is special.
Nick Anderson, Rays
Did Anderson really not debut in MLB until he was nearly 29? Yeah, there was some off-field stuff, but it's still hard to believe that somebody with his ability was buried in the minors and Independent League for so long. Anderson has barely been touched in 2020, posting a 0.00 ERA and 0.58 WHIP in 12 games for the Rays thru 9/10.
Tampa hasn't had a set closer—10 different Rays pitchers have filled that role this year, in part due to injuries ravaging their staff—but Anderson, despite missing time with forearm inflammation, is the team leader with four saves.
Alex Colome, White Sox
In 2019, Colome put up 30 saves under the radar, and despite his White Sox being much improved and much talked-about in 2020, Colome continues to fly well under that radar as teammates Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez garner most of the attention.
Yet, Colome deserves his share of credit for Chicago's turnaround; the veteran closer has saved 10 of 11 affairs and has allowed zero home runs in 16.2 innings thru 9/11. Colome, the 2017 AL saves champ, also sports a 1.08 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 2020.
Rafael Montero, Rangers
Jose LeClerc was supposed to be the Rangers' closer this year, but injury took away that option. Enter Rafael Montero, the same Rafael Montero who the Mets employed as a (mediocre) swingman in the 2010's. He's back, and on the rare occasions Texas has a late lead to protect this year, they turn to Montero.
The 29-year-old has responded with seven saves in as many chances; he's got 13 K in 11.2 IP and has allowed a solitary home run. He's not going to be the next Eckersley, but he is proving to be one of few dependables on the 2020 Rangers' staff.