By Will Pharo
Lance Lynn has had a weird career. He was an All-Star in 2012, his first full season in St. Louis, but his weak peripherals–a WHIP over 1.3 and an exactly league average ERA+ of just 100–led to 2.6 fWAR, which isn’t bad but also isn’t really All-Star material. Since then, Lynn has had a productive career as an average to slightly-above-average starter, averaging 2.75 fWAR from 2012-2018. Then, as a 32-year-old on his 4th team in 2 years last year, he posted 6.8 fWAR and finished 5th in AL Cy Young balloting. Lynn actually had some encouraging numbers for progression: a career high K%, career low BB%, and career highs in pitch velocity across the board. However, Lynn will now be 33 years old and coming off a career high in innings pitched. He had a career-worst 39% hard hit rate, and his ERA, xFIP, and SIERA were all more or less in line with his career norms, meaning that his WAR can probably be attributed to lots of innings, lots of strikeouts, and fewer walks. Regression to the mean is very likely for Lynn in 2020.
Hyun-Jin Ryu’s 2019 reeks of 2018 Blake Snell. Many people will look at the dazzling surface statistics of league-leading ERA and low WHIP figures and be convinced that both are excellent. However, a deeper look shows that they were both quite lucky in terms of run prevention; Snell’s 2019 validated this opinion. Ryu’s name was thrown around last year in the same category as deGrom and Scherzer for the NL Cy Young but according to fWAR, Ryu was more on the level of their teammates Patrick Corbin and Zach Wheeler, two number 3 starters for their respective staffs. Both are very good pitchers but certainly the not perennial Cy Young contenders deGrom and Scherzer are. Ryu’s control was impeccable last year, posting the lowest BB/9 in the NL. However, he had a very high LOB% in 2019 at 82.2%, his opponent BABIP was a very low .278, and his K% and HR% were the same as his career norms. All of this points to luck being a very strong influencer of Ryu’s great 2019 campaign. Ryu and Snell had the same issue of throwing very few innings as well by Cy Young contender standards, both of them barely passing 180. Ryu’s hard hit rate and SIERA were both actually worse than his career norms in 2019. Regression back to his good-but-not-great self is inevitable.
The “boomer” stats on Hudson are great: 16 wins, an ERA in the low 3s, and 32 starts sounds like a guy who should get some Cy Young votes, right? According to fWAR, though, he was worth a below-average 1.0 wins above replacement, tying him with Mike Leake for the lowest number among all starters who threw enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. Hudson had an xFIP of 4.55 and–using more basic stats–his WHIP was over 1.4 and his K/BB ratio was just 1.58. A mere .274 BABIP shows bad luck for hitters against him. His hard hit rate of 40.5% is not a good sign either. Absolutely nothing from last year paints Hudson as an above-average MLB pitcher aside from his very basic stats. Hudson is probably the most obvious person on the list and maybe his inclusion as a 2019 was a big generous.
Yoan Moncada/Tim Anderson
Okay, there’s actually 6 players in this article. I lied. 5 is a nice round number, though, and doing these two as a pair makes sense. The White Sox are everybody’s playoff “dark horse” in 2020, but if everyone is saying it doesn’t that just make them playoff contenders? Tim Anderson was the AL batting champ last year, hitting a cool .335 with an excellent 129 OPS+; Moncada seemed to finally live up to his hype in 2019 with a slash-line of .315/.367/.548 and some MVP consideration. Despite playing shortstop, a position WAR is kind to in its calculations, accumulated just 3.5 fWAR in his “monster” year, which is nice but not All-Star caliber. Anderson had a miniscule 2.9% BB rate and an improved but not great 21% K rate, concerning for a non-power hitter. His hard hit rate improved, but by less than 2%. His most encouraging true difference in 2019 was a more evenly distributed spray chart but all signs-including an absurd .399 BABIP, second in the majors-point to the South Side shortstop just having had a lucky season in 2019 and a likely return to his mediocre self in 2020.
Who had the highest BABIP in the majors, you ask? At .406, it’s Anderson’s teammate Yoan Moncada. Moncada is still uber-talented and may get to the elite caliber he flashed in 2019, but there were red flags about his skyrocketing production. He got his K% down from “almost unplayable” to just bad at 27.5% and made strides defensively. However, a .406 BABIP is unheard of. For context, Ichiro posted a .399 BABIP during his 262 hit season, and he’s the greatest contact hitter of the last 30 years. Moncada ranked just 75th in hard hit rate and his ground ball rate went up from 2018. Their BABIPs show that both Anderson and Moncada both got insanely lucky last year. Their averages are almost certain to decrease and–especially for Anderson–their production is sure to follow.
If you watch MLB Network or go to baseball YouTube, a ton of them will try to tell you Bo Bichette is the best player casual fans don’t know and is going to explode in 2020 and beyond. While he may be a great player in the future, his rookie campaign was way less exciting than people would have you believe. Bichette slashed .311/.358/.571 with a 144 OPS+ as a 21-year-old rookie. However, Bichette also had a .368 BABIP and had walked just 6.6% of the time. This, paired with a K rate of 23.6% and a poor hard-hit rate of 32.7%, shows there is not a lot of substance behind Bichette’s small sample size success. Bichette got worse as the year went along, too, as pitchers had more tape on him. Bichette’s stats got really fat on some poor pitching against teams that were out of it in August and September. He may be a great player in the future, but don’t expect anything like a 144 OPS+ in 2020.