MLB Storylines: The Good And The Bad From Each AL Team So Far

The 2020 MLB season has endured its fair share of licks thus far, but it keeps getting back up and trucking along at an incredibly fast rate. By the end of the week, we’ll have finished over a third of the season and will only be a few games away from the halfway point. Let’s take a look at some of the good and bad storylines from each team thus far in the early going.

AL East

1. New York Yankees (12-6)

new york yankees

Good

Early returns on their $300 million investment, Gerrit Cole. Cole has won three of his first four starts with a 3.22 ERA and 26 strikeouts against just five walks. While his velocity is just a tad slower and he is yielding a little more hard hit balls in play than in years past, the results have still been there.

Bad

Starters not named Gerrit Cole. Luis Severino and Domingo German are out of the picture until 2021. Meanwhile, James Paxton, Jordan Montgomery, and J.A. Happ have not been good. Masahiro Tanaka took a line drive off his head in summer camp, but he has looked sharp so far in his two short starts since returning. Nonetheless, even with Cole and Tanaka, the Yankees rotation currently has the 11th highest ERA in the majors.

2. Tampa Bay Rays (12-8)

tampa bay rays

Good

Brandon Lowe. The 2019 AL Rookie of the Year finalist is one of the lone bright spots in the Rays lineup thus far in 2020. Through 65 plate appearances, the 25-year-old second baseman has a .940 OPS. While Lowe may not flash with exit velocities and hard-hit balls, he is barreling the ball up and refraining from swinging outside of the zone more than most and it is producing results.

Bad

Charlie Morton, yet another top-line pitcher to hit the IL in 2020. Even worse, the 10-day IL trip for shoulder inflammation comes on the heels of four unproductive and worrisome starts from the Rays’ ace. Thus far in 2020, the 36-year-old’s fastball velocity has dropped about two miles per hour, he’s inducing fewer swings and misses, and much more of his ground balls have turned into hard-hit fly balls.

3. Baltimore Orioles (10-7)

baltimore orioles

Good

Where to start with Baltimore… They’re not one of the five worst teams in the majors? They’re above .500? They have a positive run differential, a feat they haven’t accomplished since 2016? How about their offense, which is top-five in the league in terms of OPS and top-10 in terms of runs per game. Time will tell if they can sustain the success, but young names such as Renato Nunez, Rio Ruiz, and Pedro Severino have seemingly taken strides forward.

Bad

Austin Hays. The promising young center fielder is off to a rocky start offensively in 2020. He finally registered his first extra-base hit of 2020 on Tuesday night during his 63rd plate appearance of the season, hitting an inside the park home run after he laced a ball into center that rolled underneath the center fielder’s glove and ran all the way to the fence. After a good September in 2019, Hays was given the everyday position in center field to begin the season. Thus far, he hasn’t done much with it. While he has been impressive on defense, he’s yet to begin consistently barreling the ball up and hitting it hard.

4. Toronto Blue Jays (6-9)

toronto blue jays

Good

Reliable bullpen arms. Thus far in 2020, the Blue Jays have had a crew of lock-down bullpen arms. Anthony Bass, Jordan Romano, A.J. Cole, Jacob Waguespack, and Ryan Borucki have given up just three runs in a combined 31.1 innings of work (all coming from one home run given up by Anthony Bass on Tuesday night).

Bad

Vlad Jr. While the 21-year-old phenom can still punish the baseball when he makes solid contact, he’s just not doing that very often so far in 2020. He’s below league average in terms of how often he barrels up the ball and has just a .628 OPS in his first 58 plate appearances. The unearthly high expectations placed on him hoped he would have more than one home run and four runs batted in so far. However, he’s yet to commit in error after his move to first base. Much like many other sluggers around the league, Guerrero is seemingly still trying to get his timing down.

5. Boston Red Sox (6-13)

boston red

Good

Xander Bogaerts. The 27-year-old shortstop is demonstrating 2019 was not a fluke, and that he can hit. Bogearts is barreling the ball up and hitting it hard more often than three-quarters of the league, and his expected slugging percentage (xSLG) is better than 95% of all qualified hitters. On the year he has four doubles, three home runs, ten RBIs, two stolen bases, and eight walks to just eleven strikeouts.

Bad

Starting pitching. The Red Sox rotation currently has the fifth-worst ERA at 5.21. After trading David Price in the offseason (who opted out anyway), and losing Chris Sale to Tommy John surgery, the Red Sox took another big blow when it was announced that Eduardo Rodriguez would be shut down for the remainder of the season due to health complications believed to have been brought on by COVID-19. Currently, Nathan Eovaldi and Martin Perez are the only semblances of consistency in the rotation, as nobody else has pitched more than four innings in an outing thus far in 2020. Only twice in 17 games has a starting pitcher reached six innings for the Red Sox (both by Eovaldi).

