The MLB was one of the last sporting leagues to put in a plan on their COVID-shortened season. As this article is being produced, the MLB has just implemented a 60-game season that will start on July 23. A shortened season will completely change the outcome of stats, team records, awards, and even championships.
This season brings about the highest chance for a .400 season that we have seen since the 1994 strike-shortened year that provided a .394 average from Tony Gwynn. All it takes is for one player to get hot and stay hot for however long the season lasts. With that in mind, this 2020 season also provides a whole new group of MVP candidates for the league.
Both leagues have the Mike Trout’s (we hope) and Cody Bellinger’s that will continue to put up MVP caliber numbers no matter the situation, but each league also has dark horses that will add a little flavor to the most valuable player race this year.
Below I have detailed four unexpected players that could be holding up the award by the end of this pandemic-shortened season. None of these four players have ever been in the top 3 in MVP voting before; although they are all-star caliber, this season could see them take the next step in their careers.
Nelson Cruz, DH
Highest MVP Placement: 7th (2014)
After last year’s all-star break, Nelson Cruz was arguably the hottest player in baseball. He was top three in average, homeruns, RBIs, OPS, and slugging percentage. Cruz put up phenomenal stats in the second half, all while only playing 58 of the 74 games. Cruz has the perfect amount of average and power to put up MVP numbers in a shortened season.
The only flaw the 39-year-old has is the slow start he had to the 2019 season (and the fact that he’s almost 40 years old). The Twins DH may have an unbelievable end to the season, but if he can’t start fast, there is no chance of him picking up the hardware in the American League when he is matched up with other superstars. If Cruz can have a consistent and explosive 60 game stretch just like he did last season, then we can very well see him winning the award by the end of the year.
Josh Bell, 1B
Highest MVP Placement: None
The Pirates’ first basemen was an MVP candidate by many experts in the first half last year. Bell was top five in the MLB in homers, OPS, and runs, all while leading the league in doubles and RBIs. The 27-year-old cooled off by the end of the year and had a much slower second half, which did end his chances at finishing in the voting for MVP, but if he can emulate his first half success in this upcoming shortened season, then he can yet again draw heavy chances of competing with Bellinger and Yelich.
Bell will have the best chance of winning MVP if he is able to hit over .300 as he did in the first half last year, all while keeping his extra-base hit pop. Yelich and Bellinger’s success is hard to match, so Bell needs a mixture of power and contact to even have a chance to win it.
Freddie Freeman, 1B
Highest MVP Placement: 4th (2018)
The player that has the highest placement on this list so far in their career in MVP voting is Freddie Freeman, and that is for good reason. The sweet-swinging first basemen does just about everything well, with extreme and consistent power while also having the approach to get two strike hits and fight for walks.
The 2018 Gold Glove winner also plays phenomenal defense and is going to be on a playoff team this year in the Atlanta Braves. Freeman was top five in the league in hits in the first half last season, while also providing a steady and impressive 23 home runs. Freeman does have a sporadic injury bug, but if he can stay healthy his chances of winning will soar. If Freeman can continue to play stellar defense, hit for average with some big power outbursts, and lead a World Series contender, we could very well see him in the top three for voting, if not leading the pack.
Charlie Blackmon, CF
Highest MVP Placement: 5th (2017)
Blackmon led the majors with seven triples in the first half last season, and then did not hit another one the entire second half, and that stat kind of describes his 2019 season. After a running start into the 2019 season where Blackmon hit .330 with 20 homeruns and the fifth best OPS in the league, his scorching hot start sizzled down to a sub .300 average which isn’t uncommon, but for Blackmon it is unexpected.
The two-time silver slugger needs to hold his .330 average for an entire season and keep up his above-average power if he wants a chance to win the MVP award. The Rockies’ biggest beard is in an ideal situation to put up numbers necessary to win, but he needs to increase his homers in the hitters’ dream of Coors Field. Blackmon would also need to lead the Rockies to the playoffs in order to win, which isn’t likely, but in a 60-game season, if Blackmon and the Rockies can get hot, it would not be a surprise to see him hoisting the trophy.
The 2020 season will be a new and interesting experience. We could very well see records broken, and we could see a new face atop the MVP leaderboards. Although Mike Trout will probably continue to play at an impressive rate and is more than likely to take home another one, there is always a chance someone will dethrone him. This is the season with the highest chance that happens. The Coronavirus will forever change the way sports are played, and these four players are extremely likely to see their names forever etched into the history books.