1.Tyler Glasnow will win the AL CY.
As everyone has read and/or seen, Glasnow has the filthy stuff. He did not truly excel until he was traded to the Rays in July 2018. We all remember that lopsided trade with the Pirates: Chris Archer in exchange for Glasnow, Austin Meadows, and Shane Baz. Glasnow countinued to improve as a member of the Rays. For example, prior to an unfortunate injury, he started 2019 with this impressive stat line: 5.43 K/BB (11.27 K/9; 2.08 BB/9) and 0.59 HR/9. The injury appeared to be serious, but he luckily did not require surgery.
Enter 2020. Glasnow might be on a pitch count, but it appears that all pitchers will be somewhat restricted with the short season. He has the stuff to be an ace on any team and will show it this year. He is 6’ 8” with a repertoire of plus pitches, which continued to improve after he trained at Driveline in the winter of 2017. Per MLB.com, Glasnow’s unique fastball sits around 97 mph and has cutting action. Although Glasnow does not have a true cutter in his arsenal, his fastball acts like a sweeping cutter—it has optimal spin and cuts five inches at times. He relies on this just over 50% of the time. He also throws his deceiving 82 mph curve about 40%. And his best pitch might be his 93 mph changeup, but it is only thrown 4%. Combine these exceptional pitches with good control, and you get a CY candidate. If you do not believe me, just watch this clip: https://youtu.be/BMW0y9z9bKA
2. Jack Flaherty will win the NL CY.
In 2019, Flaherty pitched 196.1 innings with 231 Ks, 55 BBs, and 25 HRs. He finished with 4.7 WAR per Fangraphs even though he started the year with a 4.90 ERA through the first 17 games. And, he set Cardinals’ single season records with 10.69 K/9 and percentage of swings that missed (30.7%). While that is impressive, his second half was magical. For example, he led the National League with 124 strikeouts after the All-star break. He also finished the second half with a 0.91 ERA, which was the third lowest (in the second half of a season) since 1920. Moreover, Flaherty recorded 74 Ks with only 13 walks and 4 HRs in 61 innings during the final two months of 2019.
Past stats will not win him the CY in 2020, but his pitches will. Flaherty is known for being a fastball-slider guy (they account for 74% of his pitches). He creates extension with his 6’ 4” frame, which creates perceived velocity on his 95 mph four-seam fastball and 85 mph slider. He improved the location of both pitches during 2019 and they now appear to be on the same plane when released, which causes great difficulty for batters to identify what pitch is coming. In addition to that combo, Flaherty is armed with a 92 mph sinker and 78 mph curveball, which also generate strikes. However, his slider leaves batters the most befuddled and will continue to generate an extremely high number of swings and misses. It is not even fair to be on the other end when Flaherty is pitching light outs. See it here: https://youtu.be/jygn3wjgUy8
3. Nick Castellanos will have the most HRs in NL.
After being traded from the Tigers to the Cubs in 2019, Nick Castellanos hit 16 HRs in just 51 games; that was nearly a home run every three games. He also had 1.002 OPS and increased his hard hit rate from 39 to 47%. Over the past three seasons, Castellanos had the fourth highest line drive rate but only an average flyball plus-pop rate. But all his numbers greatly increased when he finally got out of Detroit. That team was going nowhere and it definitely appears as though the change in scenery is all he needed. Heck, he was even competent in the OF while playing for the Cubs; this was something he was not doing well while playing in Detroit. In fact, he seemed most appropriate for 1B but Miggy was holding down that spot.
Now he plays for the Reds in the Great American Ball Park, which is well known for home runs, especially to left field. According to Fangraphs, Cincinnati is tied for third most favorable in relation to home runs for right-hander batters. It is not clear what position he will be playing in 2020; even with the universal DH for both leagues, the Reds appear to have too many OFs and several of their players are best suited for DH. Regardless of where he plays, Castellanos will get plenty of ABs and compete for the HR title with the combination of his new ballpark and improved play since leaving Detroit.
4. José Ramirez will win the AL MVP.
In 2019, Jose Ramirez abandoned the failed attempt to change his approach (i.e., pulling more with an increased launch angle), which brought subpar results at the end of 2018 and beginning of 2019. In fact, the splits are very telling. After abandoning the attempted new approach, Ramirez put up MVP stats to close out 2019. For instance, over the first 82 games of 2019 he had 21 extra-base hits and a 0.629 OPS. However, over the last 47 games he had 38 extra-base hits and 1.110 OPS. He also slashed .326/.363/.747 with 18 HRs over the last 47 games. Further, his wOBA history also indicates the attempted new approach was not working:
And it seemed like he was destined to continue those increases until he fractured his hamate bone, which essentially ended his season. Also per Fangraphs, Ramirez slugged .789 on balls with an exit velocity of 95 or more prior to July and 1.739 from July to the end of the season. He also had nearly doubled contact rate and about 15% more hard contract after July 1st.
So, based on these increases, which provide a clear indicator of his stellar abilities, there is little reason to conclude he will not be in the MVP conversation for 2020. Another factor to consider: although his numbers decreased dramatically at the end of 2018/early 2019, he still stole a ton of bases, which has become a lost art for Trout and others. Those stolen bases could be a deciding factor for voters.
5. James Karinchak will have the most saves in 2020.
In 2019, Brad Hand had an impressive 34.7 K% and 4.67 K/BB (13.19 K/9; 2.83 BB/9) to go along with 0.94 HR/9 in 57 innings, while registering 34 saves to help propel the Cleveland Indians to their first playoff berth in three years. However, Hand is a lefty, and many managers like to deploy them as specialists in the setup role.
Youngster James Karinchak was promoted last year. According to Fangraphs, the 24-year old right-hander has an 80-grade fastball and 55-grade slider. And, although it is a small sample size, Karinchak recorded 66 Ks while only giving up 2 HRs in 27.1 innings at the AA and AAA levels in 2019. That was good for 21+ K/9 and approximately 58 K%. He also registered 9 Ks in 5.1 innings for the Indians at the end of the 2019 MLB season. These numbers combined to provide an electric 36.4 K% and 8 K/BB (13.5 K/9; 1.69 BB/9) to go along with 0 HRs.
Hand’s contract has a club option for 2021; Karinchak has only 0.017 service time. I know teams usually want to suppress the value of players still under their service time contract to hinder their arbitration salaries, but this still seems like a no brainer for the Indians since they can utilize Hand as the lefty specialist and further develop Karinchak in high-stress situations. Therefore, my prediction is Karinchak will be the primary closer. And, because the AL Central is a very weak division, I am also projecting their closer to accumulate many saves. Therefore, my bold prediction is that Karinchak finishes the season with the most saves in the MLB.