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    The 2020 MLB All-Statcast Team

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    As 2020 turns into 2021, it is apparent that there are many changes that will be in effect in the coming years as we all try to recover from the devastating impact of COVID. Baseball was hardly different during its abbreviated 60-game season that saw new rules, new breakout players, and 6 new Baseball Writers Association league award winners. However, this year we have seen one trend that has continued to grow in Major League Baseball: Statcast and analytics. For better or for worse, the 2020 season continued the growth of numbers finding their way onto the field. In fact, perhaps the defining moment of this year’s postseason was former Rays/current Padres pitcher Blake Snell being removed from his Game 6 start just 73 pitches into an absolutely dominating performance because the numbers told Rays manager Kevin Cash to do so. This move ended up being fatal for Tampa Bay. Within 2 plate appearances, the Dodgers scored 2 runs, enough to win the game and clinch their first World Series title in 32 years. While this decision has turned many away from heavy usage of analytics in the sport, it just happened to be a decision that didn’t work out on the biggest stage. Those people completely ignore that the World Champion Dodgers happen to be one of the most analytically-inclined teams in the league. For example, they used the highest percentage of infield shifts during the 2020 season and manager Dave Roberts was very aggressive with his bullpen during the postseason. The fact that successful franchises like the Dodgers are winning titles using the data that Statcast offers is a sign the data not only works but also may be vital to success in Major League Baseball’s future. 

    Statcast is a “high-speed, high-accuracy, automated tool developed to analyze player movements and athletic abilities in Major League Baseball” as described by the league. It was introduced in 2015 to all 30 MLB teams and provides insight into a player’s performance that traditional numbers can’t show us. The funny thing about baseball is sometimes a player can do everything right on the field, and it just doesn’t work out. This is why being a scout at any level of the game is so difficult; One game can’t show a scout why a player is worth spending a draft pick on and one good inning can’t show a team why a pitcher is worth spending millions on in free agency. Baseball is about bodies of work, but even a body of work can sometimes be misleading. Statcast is our best hope at cutting through this uncertainty. It measures physical attributes of batted balls, like exit velocity and launch angle, as well as pitch data such as spin rate. It can then quantify this data into expected stats based on where the ball is hit, how hard, and at what angle. These expected stats have proven to be more accurate in predicting MLB players’ stats year to year than traditional measurements are. Even though 2020 was a small sample size, there were some real winners this year on the Statcast side of the game. I have compiled a lineup of players who had success this season by Statcast standards. These aren’t necessarily players who were the best by all standards; This list was compiled with a focus on players who had elite Statcast numbers but less than conventional success. Sometimes the expected success lines up with that conventional success, sometimes not– that’s the fun.

    Note: Numbers used for the following list are from baseballsavant.com’s player percentages page

    P: Phil Maton, Cleveland Indians

    HM: Devin Williams, Milwaukee Brewers

    Notable Statcast numbers:

    Exit Velocity:99th percentile/ Barrel %:98th percentile/ Fastball Spin:97th percentile

    Phil Maton is the perfect player for this list. Why? Because his xERA was an elite 2.81, good for the 91st percentile in the Majors, but his standard ERA was 4.57. His traditional career numbers have never even been below league average, but throughout Maton’s career, every Statcast number says he should be in the top tier of Major League relief pitchers. His Hard Hit % and xSLG were better than A’s reliever Liam Hendricks, and his Exit Velocity is slightly better than Devin Williams, the dominant Brewers rookie. Devin Williams was the best pitcher in the league during the small 2020 sample when accounting for both traditional and expected stats, but Phil Maton is the best example of being a good pitcher with top tier expected numbers, but for whatever reason, just never getting the results. Phil Maton is the Worst Great Pitcher in the league.

    C: Travis d’Arnaud, Atlanta Braves

    HM: Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals

    Notable Statcast numbers: 

    Hard Hit %: 100th percentile/ Exit Velocity: 98th percentile/ xBA: 95th percentile

    Travis d’Arnaud, Salvador Perez, and Will Smith of the Dodgers were the best hitting catchers in the league, and because of d’Arnaud’s breakout leap of hard contact, I’ve selected him to be the Catcher on this list. He had a good offensive season at a position full of not-so-good offensive players. That’s pretty much it.

