The Yearly Reader
Leaders and Honors, 2020
Our list of baseball’s top 10 hitters and pitchers in both the American League and National League for the 2020 baseball season, as well as the awards and honors given to the game’s top achievers of the year.
The National League’s Top 10 Hitters, 2020
Bold type in brick red indicates league leader.
1. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta
Key Numbers: .341 average, 51 runs, 73 hits, 23 doubles, 13 home runs, 53 RBIs, 45 walks.
Breaking through from near-viral death to his first MVP, Freeman also finally crushed his first career grand slam with his 233rd home run; he would add a second slam with his 234th.
2. Juan Soto, Washington
Key Numbers: .351 average, 39 runs, 14 doubles, 14 home runs, 37 RBIs, 41 walks, 12 intentional walks, 6 stolen bases, .490 on-base percentage, .695 slugging percentage.
After missing the Nationals’ first eight games of the season with what turned out to be a false COVID-19 positive test, Soto went on to become the youngest NL batting champion at age 21.
3. Marcell Ozuna, Atlanta
Key Numbers: .338 average, 38 runs, 77 hits, 14 doubles, 18 home runs, 56 RBIs, 38 walks.
Ozuna was given a one-year, $18 million chance from Atlanta following two seasons of modest output in St. Louis, and gave the Braves a monstrous return on investment.
4. Trea Turner, Washington
Key Numbers: .335 average, 46 runs, 78 hits, 15 doubles, 4 triples, 12 home runs, 41 RBIs, 12 stolen bases.
The oft-injured, speedy outfielder finally tapped into his full potential, all without getting hurt; it’s too bad he timed such explosive numbers with a shortened season.
5. Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego
Key Numbers: .277 average, 50 runs, 62 hits, 11 doubles, 17 home runs, 45 RBIs, 5 hit-by-pitches, 11 stolen bases.
The dynamic 21-year-old shortstop started the short season hot, connecting on home runs in six straight games; a poor September hurt his MVP chances.
6. Mookie Betts, Los Angeles
Key Numbers: .292 average, 47 runs, 64 hits, 16 home runs, 39 RBIs, 10 stolen bases.
The former Red Sock provided the spark to help ensure the Dodgers’ first world title in 32 years; his three-homer game on August 13 against the Padres—for whom he was also rumored to be traded to—was his sixth to tie the all-time mark. At age 27, he’d have plenty of time to break the mark.
7. Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta
Key Numbers: .250 average, 46 runs, 11 doubles, 14 home runs, 29 RBIs, 38 walks, 8 stolen bases.
Barely 22 years of age, Acuna already set the Braves record for career leadoff home runs, and belted the majors’ longest of the season with a titanic 495-foot shot at Atlanta against the Red Sox on September 25.
8. Dominic Smith, New York
Key Numbers: .316 average, 21 doubles, 10 home runs, 42 RBIs, 5 hit-by-pitches.
The use of the designated hitter in the NL gave Smith—whose physical personage led him to be nicknamed the Sloth Bear—the chance to prove his everyday worth after three years mostly stuck on the bench. He made good on the opportunity.
9. Manny Machado, San Diego
Key Numbers: .304 average, 44 runs, 68 hits, 12 doubles, 16 home runs, 47 RBIs, 6 stolen bases.
The veteran third baseman was on pace for 43 home runs and 127 RBIs had the majors played a 162-game season; both those numbers would have easily qualified as career highs.
10. Michael Conforto, New York
Key Numbers: .322 average, 40 runs, 65 hits, 12 doubles, 9 home runs, 31 RBIs, 7 hit-by-pitches.
The outfielder’s power numbers may have been muted (even when paced out to 162 games), but he clearly made up with a batting average 70 points higher than his lifetime figure coming into the season.
The American League’s Top 10 Hitters, 2020
1. Jose Ramirez, Cleveland
Key Numbers: .292 average, 45 runs, 64 hits, 16 doubles, 17 home runs, 46 RBIs, 31 walks, 10 stolen bases.
The switch-hitter let everyone know he was back after suffering through a statistical hiccup in 2019, homering from birth sides of the plate twice within the season’s first 14 games—something no other player had ever done.
2. Jose Abreu, Chicago
Key Numbers: .317 average, 43 runs, 76 hits, 15 doubles, 19 home runs, 60 RBIs, 10 grounded into double plays, .617 slugging percentage.
The Cuban émigré continued his upward momentum back from a mid-career decline, averaging exactly one RBI per game and hitting 14 of his home runs in Chicago—eight at the White Sox’ home park, six at Wrigley Field as part of a three-game demolition against the crosstown Cubs.
3. Mike Trout, Los Angeles
Key Numbers: .281 average, 41 runs, 17 home runs, 46 RBIs, 35 walks.
The Angels’ megastar, with a first child on the way, kept the team on pins and needles as he hemmed and hawed over whether to play the 2020 campaign; when he opted in, he eventually became the franchise’s all-time home run leader just after turning 29 years of age.
