Though the abbreviated 2020 MLB season is barely a month old, it is also remarkably at about the halfway point. Of course, this season will go down in the history books as the most unusual ever. For that reason, it’s time to flush some of the betting perceptions you might have formed about certain players and teams and get more in sync with what we are actually seeing.
Unlike the marathon-type seasons we usually have, the 2020 campaign is an all-out sprint. Teams and players have so little time to snap out of slumps, while hot streaks and stellar performances may define the seasons of others. Conclusions probably will be derived quickly. It should also be a fundamental factor in the way bettors look at handicapping the action.
So it’s a good time to accentuate some of the major performance changes we have witnessed in the first half. In a shortened season it behooves bettors to flush out their misperceptions as quickly as possible and turn the page to the here and now. Hopefully, you did this to a team like the Boston Red Sox weeks ago, or on the opposite side, a team like the San Diego Padres.
To try to quantify the drastic changes best, I turned to the variable on which I rely deeply when setting game prices and handicapping the lines: my Effective Strength Ratings. I have detailed the biggest changes in my ratings from Opening Day until now for lineups, starting pitchers and bullpens.
Today, we’ll look at the five teams that have been the biggest offensive surprises. On Friday, we’ll look at the five biggest disappointments.
Note: Numbers as of Tuesday.
Biggest Team Offensive Surprises
1. San Francisco Giants.
Beginning of Year (BOY) Effective Runs: 4.2, Current: 4.75
CHANGE: +0.55 RPG
The Giants have come on strong in the past week, and a lot of credit can go to an offense that is scoring 5.0 RPG, well above expectations. In fact, it is an improvement of more than 0.8 RPG compared with last year. Wilmer Flores, Mike Yastrzemski and Austin Slater have been big run producers, and Donovan Solano has been a great table-setter. In the last 10 games before Tuesday, San Francisco had scored five or more runs nine times.
2. Tampa Bay Rays
BOY Effective Runs: 4.41, Current: 4.88
CHANGE: +0.47 RPG
Led by early MVP candidate Brandon Lowe, the Rays have met lofty expectations and lead the AL East. Lowe has hit nine home runs and driven in 25 runs in 29 games. Even with LF Austin Meadows’ production down from 2019 levels, the Rays have scored 5.3 runs per contest. With a solid lineup and excellent pitching staff, Tampa Bay is among the front-runners for the AL title.
3. San Diego Padres
BOY Effective Runs: 4.44, Current: 4.84
CHANGE: +0.4 RPG
Shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. has been spectacular. As one of the most dynamic players in baseball, he had 12 home runs as of Tuesday, and the Padres were scoring 5.4 runs per game despite playing 15 games at pitcher-friendly Petco Park. San Diego had hit 55 home runs in its first 30 games, a record pace for the National League. We’ll see how long it lasts, but in this shortened season, it only needs to go another month.
4. Atlanta Braves
BOY Effective Runs: 4.62, Current: 4.99
CHANGE: +0.37 RPG
Even with OF Ronald Acuna Jr. missing a couple of weeks with a wrist injury, the Atlanta lineup has produced beyond expectations. Through the first 28 games, the Braves were scoring 5.2 runs per game — a little under their 2019 average, but that team’s production plummeted down the stretch, so the rebound has been nice to see. Now that Acuna is back, he’ll join Freddie Freeman, Dansby Swanson, Marcell Ozuna and others in a truly formidable lineup.
5. Baltimore Orioles
BOY Effective Runs: 4.38, Current: 4.75
CHANGE: +0.37 RPG
It’s OK to admit it: You missed on the Orioles, who aren’t nearly as bad as you thought they’d be. Despite a recent six-game losing streak, Baltimore had split its first 28 games and was in the AL playoff hunt. Most of the reason for the improvement is an offense that was averaging 5.0 RPG, half a run better than a season ago. OF Anthony Santander hit 20 home runs in 93 games last season. This year, he already had 10. Catcher Pedro Severino is also off to a great start.