Everything about 2020 was different than practically anything we’ve seen before. This was definitely apparent in Major League Baseball as the season was delayed, only 60 regular season games were played, there were no fans in the stands, and everyone was dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of all these things and many more behind the scenes, some of Major League Baseball’s best offensive players struggled in 2020. Despite these struggles, these five players (and more) were able to bounce back and show that they’re still among the best players in the world.
Bryan Reynolds (Pittsburgh Pirates, CF)
As a rookie in 2019, Brayn Reynolds had one of the most surprising seasons in all of Major League Baseball. Despite not being a highly-touted prospect, Reynolds slashed an impressive .314/.377/.503 (130 wRC+) which earned him a fourth-place finish in the National League Rookie of the Year voting behind Pete Alonso, Mike Soroka, and Fernando Tatis Jr. While Reynolds’ .387 BABIP in 2019 didn’t seem sustainable, it would’ve been crazy to think he would completely fall off. Across 55 games in 2020, Reynolds hit a miserable .189/.275/.357 (72 wRC+). Despite his rough going at the plate, the Pirates gave Reynolds a fair opportunity at redeeming himself in 2021 and Reynolds remained confident in himself saying “I know the kind of player I am, the kind of player I’m going to be. And I’ve got all the confidence in the world in myself, so I’ll go out there and have a nice full season and help us win some games.” Reynolds proved to the Pirates that he will be a key building block for their future and proved to Major League Baseball that he is one of the best outfielders in the league in 2021. Reynolds hit a superb .302/.390/.522 (142 wRC+) en route to being named to his All Star Game and potentially one of the All MLB teams and a silver slugger.
Javier Baez (Chicago Cubs/New York Mets, 2B/SS)
In 2018 Javier Baez finished second in National League MVP voting when he hit .290/.326/.554 (131 wRC+) along with his marvelous defense. While he was still good at the plate in 2019 with a .281/.316/.531 slash line and 112 wRC+, there was a noticeable dip in his performance. Baez had the opportunity to return to MVP form in 2020, but the complete opposite happened. Baez was arguably the worst hitter in all of Major League Baseball as he hit .203/.238/.360 (55 wRC+). Baez’s 55 wRC+ was tied with Nicky Lopez and Eduardo Escobar (all three of these players went on to have great 2021 seasons ironically) for the worst wRC+ among all qualified hitters. With Baez set to hit free agency following the 2021 season, he needed to turn it around at the plate to have a chance at receiving the big contract he had been hoping for. Although Baez only had a 103 wRC+ with the Cubs before the trade deadline, the Mets traded for him in hopes of helping them reach the Postseason. Although the Mets didn’t reach their goal of reaching the Postseason, Baez returned to 2018 form at the plate. As a Met, Baez had a 141 wRC+ which gave him a 116 wRC+ for the year to go along with a .265/.319/.494 slash line. Although he might not get as much as the near $180 million contract the Cubs offered him before the 2020 season, Baez should receive a nice payday in free agency.
Jose Altuve (Houston Astros, 2B)
Ever since his breakout season in 2014, Jose Altuve has been one of the best hitters in Major League Baseball. While Altuve is now hated by most Major League Baseball fans for his role (or lack thereof) in the Astros’ sign stealing scandal, there is now no denying that he is simply a great hitter. Before the Astros sign stealing scandal became publicly known, Jose Altuve was coming off of a spectacular 2019 season at the plate in which he hit .298/.353/.550 (137 wRC+). Although Major League Baseball’s investigation claims the Astros stole signs in 2017 and 2018, many fans think Altuve wore a buzzer that told him what pitch Aroldis Chapman was throwing when he hit a walk off home run to send the Astros to the World Series in 2019. Because of this and the fact that he’s the face of the Astros organization, Altuve quickly became public enemy number one. In 2020, the first season in which fans knew the Astros 100% weren’t cheating for the first time in several years, Altuve had his worst offensive season in the Major Leagues since 2013 hitting a lackluster .219/.286/.344 (75 wRC+). With fans back in the stands in 2021, Altuve heard the boo-birds, but that didn’t stop him from returning to his old self as he hit .278/.350/.489 (130 wRC+), was named an All Star, and led the Astros back to the World Series.
J.D. Martinez (Boston Red Sox, DH/OF)
Similar to Altuve, J.D. Martinez has been one of the hitters in Major League Baseball since his breakout season in 2014. Among qualified players from 2014-2019, J.D. Martinez had the third-highest wRC+ behind only Mike Trout and Aaron Judge. Although he was not on the Astros during their sign stealing scandal, Martinez was hit hard by a new rule that essentially came as a result of their scandal. MLB labeled visits to the video room during games as illegal in 2020 due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols, but everyone knew it was mainly because of the Astros. The player who was most upset by this was J.D. Martinez who explained “I think what people don’t get is there is a new generation that revolves around technology and analytics and seeing their swing. To me, studying my swing and making changes, that’s what makes me who I am. I got released doing it the other way.” With no visits to the video room allowed, Martinez had arguably his worst season at the plate in 2020 in which he hit .213/.291/.389 (77 wRC+). Before the 2021 season, the Players Union and Major League Baseball agreed to bring back video room visits during games which J.D. Martinez said “definitely cooled (his) anxiety,” and has benefited him “a lot.” It’s no coincidence that Martinez returned to form in 2021 as he hit .286/.349/.518 (128 wRC+) and helped the Red Sox come within two games of winning the American League Pennant.
Marcus Semien (Toronto Blue Jays, 2B)
From 2015-2018, Marcus Semien hovered right around league average offensively. This changed when Semien exploded offensively in 2019 hitting .285/.369/.522 (138 wRC+) which propelled him to finish third in the American League MVP voting. With Semien becoming a free agent following the 2020 season, he could have earned himself a massive payday with a great 2020 season, but he returned closer to 2015-2018 form at the plate. While he wasn’t terrible, Semien hit well below expectation with a .223/.305/.374 slash line and 91 wRC+. In free agency, Semien opted to take a one-year $18 million deal with the Blue Jays, which proved to be a great decision. With the Blue Jays, Semien hit a spectacular .265/.344/.538 (131 wRC+) which should earn him some MVP votes. Although he wasn’t able to receive a big contract in free agency last year, Semien will be one of the highest-paid free agents this offseason.