2020 was not, in a word, normal. It was difficult and discombobulating and altogether insane. I don’t know about you, but I am not necessarily sure I was always my best self in '20. I can only hope ‘21 goes better, for me, for you, for all of us.
Baseball wasn’t normal either. It was a 60-game season, played in the middle of a pandemic, with madness constantly swirling outside (and inside) the stadium. So players can perhaps be forgiven for not having their greatest seasons in 2020, even if they had a history of success. So this week at The Thirty, we take a look at quality players who had down years -- or just down years for them -- in '20, and might just be able to turn it back around in '21.
Blue Jays: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B: He certainly wasn’t bad in 2020 (115 OPS+), but you certainly don’t expect six different lineup-mates to have a higher OPS than he does. The superstar breakout is coming, yes?
Orioles: John Means, LHP: Means’ velocity was up in 2020 (93.8 mph), but the results were a step backward for him (4.53 ERA). If he can combine AL Rookie of the Year Award runner-up John Means with throws-super-hard John Means, the Orioles might really have something.
Rays: Austin Meadows, OF: The outfielder looked like an MVP Award winner in waiting after the 2019 season before struggling with injuries and effectiveness in ‘20. A full year at his ‘19 levels (33 HR, 144 OPS+) would go a long way to getting this team back to the World Series.
Red Sox: J.D. Martinez, DH: It’s still not entirely clear what was up with Martinez in 2020, but his slugging percentage dropped nearly 200 points. Some of that has to come back under more ideal circumstances in ‘21.
Yankees: Adam Ottavino, RHP: Thought to be a major coup when he signed a couple of years ago, it hasn’t quite worked out for him in New York (5.2 walks per nine innings). But the stuff is still there.
Indians: Oscar Mercado, OF: He looked like a potential outfield mainstay in 2019, but he was one of the worst hitters in the Majors in '20. (Mercado batted .128! With one homer! In 93 plate appearances!) There is nowhere to go but up.
Royals: Whit Merrifield, 2B/OF: Merrifield was still good in 2020 -- he’s always good -- but dig into the numbers a little bit and it might have been the worst year of his career (.764 OPS, his lowest since ’16). Also, can you believe he’s about to be 32 years old?
Tigers: Niko Goodrum, SS: One of the few bright spots on the 2018-19 teams fell off a cliff last year (62 OPS+). Goodrum doesn’t have to be a superstar to stay in this lineup, but he sure needs to be better than this.
Twins: Jorge Polanco, SS: A down-ballot MVP Award candidate in 2019 stopped hitting for most of ’20 (82 OPS+). He’ll need to prove ‘19 wasn’t an aberration at this point.
White Sox: Yoán Moncada, 3B: For all the good feeling of the White Sox 2020 season, Moncada -- who looked like he was on the verge of superstardom in ’19 -- never quite got it going after overcoming COVID-19. He should be entering his prime right now, though, and 100 percent healthy when camp opens.
Angels: Jo Adell, OF: Sure, you can’t expect too much from a rookie making his first appearance in the bigs. But it’s fair to assume the Angels were expecting more than Adell to hit .161.
Athletics: Stephen Piscotty, OF: Piscotty has never been a star, but at his best, he has been just one or two ticks below one. Last year, he just never really got it going (76 OPS+), and the A's even ended up benching him in the playoffs.
Astros: Jose Altuve, 2B: He came around a bit in the playoffs, but it remains downright bizarre to see a player of Altuve’s caliber have the sort of plummet he had (.219 BA, 71 OPS+) in 2020.
Mariners: Evan White, 1B: You feel bad calling out a guy who just won a Gold Glove Award, but White -- no matter how good he is at first -- needs to hit better than .176.
Rangers: Joey Gallo, OF: Well, Gallo finally stayed healthy for a full (well, “full”) season. So that’s good! But he also struggled start to finish (.181 BA, 84 OPS+) and didn’t hit that many homers (10) this time around. Gallo had franchise-player potential as recently as 2019. Can he find it again?
Braves: Ozzie Albies, 2B: He was meant to be Robin to Ronald Acuña Jr..'s Batman, but he was injured and a shell of who he had been in the past (including a .491 OPS against lefties in 2020). He’s still somehow, amazingly, only 23 years old.
Marlins: Jazz Chisholm, 2B/SS: One of those prospects the Marlins have coming up the pipeline, Chisholm didn’t contribute nearly as much as you might have hoped (53 OPS+) from him playing a third of the season.
Mets: Amed Rosario, SS: He looked on the cusp of becoming an upper-tier shortstop after 2019, but all the offensive gains he’d made fell away last year (76 OPS+). And Rosario didn’t steal a base after recording 50 through his first three seasons.
Phillies: Héctor Neris, RHP: You certainly wouldn’t have believed me if you watched him in 2020 (4.57 ERA, 5.4 BB/9), but Neris was a terrific pitcher in '19. He was at the center of the bullpen problems that sunk the Phillies this year.
Nationals: Stephen Strasburg, RHP: No team may be counting on one single player to return to his previous form more than the Nationals are counting on Strasburg.
Brewers: Christian Yelich, OF: How in the world did Christian freaking Yelich hit .205 this year? Did you think that was even possible?
Cardinals: Jack Flaherty, RHP: There were almost too many disappointing Cardinals hitters to count, but Flaherty was expected by many to be a Cy Young Award contender in 2020. Instead, he put up a 4.91 ERA.
Cubs: Javier Báez, SS: It remains absolutely baffling that Báez, still one of the most purely enjoyable players in the sport to watch, was so truly terrible in 2020 (.203 BA, 59 OPS+). The Cubs have many decisions to make this offseason, and how much of Báez’s drop-off was real is one of the tougher things to figure out.
Pirates: Bryan Reynolds, OF: Nobody really hit for the Pirates in 2020, but Reynolds had the look of a potential future batting champ until it all went away this year (.189 BA).
Reds: Eugenio Suárez, 3B: He picked it up a little towards the end, but Suárez was supposed to be the linchpin of this offense; more often, the rest of the offense was trying to make up for him.
D-backs: Madison Bumgarner, LHP: The most obvious pick on this whole list. It was surreal to see Bumgarner struggle like that (6.48 ERA, 2.8 HR/9). That can’t be real … right?
Dodgers: Gavin Lux, 2B: It’s hard to find much to be disappointed with when it comes to the 2020 Dodgers, but they maybe would have liked to have seen more progress from a player who entered 2020 ranked as their top prospect (.175 BA, 61 OPS+).
Giants: Joey Bart, C: He ended up playing half the season, and there were some bright spots. But to have 111 plate appearances and end up with no homers and only three walks to 41 strikeouts is a bit concerning.
Padres: Tommy Pham, OF: Pham has had a whirlwind calendar year, overcoming a positive COVID-19 test in early July, a broken left hamate bone and a stabbing from which he's expected to make a full recovery ahead of next season. It's hard to imagine the positive test and broken bone didn't affect his performance in 2020, when he posted an uncharacteristically low .624 OPS. His track record says there is a lot of room for growth.
Rockies: Nolan Arenado, 3B: Did anybody notice that Arenado had the worst season of his career, by far, in nearly every single offensive category? That can’t last … can it?