Sample size is everything in baseball. It’s the reason a (normal) season is 162 games long. The fewer the games played, the wider open the door is to statistical aberrations that simply would not hold up over a full summer.
But, that’s not a luxury we have in 2020. We’re lucky to watch any baseball at all — although, judging by the outbreaks across multiple teams, maybe we shouldn’t be — and 60 games will have to do. Some guys are going to use this sprint of a season to shine. Here are five players who stand a chance at leveraging this short season into stardom.
Let’s add a quick disclaimer to our first entry: Luis Robert is the player on this list who’s destined to become a superstar regardless of season length. He’s very good and has been one of the most surefire prospects in all of baseball for a while. Robert has arrived and he’s going to terrorize the AL Central for years to come.
But all that doesn’t disqualify him. It only shines a light on how quickly he’s doing it. In the first 10 games of his MLB career, Robert is already putting up the Trout-like numbers everyone eventually expects from him. He’s sitting on a .350 batting average, 2 bombs, 6 RBIs, and 3 stolen bases as he proves to have no problem adjusting to next-level pitching.
Most telling: Robert has already racked up .8 WAR, which puts him right around some of the league’s most valuable players. Aaron Judge, Mookie Betts, DJ LeMahieu, and Trevor Story all have similar WAR. Robert’s impact has been immediately felt in the White Sox lineup, and how quickly he’s performing is nothing short of a best-case scenario. If you’re reading this for card advice, there’s a reason Robert’s stock is so high. His value has already skyrocketed but it hasn’t yet hit its ceiling.
It’s unreasonable to expect any real season-long records to fall this year. If someone reaches 30 home runs, it’ll be a monumental achievement and one of the best seasons ever — and still 43 short of the full-season record.
Cleveland’s Shane Bieber has the best chance of any pitcher to make a dent in the record books. He has been absolutely lights-out in his first two starts — dominating the Royals, and then holding the Twins to three hits and no runs over 8 innings. That performance against the Twins was the second-best game score of any pitcher this year as he took the potent Minnesota offense and made them look feeble.
Bieber could make a run at Bob Gibson’s liveball era record of 1.12 season ERA (even though it won’t really count because he won’t hit the 162-inning threshold to qualify). However, he could break Zach Britton’s 2016 record of a 0.54 single-season ERA by a player with 50 or more innings. Or, he could finish with a 1.000 winning percentage as most of his projected 10 remaining starts are against weak AL and NL Central offenses.
Regardless of where Bieber’s stats end up, one thing is wildly evident: Cleveland had no problem trading away club ace Corey Kluber because it knew Bieber was another ace-in-waiting.
Seattle’s Kyle Lewis had a cup of coffee in the big leagues last year, arriving as a September call-up to get some reps for a last-place team. Turns out, that coffee was piping hot. It led to this tweet from the Reds which has aged extremely gracefully over the past 10 months:
This was supposed to serve as a full-season version of that call-up: A rookie campaign where the stakes are low because the Mariners are bad. No one could have predicted Lewis would somehow improve on last September.
He has been shot out of a cannon in Seattle’s first dozen games, recording a hit in the first 10 games and getting multiple hits in six straight games. Lewis leads the MLB in hits, and he has flashed some early power to pad his slugging percentage. (Unfortunately, Lewis also leads the AL in strikeouts.) It’s probably an early neck-and-neck race between Kyle Lewis and Luis Robert for the AL Rookie of the Year — but I’d take Lewis by an inch right now.
As for the Mariners? Still bad! That’s bound to happen when you play in a division with the Astros and the A’s.
Unlike everyone else on this list, Minnesota second baseman Luis Arraez isn’t off to a scorching hot start to the season. But, before the season started, Arraez hitting .400 this year was a prediction that reliably showed up on blogs across the baseball world.
There’s a reason a lot of pundits could envision Arraez putting up Ted Williams-like numbers across a shortened season. He just hits the ball. When you put the ball in play, good things happen. Arraez is a Tony Gwynn-esque hitter with tremendous plate discipline and a knack for finding the grass.
Arraez hit .334 in his 2019 rookie campaign but he’s toiling in the .220s right now. That’ll change. Arraez is the kind of hitter who’s capable of putting up 4- and 5-hit days with regularity. When he turns it around, that Minnesota offense is going to get even scarier.
It took Mike Yastrzemski a long time to make it to the big leagues. After spending six years in the Orioles minor league system, Yaz was traded to the Giants and has finally broken out. Now he looks every bit the star as his grandfather Carl.
Yaz’s 2019 was up-and-down (but ended up) but he seemingly used the offseason to improve on his weaknesses. His plate discipline is much better, as Yaz isn’t chasing balls outside the zone nearly as often. He leads the MLB in walks, and he leads the NL in on-base percentage.
Everyone already knows his name. That’s the reverse order of operations from how these things usually go. Now it’s time for Yaz to turn into a breakout star. It took longer than expected, but he’s on his way.