4. DJ LeMahieu, New York
Key Numbers: .364 average, 41 runs, 71 hits, 10 doubles, 10 home runs, 27 RBIs, .421 on-base percentage.
Who needs the added bump of 5,280 feet? LeMahieu proved he could hit just as well at sea level—if not better—by becoming the first major leaguer since Ed Delahanty (over 120 years earlier) to win batting titles for both leagues.
5. Luke Voit, New York
Key Numbers: .277 average, 41 runs, 22 home runs, 52 RBIs.
The breakout slugger was not one of those Yankees who fattened up on home runs via Yankee Stadium’s short right-field porch; the right-hander met the challenge to taking on the deeper part of the park, with 16 of his 22 homers hit at home.
6. Nelson Cruz, Minnesota
Key Numbers: .303 average, 33 runs, 16 home runs, 33 RBIs, 5 intentional walks, 8 grounded into double plays.
Evan at the age of 40, Cruz continued to mash at peak form; after averaging 41 home runs through his previous six years, he was paced out to hit 43 had the Twins played 162 games.
7. Tim Anderson, Chicago
Key Numbers: .322 average, 45 runs, 67 hits, 11 doubles, 10 home runs, 21 RBIs, 5 stolen bases.
One of baseball’s more blunt players, Anderson let his bats do the talking by hitting well over .300 for the second straight year—and well, well over .300 against lefties, batting .440 with six home runs over 50 at-bats.
8. Brandon Lowe, Tampa Bay
Key Numbers: .269 average, 36 runs, 14 home runs, 37 RBIs.
Sure, hitting .118 over 76 postseason at-bats was bad, but the regular season version of Lowe thrived as he became an everyday offensive force for the Rays.
9. Kyle Tucker, Houston
Key Numbers: .268 average, 33 runs, 12 doubles, 6 triples, 9 home runs, 42 RBIs, 8 stolen bases.
On a high-powered Houston roster, the previously unknown Tucker became an unlikely offensive hero; without him, the Astros may not have made it to the postseason with a record worse than 29-31.
10. Teoscar Hernandez, Toronto
Key Numbers: .289 average, 33 runs, 16 home runs, 34 RBIs, 6 stolen bases.
While everyone was focused on the young legacies (Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette) populating Toronto’s promising roster, Hernandez surprisingly burst forward as, for the moment, the Blue Jays’ top gun.
The National League’s Top 10 Pitchers, 2020
1. Yu Darvish, Chicago
Key Numbers: 2.01 ERA, 8 wins, 3 losses, .727 win percentage, 12 starts, 76 innings, 14 walks, 93 strikeouts.
In a seven-game stretch which constituted the bulk of the shortened season, the 34-year-old Darvish won all seven games and allowed just five runs over 46 innings.
2. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles
Key Numbers: 2.16 ERA, 6 wins, 2 losses, .750 win percentage, 10 starts, 58.1 innings, 8 walks.
Seventeen different Dodgers chalked up at least one victory on the team’s share-the-wealth pitching staff, but Kershaw was the only one with more than three. Perspective is required here; on a team that was on pace to win 116 games in a 162-game schedule, Kershaw would have been the only one with 10 or more wins.
3. Dinelson Lamet, San Diego
Key Numbers: 2.09 ERA, 3 wins, 1 loss, 12 starts, 69 innings, 93 strikeouts.
The young Dominican’s elbow ran out of gas just as the playoffs began, but he showed great promise for an evolving Padres team.
4. Trevor Bauer, Cincinnati
Key Numbers: 1.73 ERA, 5 wins, 4 losses, 11 starts, 2 complete games, 2 shutouts, 73 innings, 100 strikeouts.
Bauer’s Cy Young Award-winning effort was soured by a Reds team with the lowest batting average (.212) since 1911, depriving him of a much worthier record. His league-leading two complete games, both shutouts, should garner asterisks since they were both seven-inning affairs per MLB’s pandemic-induced doubleheader rule.
5. Kyle Hendricks, Chicago
Key Numbers: 2.88 ERA, 6 wins, 5 losses, 12 starts, 81.1 innings, 9 walks, 0 stolen bases allowed, 6 caught stealing/picked off.
The crafty Hendricks got his season off to an excellent start when he threw a three-hit shutout—the nine-inning kind. He was on pace to throw over 200 innings for the first time in seven seasons.
6. Max Fried, Atlanta
Key Numbers: 2.25 ERA, 7 wins, 0 losses, 1.000 win percentage, 11 starts, 56 innings, 4 hit-by-pitches, 3 stolen bases allowed, 5 caught stealing/picked off.
One of many young Atlanta pitchers making their mark in 2020, the 26-year old had to remind observers that his name was pronounced “freed,” not “fried”—though ‘max fried’ is exactly how opposing hitters often felt after facing him.
7. Jeremy Jeffress, Chicago
Key Numbers: 1.54 ERA, 4 wins, 1 loss, 8 saves, 2 blown saves, 22 appearances, 23.1 innings, 5 grounded into double plays.