    1B: Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins

    HM: Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves

    Notable Statcast numbers: 

    Exit Velocity: 100th percentile/ Barrel %: 100th percentile/ Hard Hit %: 99th percentile

    Miguel Sano had a pretty bad 2020. His batting average was barely above the Mendoza line, at .204. However, if there is one thing you need to know about Miguel Sano as a player, it’s that he can hit the ball HARD. I mean look at these numbers. While he didn’t make much contact, the contact he did make was some of the best contact in the league. NL MVP Freddie Freeman had elite contact numbers as well as elite traditional hitting stats, but Sano represents what is valued in the state of the game in 2020 perhaps better than anyone.

    2B: Jake Cronenworth, San Diego Padres

    HM: DJ LeMahieu, New York Yankees

    Notable Statcast numbers:

    xBA: 98th percentile/ Sprint Speed: 92th percentile/ Whiff %: 91st percentile

    Jake Cronenworth had a great rookie year for San Diego in both expected and traditional stats after seemingly being a throw-in in the Tommy Pham trade. However, his expected stats say he probably should’ve been better. The difference between his wOBA and his xwOBA is -.033 which is worth mentioning (his xwOBA was in the 95th percentile as well). He also had a great year defensively at both 1B and 2B, being in the 89th percentile for Outs Above Average.

    3B: Matt Chapman, Oakland A’s

    HM: Justin Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers

    Notable Statcast numbers:

    Barrel %: 98th percentile/ Exit Velocity: 98th percentile/ xSLG: 91st percentile

    Matt Chapman’s season ending torn hip labrum was a heart-breaking injury for all baseball fans. For the more casual fans, Matt Chapman is an elite defensive 3B who makes highlight plays seemingly every game. For the baseball stat nerds, he is a truly elite underrated bat and is probably the best player at his position in the entire sport when you account for both his offensive and defensive value. Not only this, but in 2020, Chapman was on pace for the best season of his career and looked ready to show everyone how great he truly is. Hopefully he’ll be back to full strength in 2021.

    SS: Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers

    HM: Jose Iglesias, Baltimore Orioles

    Notable Statcast numbers:

    xSLG: 99th percentile/ xBA: 99th percentile/ Hard Hit %: 98th percentile

    Corey Seager was the best SS in the league, despite what MLB’s Instagram account will have you believe about Fernando Tatis Jr.. Honestly, just take your pick of numbers for Seager, and odds are he will be in the top 10% of the league in that stat. He was finally fully healthy for the first time since his spectacular NL Rookie of the Year season in 2016 and he flashed the potential everyone in the game knew he had. He also had a legendary postseason for the World Series champion Dodgers, taking home MVP awards for both the NLCS and the World Series.

    LF: Juan Soto, Washington Nationals

    HM: Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers

    Notable Statcast numbers: 

    xwOBA: 100th percentile/ xSLG: 100th percentile/ BB %: 100th percentile

    Juan Soto, age 22, might already be the best hitter in baseball. It is still too early in his career to compare his body of work to Mike Trout’s, but he is certainly on pace to be one of the true legendary batsmen in baseball’s history. I was trying to compile this list by selecting players who had larger gaps between their expected stats and traditional stats, but Juan Soto’s success was too great this season to ignore.

    CF: Ronald Acuña Jr., Atlanta Braves

    HM: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

    Notable Statcast numbers:

    Hard Hit %: 99th Percentile/ Sprint Speed: 97th percentile/ xwOBA: 97th percentile

    Mike Trout is always the best player in the game. We know this. However, I have selected Acuña here because he made great strides this year, increasing his Exit Velocity and xwOBA, as well as his Walk Rate. He was also a great defender, as he was in the 82nd percentile for Outs Above Average. Acuña had some really eye-popping Statcast numbers in 2020 as a key contributor to an Atlanta team that went deep into the postseason.

    RF: Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies

    HM: Teoscar Hernandez, Toronto Blue Jays

    Notable Statcast numbers: 

    BB %/ 100th percentile/ xwOBA: 99th percentile/ xSLG: 99th percentile

    Harper quietly had a spectacular 2nd season for a mediocre Phillies team, as he was in the 90th percentile or above for a lot of statcast numbers. He consistently hit the ball hard, which Statcast is obviously a big fan of. He also got on base 42% of the time which is especially great because as The Athletic’s Keith Law says in his book Smart Baseball: “OBP is life”. 

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