The story of the 2020 Major League Baseball season cannot be told without bringing to light the biggest surprises and disappointments of this shortened campaign. The top award contenders continue to flex their strengths, and the playoff-bound teams remain atop their division’s standings. All the while, certain players and teams continue to exhibit noteworthy drop-offs in performance.
Here are two players who are either exceeding expectations or failing to reach them, along with one team for each respective category.
Surprising: Luis Robert (Outfielder, Chicago White Sox)
While the 23-year-old sat near the top of MLB’s Top Prospects list for multiple seasons, no one knew if the prospect’s talents would translate at the big-league level. Thus far, he is proving to be worth all the hype.
Robert’s OPS+ this season is 137 whereas the league average is 100, meaning he is hitting at a level that is 37 percent above the average hitter. Half of his 38 hits this season are extra-base hits — eight doubles and 11 home runs — and he keeps flashing his great speed and fielding with amazing plays in center field.
With the White Sox finally reaping the rewards of a long rebuild, Robert is the first piece to arrive and show off his potential in the bigs.
Disappointing: Christian Yelich (Outfielder, Milwaukee Brewers)
In the 2018 and 2019 seasons, Yelich was arguably the best left-handed hitter in baseball.
With a 171 OPS+, a 0.327 batting average and an average of 79 extra-base hits along with 174 total hits over those two seasons, there was nothing comparable. All of that dominance seems to be missing from his game in 2020.
Yelich is striking out more, while also swinging at fewer pitches, and is focusing more on just hitting home runs. He looks mechanically out of whack, and is failing more than ever at simply hitting the ball.
His ship seems destined to stay on this course as the season concludes.
Surprising: Shane Bieber (Starting Pitcher, Cleveland Indians)
Bieber is the latest Indians starter to rise to the top of the hill of American League starting pitchers. The 25-year-old righty is pitching at a level that might win him the AL Most Valuable Player award along with a Cy Young award this season.
With a league-best 1.25 Earned Run Average and 94 total strikeouts, along with a 0.816 average of walks plus hits per inning pitched — second in MLB — and the highest Wins Above Replacement in the entire AL at 2.85, Bieber is playing out of this world in 2020, and what makes it even crazier is that no one saw this level of dominance coming.
Disappointing: Gerrit Cole (Starting Pitcher, New York Yankees)
Gerrit Cole’s two-year run in Houston from 2018-2019 can be viewed as one of the best two-year runs ever by a starter. With a 35-10 record, a 2.68 ERA, a 0.96 WHIP and more than 400 innings pitched, as well as more than 600 strikeouts during those two seasons, his dip in production in 2020 is all the more noteworthy.
Cole might still be striking out batters at a high rate, but he is surrendering home runs at a rate of 2.3 per nine innings. This blows away his previous career-high of 1.4 during the 2017 season.
His control and movement on his fastball and curveball, two of his three primary pitches, has also gotten significantly worse as a Yankee.
For someone who just signed a nine-year, $324 million deal in the offseason, Cole must perform better, and soon.
Surprising: Miami Marlins
Not only did Miami lose 105 games last season and make few significant changes to their big-league roster for 2020, they also got slammed by COVID-19 when they temporarily lost 16 players due to an outbreak in late July. Despite these massive hurdles standing in the way of winning, Miami maintains a 17-18 record through 35 games.
Their pitching staff is much-improved from last season. Young starting pitcher Pablo Lopez, and veteran relievers Brandon Kintzler, Brad Boxberger and James Hoyt, none of whom have performed well recently, or ever, are anchoring the staff.
The lineup might be hitting around an average mark, but with all the hardship they have faced thus far, Don Mattingly is well on his way to a Manager of the Year Award and the Marlins are on the fringe of entering the 2020 playoffs.
Disappointing: New York Yankees
For a team that won at least 100 games in each of the last two seasons and brought back much of their strong core, along with adding the crown jewel of free-agent pitchers in Cole, who could’ve thought that the Yankees would sit at 0.500 at 21-19 through 40 games.
The 2020 Yankees seem unable to avoid the injury bug with stars like Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres and many more sitting on the shelf. And the hitters that remain are inconsistent and underperforming.
Luke Voit and Clint Frazier’s surprising leadership in the lineup is a definite bright spot, but the Yankees also have major issues in the starting rotation and in their usually dominant bullpen.
All told, something is just not right with the Bronx Bombers.