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Analysis

MLB: How Will Fans Remember the 2020 Season?

There is no doubt that the 2020 MLB season will be unconventional, but how will it be remembered in history compared to normal seasons?

It has been nine months since the conclusion of the 2019 season. Three months since “Opening Day 2020.” Now, after several rejected proposals by the Major League Baseball Players Association and owners alike, baseball is back…kind of.

On Tuesday, MLB announced that “the 2020 season will begin on July 23 or 24. Players will report by July 1 for training and precautions will be taken to protect all players and personnel from COVID-19.”

But for hardcore fans, will 60 games be enough to be considered a legitimate season? Right now there are mixed feelings. Some fans are just happy baseball is back in any fashion while others have lost all interest in a season that won’t start until almost August.

Although unconventional, a 2020 season for Yankees fans means they are still a World Series favorite, they finally get to welcome the best pitcher from last year’s free-agent market and we now get to see the consequences of our new arch-rivals historic scandal. To have lost this season altogether would have certainly been tough to swallow. But now that we are set for a two-month sprint, more and more questions are arising with regard to the legitimacy of the season.

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Schedule

When it comes to baseball 60 games isn’t the true test of a team’s quality. We don’t need to venture too far back for an example. Last year’s Washington Nationals would not have even made the playoffs if the season ended after 60 games. Their record sat at 27-33 and they had the third-worst record amongst National League teams.

Although the 2018 Dodgers and 2014 Royals fell just short of World Series titles, they are two more recent examples of teams that didn’t kick it into full gear until after the 60 game mark. They played to records of 30-30 and 29-31 respectively only to reach the Fall Classic just a few months later.

It’s also worth noting that in an effort to reduce COVID-19’s threat on the 2020 season, MLB teams will only be playing within their divisions and regions. For example, the AL East will only play the NL East. So, unfortunately, New York probably won’t see Houston this year. Teams’ schedules will consist of 40 divisional games, 10 against each opponent. The remainder of the games will be divided amongst the region. For example, the Yankees will play 10 apiece against the Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays and Orioles, and the remainder against the Braves, Nationals, Mets, Phillies, and Marlins. This leads me to a potential issue with regard to the legitimacy of the season, the schedule (even more so than usual) has too much weight on a team’s success given the shortened season.

Under normal circumstances, MLB teams would play 76 divisional games (47% of the season). Now, given the new regulations, teams will play 40 games (66.6% of the season) within their division.

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Statistics

Why would history care about the records and statistics from the shortest baseball season ever played? Stats from the 2020 season will have a direct relationship with the number of games played. The same holds true for home runs and RBIs. For instance, DJ LeMahieu, who had 197 hits through 145 games last year will most likely have 60-80 hits through 60 games. But stats like batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging will all be skewed due to the small sample size.

Even in 1994 when the great Tony Gwynn hit .394 in a strike-shortened season, the schedule consisted of 110 games. A decent enough sample size one would think, especially with his 165 hits through over those 110 games. But the writers still only voted him seventh in the MVP.

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Awards

The last time MLB played a season this short (1878), there was no such thing as the MVP or batting title and Cy Young himself was just 11 years old.

In terms of crowning a 2020 batting champion, we have addressed the key issues. However, it’s worth noting that the only other time MLB season didn’t start on time (1981) teams still played around 110 games each.

Today, most starters don’t last much more than six innings. And given the shortened season, they will have about 12 starts max. It’s going to be difficult not to see any surprise performance as more than that an outlier. The same holds true for the MVP. Point being, most baseball fans will not accept award winners this year given the normal length of an MLB season. Awards should be done away with for 2020.

There is still plenty of work that needs to be done before the 2020 season can officially get underway. Players need to be tested, facilities need to be cleansed and most importantly, we need to get a handle on this invisible assassin. Stay safe and let’s play ball.

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