The veteran reliever’s habit of following a bad year with a good one—and vice versa—continued as he thrived with the Cubs following a 5.02 ERA for the 2019 Brewers.
8. Zack Wheeler, Philadelphia
Key Numbers: 2.92 ERA, 4 wins, 2 losses, 11 starts, 71 innings, 7 hit-by-pitches, 13 grounded into double plays.
The only losses suffered by the first-year Phillie? His last two starts of the year, and an entire finger nail before that while trying to put on a pair of jeans.
9. Zach Davies, San Diego
Key Numbers: 2.73 ERA, 7 wins, 4 losses, .636 win percentage, 12 starts, 69.1 innings.
Bucking the sport-wide trend of pitchers not netting decisions as they were getting pulled from games earlier and earlier, Davies managed to get tagged with only one non-decision among his 12 starts.
10. Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee
Key Numbers: 2.11 ERA, 4 wins, 1 loss, 12 appearances, 9 starts, 59.2 innings, 88 strikeouts, 9 stolen bases allowed.
After badly flopping the year before, Burnes sought a mental health refresh and it paid off in spades; an oblique injury in his last start deprived him of qualification for the ERA title, for which he would have finished fourth.
The American League’s Top 10 Pitchers, 2020
1. Shane Bieber, Cleveland
Key Numbers: 1.63 ERA, 8 wins, 1 loss, .889 win percentage, 12 starts, 77.1 innings, 5 wild pitches, 122 strikeouts.
Upgrading to super-ace standing, the 25-year-old right-hander struck out 27 batters without allowing a run over his first two starts, threw the fewest-ever innings (62.1) to reach 100 in a season, and averaged 14.1 K’s per nine innings.
2. Dallas Keuchel, Chicago
Key Numbers: 1.99 ERA, 6 wins, 2 losses, .750 win percentage, 11 starts, 63.1 innings.
Pardon the veteran lefty if he felt unappreciated by Cy Young Award voters; despite the league’s second-best ERA and a solid record, the veteran lefty didn’t even make the cut of the top three finalists for the honor. (He placed fifth.)
3. Kenta Maeda, Minnesota
Key Numbers: 2.70 ERA, 6 wins, 1 loss, .857 win percentage, 11 starts, 66.2 innings, 10 walks.
The former Dodger/first-year Twin handed Shane Bieber his one regular season loss, took another start into the ninth inning before giving up his first hit, and his 0.75 WHIP (walks/hits per nine innings) set a franchise record—if you don’t mind the short-season asterisk being applied.
4. Alex Colome, Chicago
Key Numbers: 0.81 ERA, 2 wins, 0 losses, 12 saves, 1 blown save, 21 appearances, 22.1 innings.
The 31-year-old Dominican rediscovered his closing touch with a highly agreeable campaign for the second-place White Sox.
5. Brad Keller, Kansas City
Key Numbers: 2.47 ERA, 5 wins, 3 losses, 9 starts, 1 shutout, 54.2 innings, 9 grounded into double plays.
His season debut delayed by two weeks after testing positive for COVID-19, the third-year Keller became the saving grace for an otherwise wretched Royals rotation that, without him, posted a 9-23 record and 5.25 ERA.
6. Liam Hendriks, Oakland
Key Numbers: 1.78 ERA, 3 wins, 1 loss, 14 saves, 1 blown save, 24 appearances, 25.1 innings, 4 walks.
The Perth, Australia-born reliever went down under 2.00 in ERA for the second straight year for the A’s, preceded by a 12-22 record and 4.73 ERA over eight seasons.
7. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Toronto
Key Numbers: 2.69 ERA, 5 wins, 2 losses, .714 win percentage, 12 starts, 67 innings.
The second Far East-born ex-Dodger making the leap to the AL clicked into gear after two rough starts to begin his Toronto tenure, posting a 1.86 ERA over his last 10 starts.
8. Marcos Gonzales, Seattle
Key Numbers: 3.10 ERA, 7 wins, 2 losses, .778 win percentage, 11 starts, 69.2 innings, 7 walks, 4 hit-by-pitches.
The reliable southpaw thanked the Mariners for a $30 million extension by delivering a third straight solid set of numbers.
9. Brad Hand, Cleveland
Key Numbers: 2.05 ERA, 2 wins, 1 loss, 16 saves, 0 blown saves, 23 appearances, 22 innings. 4 walks.
Hand was handed 16 save opportunities and nailed them all, helping to up the win counts for Cleveland’s sterling rotation—and for that, the Indians released him, refusing to activate a $10 million option for 2021.
10. Zach Plesac, Cleveland
Key Numbers: 2.28 ERA, 4 wins, 2 losses, 8 starts, 55.1 innings, 6 walks.
A strong sophomore campaign for Plesac was soured by an ill-advised decision to break health protocol and party with friends while the Indians were in Chicago; he thus went into quarantine, ticked off his teammates, and missed up to four starts.
2020: Pandemicmonium Baseball endures the unexpected challenge of trying to wring out a season as a largely unchecked pandemic rages through America.