In the past couple of days, there have been rumblings of the start of the MLB season. Apparently, the commissioner and the players association are discussing the plans. They are waiting on the Governors to announce their plans for when the states will open. This leads one to assume that the teams will be playing in their home cities and stadiums. What is not addressed is the timing and how the game will allow fans to come to those stadiums. It seems logical that we can assume several things here. There will likely be no fans in the seats or at least very few, the beginning of the season will roughly be between late June and July 4th. This also means that there will not be a 162-game season. The last subject is what I would like to address today.
I write an in-depth MLB guide every season where predicted outcomes are provided. These also consider projected player performances, regression and progression teams, season win over under plays, and much more. However, all of this is based on a 162-game season and the teams playing in their respective divisions. It is a given that MLB will play somewhere between 80-100 games this season. There is also no guarantee that each team will stay in their respective divisions for 2020.
What do we do with a shortened season? How do we combat the prospect of the teams playing in different divisions? Let us start with the shortened season issues and there are many to consider. The first thing to know is that there are 65 days from today until July 4th. There are 120 days from July 4th until November 1st. If the playoffs don’t extend beyond Nov 1st, then those 120 days will include playoff games! A normal MLB season is 187 days. It is not important to know the exact number of days, what is important is the number of required doubleheaders are scheduled to complete the season. In a long grueling season, playing two games in one-day taxes a player’s body. We need to see what the impact of doubleheaders looks like. The first area is the older players. Older players tend to be given days off during the season so they will stay at peak performance. There is some thought that older players will play more due to the fewer number games and the grind of the season will be shorter. Yet, due to the increased doubleheaders, they likely will sit games anyway. I do not see how veterans will have any likely edge as the double headers wipe out any lessening of the wear and tear. Looking deeper at short-season impacts, a required strength will be pitching depth. Teams that are deep with starting pitching or relief pitching WILL have an edge. I am looking for teams that go 6 and 7 starters deep. A team like the NY Yankees, for example, can line up 6 strong starters and have a younger Jonathan Loaisiga as a 7th. They would start Gerrit Cole, Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, JA Happ, Jordan Montgomery, Domingo German, then Loaisiga. They are a team that could handle the doubleheaders. Ideally, we are looking for teams that have enough depth to overcome say 7 games in a stretch of 5 or 6 days. It will require going 6 or 7 deep starters deep. On the backside of that, we are going to need to have deep bullpens. The more innings played in fewer days requires them to throw more. Teams are going to need multiple backend “closer” type roles. Most teams are not equipped like that and we bettors know that the bullpen is a common weakness area in all of MLB. So, teams with a deep bullpen will emerge with edges over their competition. I did a study on winning and losing streaks for the 2020 guide. The conclusion was that teams go on longer winning streaks than they do losing streaks and the good teams have multiple long winning streaks whereas the lesser teams only have one or two long winning streaks. Streaks happen every year to every team. In a season where there will be 62 or fewer games, these streaks are important to either get on or stop. Can you imagine if the CLE streak of 21 straight wins happens in a season where there are only 100 games played? The impact of that is CLE would have won 21% of their games in 21ish days, with around 100 days left in the season; it means they could go 29-50 and still be .500.
The critical piece is the alignment. There are many rumors out there about 3 divisions with 10 teams or east spring training teams vs west spring training teams etc. The issue at hand is that we do not know how many games an opponent will play another in their division. Currently, each team in their division plays 29 times against each other. This is crucial. The reason is MLB is full of “have not” teams. CLE has been advantaged over the past several seasons due to playing KC, DET, and CHW. They have 87 games against teams each season where they are likely to be over .600 against them. If the divisions are reset for this season, we are not going to be able to assess this until we know those breakdowns.
Wrapping this up. The shorter season does not mean less wear and tear. The doubleheaders eliminate this aspect. Playing more baseball games with fewer days off requires deeper starting rotations and deeper bullpens. I am not just talking about having those arms, I mean having legitimate quality depth. In a normal season, a 5-man rotation will work. In a shorter less day off type season, it will be a requirement to have a 6-man rotation. Youth will prevail on offense as their bodies will hold up. It will be just as necessary to have deep bullpens as was the depth of the starting pitchers. Winning streaks will be important, but it will be vital to stop losing streaks as they start. The teams that fit these criteria are:
*LA Angels just missed
I don’t really see many teams that are much different than that before the season. Although there are no CHC, STL, MIL, ARI, or CLE that make it into the top 10 or 11. Even with the new 3 divisions of 10 teams layout, these top 11 teams would make for balanced divisions as each division would have 3 of these teams. I can’t wait to see how MLB unfolds their plan, but I know that pitching will be even more vital to success in 2020. Let’s celebrate the first pitch with a tip of the cap to everyone on the frontlines that made this coming day a reality! Thank you.