With Major League Baseball starting this week, I decided to check in on Baseball-Reference’s simulated 2020 season. I utilize the information held in this database constantly, so when I saw the site was simulating a full 162-game season for 2020, I wanted to see how the Nats were performing.
The site is simulating the entire league through Out Of The Park Baseball 21, a decked-out baseball video game able to simulate Major League action to the fullest extent. The only thing the game has turned off is injuries, but everything else is on the table.
Through 100 games of the simulated season, a lot has happened that’s worth reporting. Here are some of the biggest storylines.
Soto looks like an MVP
Juan Soto has been on the Nationals’ stage since he broke into the majors in 2018, but he did not really make waves on the national stage until the 2019 postseason. With Anthony Rendon gone, the 21-year-old outfielder will be relied on this season to be the team’s best bat. In this 2020 simulation, he’s not only the best bats on the team, but the best in the entire sport.
Soto is playing like a prime MVP candidate; he leads the majors with 98 RBI, .445 OBP, .669 slugging percentage, 1.115 OPS and 245 total bases. He leads the National League with a .342 batting average, and is just second in the majors behind Houston’s Michael Brantley (.372). His 29 home runs are fifth-most in the majors, and his 6.1 WAR is the second-highest in baseball behind 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger (6.3).
Soto is a major reason why the Nationals are neck-and-neck with the Atlanta Braves for first in the NL East with a 62-38 record. One can only hope that Soto will provide this type of production when baseball actually restarts in 2020, but Soto may very well walk away with his first NL MVP award in this simulation.
Robles, Kieboom taking big strides
Rendon’s absence leaves a big hole to be filled in 2020, and while Soto putting up league-best numbers helps, probably the biggest X-Factor for the Nats this season is Victor Robles. The 23-year-old outfielder put up solid numbers last season as a rookie hitting at the bottom of the lineup.
This simulation is really showing the best case scenario for the Nats, because Robles is shining in this simulated 2020. His 20 home runs and 60 RBI are both second on the team behind Soto, and he’s hitting just below .300 with a .299 batting average. His 4.7 WAR is eighth-best among position players in the majors.
Perhaps even more impressively, his 81 strikeouts are one shy of Soto, who is universally acclaimed for his eye at the plate. Robles also earned his first All-Star appearance alongside Soto, both of whom joined Max Scherzer and (surprisingly) Kurt Suzuki as the only Nats at the Midsummer Classic, but we’ll get to the results of that later.
An even bigger question mark entering 2020 is Rendon’s expected replacement at third base, Carter Kieboom. The 22-year-old rookie was the Nats’ top prospect entering this season. He struggled in 10 games in the majors in 2019, but he’ll be relied on to pull his weight.
In this simulation, he’s doing respectably for a rookie. Kieboom is slashing .259/.337/.411 with 11 home runs and 49 RBI. Baseball-Reference isn’t showing defensive stats, so there’s no real way to know how well the natural shortstop is adjusting to his role on the hot corner, but given that he’s started 96 games, it’s probably safe to assume that he hasn’t been a major defensive liability.
Scherzer poised for Cy Young No. 4?
The soon-to-be 36-year-old Scherzer is still mowing down batters. His 5.4 WAR leads all pitchers, and with his major league-leading 216 strikeouts and 13.531 strikeouts per 9 IP, Scherzer looks like he hasn’t slowed down one bit. His 2.63 ERA leads the team, and ranks fifth in the majors (the top eight ERAs belong to NL pitchers).
Two-time reigning Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets is in the top 10 in just three major categories: WAR (tenth among pitchers with 3.4), strikeouts (sixth in the majors with 166) and innings pitched (tied for sixth with 139.0). There’s still 62 games left, but it seems the NL Cy Young race will come down to Scherzer and the LA Dodgers’ Walker Buehler, who leads the majors with an astounding 1.99 ERA and ranks highly in multiple other categories.
Four Nats at the All-Star Game in a 5-1 win for the NL
As mentioned, Scherzer made his eighth consecutive All-Star Game and earned starting honors for the National League. He pitched one perfect inning, retiring the likes of Francisco Lindor, Brantley and Mike Trout, whom Scherzer struck out for his only K of the evening.
Soto earned the start in left field, where he went 1-3 with a decisive two-run home run in the bottom fifth inning. With the game tied 1-1, Soto went yard off Tampa Bay’s Blake Snell to bring home Atlanta’s Ozzie Albies and give the NL a 3-1 lead. Soto’s other two plate appearances resulted in strikeouts. Albies would hit a two-run homer of his own in the seventh inning to solidify the NL victory and earn himself MVP honors for the game.
Robles, meanwhile, came in off the bench for Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich in center field. Robles went 0-2, striking out both times. Suzuki earned his second All-Star nod, his first coming in 2014 with the Twins. The 36-year-old catcher did not enter the game, but it was his .316 batting average combined with a thin pool of candidates at the position that earned him the spot.
New faces on pitching staff costs team top prospect
With Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez making up the top four spots in the starting rotation, the fifth spot is up for grabs. Joe Ross was considered a favorite to earn the role in real life before he opted out of the 2020 season, but in this pandemic-free simulation, he remains active.