AL Central

1. Minnesota Twins (12-7)

minnesota twins

Good

Nelson Cruz. Father time has been friendly to Nelson Cruz. He is 40 years old and still crushing. He is in the 75th percentile or higher in how often he barrels the ball up, his average exit velocity, and how often he has an exit velocity of 95 miles per hour or higher. So far, he has four home runs, 16 runs batted in, and a .944 OPS.

Bad

Jose Berrios. With Jake Odorizzi, Rich Hill, and Homer Bailey on the 10-day IL, Twins nation turned to Jose Berrios to provide stability in the rotation. However, Berrios hasn’t quite done that. Over four starts, Berrios is 1-2 with a 5.31 ERA. He’s struggled to get batters out and is leaving pitches over the plate more than he typically does. His ability to put batters away with his pitches has gone down, and the amount of barrels and line drives he is yielding has gone up a bit. The result is a pitcher that is nothing close to the ace the Twins organization has hoped Berrios would develop into.

2. Detroit Tigers (9-7)

detroit tigers

Good

Their record. Currently, the Tigers are 9-6 and have an equal number of runs scored and runs allowed. Prior to the season, their over/under on wins was around 21.5. If they maintain an even runs allowed and runs scored ratio, they’ll likely finish with closer to 30 wins.

Bad

Matthew Boyd, The de facto ace of the Tigers staff. In three starts, Boyd has failed to pitch more than five innings or give up less than four runs. Two of Boyd’s secondary pitches, his changeup and his slider, have been crushed thus far. As I type this, he gave up back-to-back home runs to lead off the game against Tim Anderson and Eloy Jiminez to begin his start on Wednesday, increasing his ERA on the season to 9.17.

3. Cleveland Indians (10-9)

cleveland indians

Good

Despite having one of the worst offenses in the league to start 2020, the Indians are still above .500 and it is a testament to how good the Indians pitching has been. Thus far, the pitching staff is yielding up an absurdly low 2.44 runs per game, good enough for lowest in the majors. They have the league’s lowest ERA at 2.32 and the league’s third-highest strikeouts-per-nine rate at 10.7.

Bad

Offense. The Indians have the worst OPS in the majors and the second-worst runs per game at 3.33. Nobody is hitting quite as well as they should be. Francisco Lindor and Carlos Santana are off to slow starts, Oscar Mercado has an OPS below .300, and Franmil Reyes has struck out in 20 of his 64 plate appearances.

4. Chicago White Sox (10-9):

chicago white

Good

Luis Robert. One of the game’s top prospects has arrived, and it appears he is here to stay. Watching him glide around in center field with above-average speed and defensive ability doesn’t seem fair considering his NFL-frame, and his offense is coming alive as well. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is alarming, but the 22-year-old is still producing solid numbers at the plate.

Bad

Reynaldo Lopez and Carlos Rodon, two starting pitchers the organization has viewed for a few years now as players that have been ready to develop into above-average starters. Consistency from Lopez and Rodon, who both struggled before being put on the 10-day IL, was an important piece to a White Sox team looking to contend with the Twins and Indians in the AL central.

5. Kansas City Royals (8-11)

kansas city royals

Good

Josh Staumont. The 26-year-old starting-pitcher-turned-reliever has looked excellent over his first 7.2 innings in 2020. Outside of one solo home run, Staumont has been nearly perfect, including fourteen strikeouts to just three walks. Despite his average exit velocity being fairly high, Staumont is inducing a large number of pop-ups and swings and misses with his new and impressive curveball and 100 mile-per-hour fastball.

Bad

Starting pitching. The eight different players to make a start are just 2-7 on the year and have the fifth-highest FIP in baseball. Youngsters Ronald Bolanos and prized-prospect Brady Singer are getting a chance in the rotation, but have been far from spectacular.

AL West

1. Oakland Athletics (13-6)

oakland athletics

Good

Jesus Luzardo and Frankie Montas. Luzardo, the A’s top prospect, has been worth the wait. After being sidelined for much of 2019 before making a brief debut, Luzardo began 2020 with a positive COVID-19 test. Since then, he’s rejoined the team and has been electric. His deadly 95 mile-per-hour sinker is inducing a 60 percent ground ball rate to a fly ball rate just shy of seven percent. Montas, another talented pitcher, was a Cy Young front runner in 2019 before getting hit with an 80-game suspension. So far in 2020, Montas has also been incredibly sharp over his first four starts.

