MLB shortened season simulations show 2020 could be unpredictable with condensed schedule
Out-of-nowhere award winners? A ring for Mike Trout? The Marlins in the playoffs? Anything could happen
Nearly two weeks have passed since Major League Baseball suspended operations in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus. Opening Day had been scheduled for this Thursday (March 26), but now won't occur until later in the summer, depending on the effectiveness of the containment strategies imposed across the country. If MLB plays a 2020 season, it almost certainly won't be the standard 162-game length.
In theory, a shortened season should encourage more off-the-wall results. To test that hypothesis (and, frankly, to provide an escape), we decided to simulate four seasons of varying lengths using Outside the Park Baseball 21 (the newest edition of a long-running baseball simulation video game), as provided by the good folks behind the game.
Do note that OOTP created a different schedule for each season -- one that differed from the real-life schedule. There's no telling how MLB's schedule will actually change over the coming months.
Now, onto the fun.
Of our four scenarios, this is the one that should most resemble expectations. Let's start with a look at the end-of-year standings:
We count a handful of major surprises:
- The Padres tying for the NL West lead, then winning the tiebreaker game and vanquishing the Dodgers to the Wild Card Game (against the Mets).
- The Rays winning the AL East by seven games over the Yankees.
- The Rangers posting the worst record in baseball.
- And, last but not least, the Pirates finishing second in the NL Central.
Trades still happen in the OOTP simulation. Here are the five most notable deals:
- ARI trades Starling Marte (and $3.6m) to CHC for Justin Steele and Brendon Little
- MIA trades Corey Dickerson to STL for Tyler Statler
- TEX trades Lance Lynn to BOS for Tanner Houck, Bryan Mata, and Brainer Bonaci
- PIT trades Chris Archer to WAS for Seth Romero and Steven Fuentes
- KC trades Ian Kennedy (and $5.8m) to CLE for Xzavion Curry, Austen Wade, and Brauny Munoz
Did order reign supreme in October? We're inclined to say sort of.
The Dodgers bowing out without winning a playoff game registers as a shocker. The Rays reaching the World Series by knocking off a pair of teams with a better regular season record qualifies as a nice October storyline. Comparatively, the Braves winning the whole thing is fitting -- Atlanta tied with the Astros for the top regular season mark with 95 wins.
On an individual level, Juan Soto had a nutty season. He led the majors in average (.332), on-base percentage (.476), and OPS (1.096). His slugging percentage (.620) was second in the majors, behind Alex Bregman, yet tops in the NL. Soto also led the majors in WAR, with Nolan Arenado, Alex Bregman, Mike Trout, and Cody Bellinger rounding out the top five. Oddly, Soto did not win the NL MVP Award -- that went to Bellinger, who received an equal share of first-place votes, instead. (Bregman, for his part, did win the AL MVP. )
Giancarlo Stanton led baseball with 44 home runs, but his Yankees teammate Gerrit Cole was arguably more impressive. Cole led the majors in ERA (2.15), WAR, as well as innings pitched (205). He was the only pitcher to top 200 frames. Cole, who won the simulated AL Cy Young, wasn't the only New York-based pitcher to have a big season, either. Jacob deGrom won the NL Cy Young, while Edwin Diaz led in saves and Rick Porcello threw four shutouts. (Yes, really.)
Again, we start with the standings:
Here were the top five most notable trades:
- HOU trades Zack Greinke to WAS for Yan Gomes, Matt Cronin and Roismar Quintana
- STL trades Tommy Edman and Mateo Gil to CIN for Mike Moustakas
- TB trades Manuel Margot to CHC for Victor Caratini
- SF trades Kevin Gausman and $4.2 million to CLE for Bo Naylor, Bobby Bradley, Juan Felipe Garcia, and Jose Devers
- CIN trades Nick Senzel to NYM for Edwin Diaz and Jordan Humphreys
Moving on to the postseason results:
After some noncompetitive early round series, things heated up during the Championship and World Series. The Fall Classic, which paired Andrew Friedman's current team against his old team, saw the Dodgers prevail after falling into a 3-1 deficit.
