Pete Alonso Thriving, Bryce Harper Slumping in Simulated 2020 MLB Season

Jesse Pantuosco
May 19, 2020 - 12:49 pm
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In recent weeks, the baseball dialogue has largely revolved around when (and if) the 2020 MLB season will commence amid COVID-19. But on Baseball Reference, the season is chugging right along. To keep our minds occupied throughout what has been an agonizing three-month quarantine, Baseball Reference has been playing out the season on Out of the Park Baseball ’21, simulating each game of the yet-be-realized 2020 campaign.

So what can we glean from the first two months of Baseball Ref’s simulated season? An awful lot. Let’s start with the Astros who, before the unprecedented coronavirus outbreak became front and center, had dominated the news cycle this offseason. Many of us wondered how the disgraced World Series champs would respond to their cheating scandal. Judging by their simulated performance on Baseball Reference, the answer is not well.

Through 49 games—a small but not insignificant sample size—Houston sits third in the AL West behind the division-leading Mariners and second-place Athletics. Houston’s 2.5-game division deficit can easily be overcome, though the Astros’ relatively tepid start is notable with all the bad karma surrounding them.

The Astros’ 27-22 mark isn’t ideal, but Jose Altuve has certainly done his part, hitting an electric .362—second-best in the bigs behind Ozzie Albies (.370)—through 236 plate appearances. Building off his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2019, Yordan Alvarez has taken another leap forward this season, driving in a league-high 59 runs for Houston. That puts plenty of breathing room between the 22-year-old and Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor, whose 45 RBI ranks second in the majors.

Led by reigning National League MVP Cody Bellinger (.291/.406/.605 with 15 homers and 36 RBI) and newcomer Mookie Betts (.297/332/.523 with 10 homers, 36 RBI and eight steals), the Dodgers have set a blistering early pace, leading the league in winning percentage (.702) through 47 games. Cy Young hopeful Walker Buehler has been lights out for Los Angeles, surging to a herculean 1.77 ERA while tying Washington’s Max Scherzer for the NL lead in wins with seven.

The Braves, Cardinals, Yankees and Indians round out the rest of MLB’s division leaders with last-place Texas bringing up the rear at 12-36 (.250 winning percentage). The Rangers got off to a booming start in 2019 (45-36 at the season’s halfway mark) but so far Baseball Reference’s simulation has not been kind to them. I’m sure this wasn’t what taxpayers had in mind for the Rangers when they shelled out $1.1 billion for their new stadium (Globe Life Field) in Arlington.

Speaking of teams heading in the wrong direction, the simulated 2020 Phillies have had a rough go of it, limping to an ugly 20-28 start while falling 12.5 games back of division-leading Atlanta in the NL East. Former Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta has done nothing to help matters, delivering a cringe-worthy 5.76 ERA through nine winless starts (0-7). Bryce Harper has been a similar letdown, barely hitting above the Mendoza line (.201/.332/.337) while fanning an embarrassing 53 times in only 169 at-bats. That’s still better than teammate Rhys Hoskins (.185/.298/.382 with eight homers), whose 70 punch-outs lead the National League.

Elsewhere, Shane Bieber is quietly building a Cy Young case in Cleveland (10.5 K/9 with MLB-leading eight victories) while Gerrit Cole—the recipient of a record-setting $324 million windfall this offseason—has made an instant impression in the Big Apple, logging 95 strikeouts (third-most in the majors behind Scherzer and former Houston teammate Justin Verlander) through 10 appearances for the Bronx Bombers. Coming off a disastrous 2019 in Boston, Rick Porcello has been a brilliant find for the Mets (treading water at 24-24), earning a sturdy 5-1 record and an equally compelling 2.50 ERA across 10 starts. Regression seemed inevitable for Pete Alonso coming off last year’s 53-homer explosion, but the Mets slugger has done nothing of the sort, pacing the majors with 18 homers in the early going.

Now over a year removed from Tommy John surgery, Shohei Ohtani hasn’t missed a beat in his return to the mound, supplying a 2.97 ERA over 63 2/3 standout frames. He’s been a work in progress offensively, hitting a pedestrian .275/.353/.442 while going deep just four times in 120 at-bats for the Halos. Teammate Mike Trout netted his third AL MVP trophy last year and looks well on his way to a fourth, contributing a predictably obscene .302/.448/.623 (1.071 OPS) batting line with 15 bombs, 33 RBI and, just for the fun of it, six thefts on nine steal attempts.

Baseball Reference has also been simulating roster transactions for each of the 30 major-league teams. Recent highlights include Kris Bryant agreeing to a four-year, $100-million extension with the Cubs (effectively ending the dream of Bryant reuniting with former Little League teammate Bryce Harper in Philadelphia), Gio Gonzalez and Nick Markakis getting the heave-ho from their respective clubs (both were designated for assignment) and journeyman Matt Harvey returning to the NL East as a Miami Marlin. Most shocking of all, penny-pinching A’s GM Billy Beane has apparently abandoned his long-standing Moneyball philosophy, gifting star shortstop Marcus Semien an uncharacteristic, seven-year, $162-million fortune.

None of these projections mean squat, but in the absence of real baseball, Baseball Reference’s simulated season is still a blast to follow.

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