A 60-game season changes a lot about Major League Baseball. One of the numerous changes will include player statistics looking a lot different in 2020. Anyone who approaches 20 home runs or 40 RBI will be having an impressive season at the plate. While the basic counting stats will look less impressive, a shorter season means that average-based stats may look more impressive — after all, it’s a lot easier to hit .400 over the span of 60 games than it is to do it over 162.
This applies to pitchers, too. Wins and strikeouts are not going to be high in 2020. ERAs, however, could be very low. If we’re lucky, we get a pitcher or two every five to 10 years who keeps his ERA under 2.00 for an entire season. In 2020, it’s a lot more likely that we see at least one, if not more.
So which pitchers are candidates to put together a season like that? Here are five who have what it takes to do it.
5. Jack Flaherty, Cardinals
Flaherty merits consideration because he’s shown he can do it as recently as last year. He ended the season as the hottest pitcher in the majors, posting a 0.91 ERA in his final 15 starts of 2019. A 60-game season won’t even give him the chance to get that many starts, so he certainly has the capability to keep his ERA low. He also had the lowest WHIP in the National League — even more evidence that he has what it takes.
4. Max Scherzer, Nationals
For a two-month span between May and July last season, Scherzer posted a 0.84 ERA in nine starts. He walked nine batters and struck out 94 in that span, with opponents hitting just .172 against him. In other words, this is a guy who has the stuff and experience to go through long stretches of starts just dominating opponents. The end of Scherzer’s 2019 was hindered by injuries, and that bears watching in 2020. If healthy, though, it would be foolish to think he can’t put up some eye-popping numbers.
3. Justin Verlander, Astros
Verlander has consistently posted an ERA in the 2.50 range since joining the Astros, so all it would take to move him under 2.00 would be to toss aside one or two of his worst outings. In 15 starts after the All-Star break in 2020, for instance, he posted a 2.06 ERA, allowing more than three earned runs only once. A run like that easily puts him in contention for a sub-2.0 ERA in a season where he makes 12 or 13 starts. Plus, consistency has long been one of Verlander’s hallmarks — he’s as sure a bet to be elite as any pitcher in baseball.
2. Jacob deGrom, Mets
Jacob deGrom posted a 1.70 ERA in 2018 over 32 starts, so he could easily do it in less than half that. He did it again in 2019 from June through the end of the season, posting a 1.85 ERA. He has the combination of strikeout ability and limiting walks and hits that basically ensure few runners are ever on base, limiting opportunities to drive them in. The Mets don’t have a good team defense, which could make him labor a bit more than he’d like to, but that hasn’t bothered him the last two years.
1. Gerrit Cole, Yankees
Cole was baseball’s most dominant pitcher in 2019. After giving up eight earned runs in a start against Texas on April 20, his ERA for the rest of the season was 2.07. Start tracking it on May 27 and it goes down to 1.78 over 22 starts. Yes, Cole will be adapting to new surroundings and new expectations after signing a megadeal with the New York Yankees. It’s pretty clear that this is going to create major challenges for him. Still, as long as Cole trusts his stuff, he has a great chance to be every bit as good as the Yankees hope he will be.