Bad

Marcus Semien. The A’s shortstop emerged as one of the game’s top players in 2019 after playing all 162 games and finishing the season third in MVP voting. Semien has started off 2020 with a much worse walk-to-strikeout ratio and is not making solid contact. Join the party, Semien.

2. Texas Rangers (8-9)

texas rangers

Good

Lance Lynn. The comeback tour for the 33-year-old journeyman continues. Lynn played for three different teams over eight seasons before landing his three-year, $30-million contract with the Rangers. After finishing fifth in Cy Young voting in 2019, Lynn is off to a hot start in 2020. Over his first four starts, Lynn is 2-0 with a 1.16 ERA. Prior to 2019, Lynn took the induce-groundballs-with-a-sinker approach. However, over the course of 2019 and so far in 2020, Lynn has slowly worked his cutter into the mix and has now virtually replaced his sinker with the cutter. With great tunneling, combining the four-seamer and cutter has made it extremely difficult for hitters to generate hard contact. Not only is Lynn striking out more batters, but he is also inducing much more weak contact than in the past.

Bad

Mike Minor. Minor has flirted the boundaries of being an above-average pitcher, while battling injuries, for nearly ten years. After appearing to take a step forward in 2019, Minor has not been sharp in 2020. Over four starts, Minor is 0-3 with a 5.49 ERA. His fastball has lost life and dropped nearly two miles-per-hour of velocity, and his curveball, which he’s trying to mix in more often, is not generating any swings and misses.

3. Houston Astros (8-10)

houston astros

Good

Blake Taylor. The 24-year-old southpaw is making his major league debut, and so far has been impressive. Taylor was starting games in the minors in 2018, but has since been moved to the bullpen. Last year, at various levels, Taylor sported a 2.16 ERA over 66.2 innings, while striking out 74. In his first nine innings in the majors, Taylor has surrendered just two runs on six hits, with 10 strikeouts to four walks. He’s doing all of this with just two pitches, a four-seamer and a slider, both above average in terms of velocity.

Bad

Justin Verlander. The future hall-of-famer made one start before being put on the IL with a forearm strain. Initial reports indicated that Verlander would be out for the season, however, the pitcher has seen refuted such claims. Manager Dusty Baker has mentioned that Verlander’s progress is not coming along as quickly as they expected, which is always concerning for professional athletes approaching 40 years old.

4. Los Angeles Angels (7-12)

los angeles angels

Good

David Fletcher. The Angel’s 26-year-old utility man has stepped in nicely at SS while Andrelton Simmons is on the IL. In addition to his versatility, Fletcher has played in all 18 games this season. Yet again, he rarely whiffs on a pitch and rarely strikes out. His ability to put the ball in play mixed with his above-average speed has produced solid offensive production.

Bad

One-half of Shohei Ohtani. The much-heralded two-way Japanese professional ballplayer has had an up-and-down career in the MLB so far. He’s shown he can hit. In nearly 1000 career plate appearances, he has an OPS of nearly .900. However, his pitching journey has been rocky. After being shut down as a pitcher during the 2018 season and for all of 2019, Ohtani was finally set to make his return to the mound. After recording only five outs combined in two starts, an MRI revealed an elbow strain and his pitching has been shut down for the season.

5. Seattle Mariners (7-13)

seattle mariners

Good

Kyle Seager. The 32-year-old Mariner’s third baseman is off to a hot start in 2020. The usually durable Seager missed time last year due to a hand injury that required surgery. Despite a little scare, Seager appears healthy so far in 2020. He has 18 RBIs in just 18 games, a .914 OPS, and is showing off his elite plate discipline. Over his 78 plate appearances, Seager has struck out just seven times to his seven walks.

Bad

Justus Sheffield. After a disappointing Mariner’s debut in 2019 upon being acquired from the Yankees, Sheffield has not been sharp in 2020. He’s 1-2 with a 5.47 ERA over his first three starts. Sheffield has a unique pitch mix that has not only been a topic of discussion regarding the once highly-touted prospect, but has been tweaked in 2020. He’s virtually ditched his four-seam fastball and replaced it with a two-seamer that plays more like a sinker. Some peripherals suggest he may be getting unlucky while he figures out his new pitch mix, so there’s still some remaining optimism that he’ll develop into a quality pitcher.

  
Zach Boeder is a high school math teacher that has a passion for sports and data journalism. Zach received a Bachelor's Degree in Mathematics and a Master's Degree in Education from the University of Arizona. He currently teaches in Saint Paul and Lives in Minneapolis with his partner Sarah, their dog Dozier, and cat Remy. Zach plans to argue for a very long time that "2020 would have been the Twins' year if baseball hadn't been shut down."

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