Rather than pick from an in-house candidate, however, the team traded for one. The team traded for 29-year-old Kevin Gausman of the San Francisco Giants in exchange for four minor league prospects, including 19-year-old infielder Luis Garcia. Garcia entered the 2020 season as the Nats’ highest-rated prospect behind Kieboom, and was the only other prospect in the organization ranked among the Top 100 prospects in baseball (97th).
Garcia AND three other prospects seems like a hefty price for Gausman, who posted a career-worst 5.72 ERA for the Braves and Cincinnati Reds last season. As much as team president/general manager Mike Rizzo prioritizes starting pitching, this trade seems fairly short-sighted.
In 15 starts with Washington, Gausman has gone 7-6 with a 5.00 ERA, 65 strikeouts and 16 walks. Not the results one would envision for the price of the team’s top prospect, but luckily Garcia remains in Washington in real life.
In better news, the team made a move to bolster their notoriously weak bullpen, grabbing 33-year-old Kirby Yates and immediately signing the All-Star to a two-year deal. The Nats sent the San Diego Padres minor league reliever Brigham Hill in exchange. Adding Yates to a bullpen highlighted by Sean Doolittle, Daniel Hudson and Will Harris, the simulated Nats appear stocked to fire on all cylinders in October, assuming they reach the postseason.
Zimmerman is no where to be found
Ohtani opted out of the 2020 season in real life, but in this simulation, those opt outs don’t apply. Ross, one of the team’s other opt-outs, is still on the roster and has simulated stats. Zimmerman, meanwhile, does not appear on the Nats’ roster. He signed a one-year contract this offseason, so he should be there, but for whatever reason he doesn’t appear.
I then checked his Baseball-Reference page, where the 2020 Simulated Stats are listed for every individual player. There was a chance that he was traded off the team (no way that happens in real life), but unlike every other active player, no simulated 2020 stats are listed.
The only logical conclusion is that he retired before the start of the 2020 season in the simulation. He’s technically an active player, so it’s a shame the simulation doesn’t have him, especially since we won’t see him in real life this season either.
Rendon takes a step back on new team
Last year’s NL MVP finalist departed the team after winning the World Series to join Trout’s Los Angeles Angels after signing a massive seven-year/$245 million deal. The Angels have the potential to be an offensive juggernaut, with Rendon joining not only Trout, but also two-way star Shohei Ohtani and 40-year-old Albert Pujols, the legendary first baseman/designated hitter who currently sits fourth all-time with 656 home runs (not including the simulated 2020 stats).
The 2020 simulation has other plans. Through 100 games, Rendon’s numbers have taken a dip. While he is leading the team with 66 RBI, he’s tied for third on the team with 15 home runs, and he’s slashing .254/.343/.452, giving him a .795 OPS. For someone who hit well over .300 last season and posted an OPS north of 1.000, those numbers are disappointing.
That said, his 2.9 WAR is third-highest on team behind Trout (5.7) and Andrelton Simmons (4.2), and the Angels are just 2.5 games back in the AL West, sitting at 57-42.
Turner is sent packing
You read that correctly: Turner was released by the Nationals on June 17. In a shocking turn of events, Trey Turner gets kicked to the curb for no apparent reason. He was a big piece of the franchise and to inexplicably get rid of him for nothing just seems-
Wait, that isn’t the same Turner; starting shortstop Trea Turner is here to stay. Instead, minor league relief pitcher Trey Turner (no relation) is the one released by the club. Trey spent time in Hagerstown and Auburn in 2019, and there’s nothing in his profile to indicate that he’s no longer with the organization, but seeing “Trey Turner released” under the transactions page certainly warrants a double take.
Trea is putting up solid numbers; he has 15 home runs (third on the team), 48 RBI (sixth) and a team-leading 17 stolen bases.
Nats sign Chris Paul
Who knew the Oklahoma City point guard had a knack for baseball too? Well turns out he doesn’t. The baseball Chris Paul in question is a free agent infielder originally drafted to the Minnesota Twins.
LA Dodgers are far and away the best team in baseball
Looking at the league as a whole, the Dodgers continue their reign over the NL West, as they have a major league-best 76-24 record. The Dodgers are 11 games ahead of the second-best record in the majors, which belongs to the 65-35 Cleveland Indians.
The combination of Bellinger, Max Muncy, newcomer and former AL MVP Mookie Betts has proven lethal in this simulation, and Buehler (1.99) and Clayton Kershaw (2.17) boast the two lowest ERAs in the majors among qualified pitchers. David Price, who joined Betts in LA from the Red Sox and opted out for the real 2020 season, is also putting together solid numbers with a 2.57 ERA and 112 strikeouts.
Falling short year after year, the incredibly deep Dodgers look poised to strike gold in the 2020 simulation, but we’ll have to wait and see how they hold up in real life.
To check out every player’s simulated stats and want to follow along for the rest of the simulated season, click here.
Cover Photo Credit: NBC Sports Washington