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Why Pitching Matters Most in a Shortened MLB Season

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Why Pitching Matters Most in a Shortened MLB Season
(L-R) Amy Cole, Gerrit Cole and sports agent Scott Boras. Mike Stobe/Getty Images/AFP

Baseball will likely come back in July with a shortened season that could effect every record in the record books. Here’s a deep dive on what will matter more in the shortened MLB season and what the shortened season means moving forward.

What Matters Most in Shortened Season

We’re likely going to hear an announcement soon on whether or not the MLB will have a season in 2021 or not. It’s likely that at the start of July, we’ll be watching baseball.

In a shortened season, who has the edge? What will stats look like? Let’s assume there’s an 84-game season that starts on July 4.

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Designated Hitter

The league will almost certainly elect to use a designated hitter throughout the season. This won’t affect the American League but it will affect the National League in many ways.

The NL doesn’t spend extra money on a player that can’t play in the field. Thus, the NL has better starting pitching while the AL elects to spend their money on big power bats. If the DH is league-wide, the AL will be at an advantage because they’ll already be prepared with the right roster in place.

Schedules

Teams schedules will absolutely have an effect on a team’s play this season. While some of the schedule will feature teams in divisions, they’ll also feature games geographically close. A team like the New York Yankees won’t be traveling to play the Seattle Mariners but will instead have to play the World Series Champions in the Washington Nationals.

Rosters

Rosters will be expanded this year. If the MLB is anything like the KBO, there will be plenty of injuries throughout the season. An MLB team will likely roster 30 players and 20 players that could be available if needed. Basically, if you’re on the cusp and playing poorly, there’s a solid chance you’ll be swapped out for another player. With a shortened season, there’s no time to waste and if a player is in a slump, they’ll get swapped out quickly. Sportsbooks like 5Dimes will be aware of this as well.

Shortened Season Records

Most records in the MLB in 2021 will not be counted and will have an asterisk next to them. Take Justin Morneau for example. He played 81 games in  2010 and suffered a concussion that would keep him out of play for a  little bit. Morneau was hitting .345 before the concussion.

Imagine if the MLB had a couple batters batting over .400 or imagine if a pitcher was undefeated with an ERA below 2?

No one has ever hit above .400 in a given season since the great Ted Williams in 1941. But there have been 26 batters who hit .400 in 82 games.

The batters included, George Brett, Ichiro Suzuki, Ted Williams (twice), Nomar Garciaparra,  Wade Boggs (twice), Tito Francona, Tony Gwynn (three times), Josh Hamilton, Larry Walker, Rod Carew (twice), John Olrerud, Chone Figgins, Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas, Joey Votto, Roberto Clemente, Todd Helton, Barry Bonds, Stan Musial, and Joe Mauer.

Each of these players saw a minimum of 254 plate appearances over  an 82-game period to qualify.

But in the past five years, only Joey Votto has achieved .400 average in 82 games.  Jose Altuve had an average of .298 and .284 while Katel Marte had a .380 average in an 82-game span last season. DJ LeMahieu had a .380 average in 2016.

The one thing that scares most is a random player dominating the league for an 82-game stretch. But with the list shared, players who were able to hit near .400 are notable all-stars.

While hitters with average won’t like struggle, hitters with power might. In a 162-game season, slumps are okay but if there’s a power outage in an 84-game season, that will hurt the team’s chances at winning any type of trophy.

Sluggers like Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Roger Maris, and Barry Bonds have hit 39-42 homers in an 82-game period.

Giancarlo Stanton hit 38 homers in 2017 in an 82-game span. Brain Dozier had 34 in 2016, Eugenio Suarez had 33 in 2019, Carlos Gonzalez, J.D. Martinez, and Mike Trout each had  32 while Matt Carpenter slugged 31 in a given 82-game stretch.

In the last five years,  we’ve only had five players accumulate 80 or more RBI’s in an 82-game stretch. It’ll be interesting to see if one player can bring home 80 batters in a shortened season.

We’ve also had 11 pitchers accumulate an ERA of 1.12 or better in an 82-game season. These pitchers pitched around 100 innings and had to pitch a minimum of 82 to be considered. 

In the last five years we’ve seen nine different times where a pitcher kept his ERA below 1.50. Jake Arrieta had a .88 ERA in 2015 through a 123 innings pitched stretch while in 2019 we saw Hyun-Jin Ryu and Jack Flaherty finished with an 82-game stretch with an  ERA of 1.22  or lower.

We’ve also seen nine different pitchers in the last five seasons accumulate 13 or 14 wins in a given 82-game stretch.

Jacob deGrom #48 of the New York Mets. Jim McIsaac/Getty Images/AFP

Why Pitching Matters The Most

If a team has dominant pitching a team is more likely going to win. The MLB odds usually reflect this. Pitching records are much more attainable compared to batting records.

In an 82-game season, there’s a much greater chance for a pitcher to accumulate 13-14 wins and finish with an ERA of 1.50 or less than it is for a hitter to average .400 and hit 35 or more home runs.

When betting, the first thing any bettor should do for MLB picks is look closely at the pitching match-ups and their splits. We don’t know what kind of  balls the MLB will be using. Will they be the same as last year or less juiced?

We’ve seen very good hitters get into slumps more then we’ve seen very good pitchers get into slumps.

Pitching matters. Especially if the designated hitter is in play for the NL.