Predictably, the Dodgers were led by Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger, who finished first and third in MVP voting. (Didi Gregorius split the difference by coming in second.) Lux won the Rookie of the Year Award in this simulation as well, while Clayton Kershaw posted an absurd 16.4 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Elsewhere, Francisco Lindor won the AL MVP over Mike Trout and Rafael Devers; Mike Soroka and Lance McCullers Jr. took home the NL and AL Cy Young Awards, respectively; and Luis Robert won the AL Rookie of the Year Award. The most surprising vote getter in any of those races had to be Pittsburgh's James Marvel, who finished second behind Lux for the league's top rook of the season.
Some other notable performances included Eric Thames leading the majors in homers (37) and RBI and Mallex Smith somehow swiping 79 bases. Nobody else stole more than 34. On the pitching side, deGrom led in ERA and innings and Zack Wheeler in wins (with 17).
As always, let's start with the standings:
Three results stand out in particular: the A's winning the AL West, the Cubs finishing in last in the NL Central, and the Mets falling to the basement in the NL East.
Now fir the trades, including an absolute head scratcher from the Padres:
- SD trades Kirby Yates and Gabriel Arias to MIL for David Freitas
- NYY trades Miguel Andujar to PHI for Seranthony Dominguez and Cristopher Sanchez
- MIA trades jonathan Villar to CHC for Pedro Martinez and Wilbert Garcia
- LAD trades Austin Barnes and Keibert Ruiz to TB for Charlie Morton
- SD trades Jurickson Profar to CHW for Tyler Johnson and Luis Alexander Basabe
As for the playoffs:
The Dodgers again prevail, this time against the A's in seven games. The World Series was exclusive to California, and so were most of the top of MVP ballots. In the NL, the Dodgers swept the platform: Bellinger won with Mookie Betts and Max Muncy finishing second and third. In the AL, Trout won with Shohei Ohtani coming in second. (Rafael Devers finished third.)
The most stunning individual award result saw Collin McHugh win the AL Cy Young Award. He went 10-1 with a 2.77 ERA across 20 starts. He nearly struck out a batter (140) per inning (143), too. Not bad, not bad at all. Other awards of note: Max Fried won the NL Cy Young after claiming the ERA title, Lux was the NL ROY, and Jesus Luzardo claimed AL ROY honors.
Now we're in full sprint mode (relative to the normal season, anyway). You know the drill:
Your eyes do not deceive you. The Marlins won the NL East, edging out the Braves and the rest of the tightly bunched group. The other major surprise has the Cubs tying for the worst record in baseball with the Rangers. Who would've thought, right?
We'll conclude with the trades, including a lopsided five-for-one deal:
- PIT trades Chris Archer to BOS for Tanner Houck, Connor Wong, Brayan Bello, Brett Netzer, and Luis Mota
- SF trades Kevin Gausman to CHC for Ian Happ and Riley Thompson
- CHC trades Jose Quintana to PHI for Nick Williams and Mauricio Llovera
- ARI trades Starling Marte to PIT for Tsung-Che Cheng, Jase Bowen, and Adrian Valerio
- ARI trades Eduardo Escobar to TB for Miller Hogan and Stir Candelario
In an odd twist, we had a chance at an all-Florida or an all-Los Angeles World Series. We got the latter, with the Angels topping the Dodgers to secure Trout's first ring.
You won't be surprised to learn that an Angel won the AL MVP. You might be surprised to learn that it was Shohei Ohtani, who hit .282/.382/.505 in 225 trips to the plate and pitched to a 2.96 ERA in 112 innings. The World Series also featured the NL MVP (Max Muncy) and Cy Young winner (Kershaw).
The Fall Classic did not, however, include the AL Cy Young. That distinction went to Bryan Abreu of the Astros. He also won the Rookie of the Year by going 9-1 with a 1.57 ERA across 69 innings in 13 games (11 starts). Abreu's victory was not, however, the most surprising among rookies. That's because the NL honors went to Reggie McClain. Yes, Reggie McClain, the 27-year-old right-hander who will enter the season with 21 career innings. (Hey, we figured there would be some unusual results in this scenario.)
Other individual performances of note: Hunter Renfroe led with 29 homers; Kershaw had another batty strikeout-to-walk ratio (11.8); deGrom tied for the WAR lead with Zach Davies; and Zach Plesac and Jake Odorizzi tied with Kershaw for the most wins (with 11). Oh, and by the way, our old friend Rick Porcello managed to throw two shutouts. The OOTP engine digs him.
Remember, this exercise was conducted in the name of entertainment.
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