The Silver Lining for Last-Place MLB Teams

The 2020 Major League Baseball regular season was a rough 60-game stretch for the Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Arizona Diamondbacks. Is there anything for these last-place MLB teams to be optimistic about?

Here is a silver lining for these ballclubs.

Boston Red Sox: Alex Verdugo

Rafael Devers, Michael Chavis, and the bulk of Boston’s offense underwhelmed in a discouraging season. At the same time, Verdugo was impressive in his debut year with the Red Sox.

Acquired as part of the team’s return on Mookie Betts from the Los Angeles Dodgers, Verdugo was arguably Boston’s best player. Batting near the top of the order, the 24-year-old outfielder hit .308 while recording an .844 OPS. He consistently put the ball in play and was respectable at both outfield positions.

If the Red Sox are going to get back on track in 2021 they need their offense to be firing on all cylinders. Verdugo continued to trend upwards, which is encouraging for the well-being of this team’s outfield as long-time center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. hits the free agent market this offseason.

Detroit Tigers: Willi Castro

The Tigers had minimal positional bright spots a year ago. Fortunately for the friendly cats of southern Michigan, 2020 provided some hope, specifically Castro.

Castro was one of the best infielders in baseball this season. Across 36 games he hit .349, posted a .932 OPS, and totaled 24 RBIs. He got on base at a high level, moved runners across the basepaths, and was a leading catalyst for the Tigers offense.

Castro made a bold case for being Detroit’s shortstop of the future. With Castro’s standout season, Jeimer Candelario turning a corner, and Spencer Torkelson likely not too far away from making his big-league debut, the Tigers may have something cooking in their infield.

Texas Rangers: Lance Lynn

The Rangers lineup was one of the worst in the sport, their starting rotation was a mess, and their bullpen was inconsistent. Right-hander Lance Lynn was the outlier of their rotation, though.

While he didn’t exactly finish the season in style, surrendering nine earned runs and three home runs against the Houston Astros, Lynn was an American League Cy Young Award candidate across his first 12 starts. Across said starts, he recorded a 2.53 ERA and 84 strikeouts while holding opponents to a .184 batting average. He also pitched through the sixth inning in 11 of his 13 starts.

Lynn had success by means of being a power pitcher, and now he gives the Rangers two options: 1) lean on him to be their ace next season or 2) allow the Rangers, a team stuck to itself, to get value for him via trade, as he’s a free agent after next season.

New York Mets: Dominic Smith

The Mets rotation was shaky with the exception of Jacob deGrom. Meanwhile, the offense didn’t come through with timely hits. That said, Smith was a force to be reckoned with from start to finish in the batter’s box.

The left-hander took full advantage of the universal designated hitter, getting in the order on a near-everyday basis and making 22 starts at first base. Across 177 at-bats, Smith hit .316, posted a .993 OPS and a 169 OPS+, and totaled 42 RBIs. Meanwhile, he held his own at the corner infield position.

Once a player without a position, Smith was the Mets’ best hitter this season and produced at a level worthy of making the National League Most Valuable Player Award ballot.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Ke’Bryan Hayes

It’s difficult to find things to smile about after finishing with the worst record in MLB. That said, Hayes’ brief MLB playing time is one of them for the Pirates.

Hayes played up to the hype (he has been one of the team’s top prospects in recent memory) in the 24 games he appeared in this season. Hitting .376 and posting an 1.124 OPS and a 202 OPS+, he was a sight to behold for the Pirates and the mere bright spot of their offense. Hayes flaunted an ability to slug, work the count, and be someone teams have to ponder pitching around.

The Pirates were able to get Hayes reps at the hot corner, moving Colin Moran into the DH role. Hayes will likely be manager Derek Shelton‘s third baseman or DH next season. Pittsburgh has a positional development to take into the offseason.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Zac Gallen

The D-Backs were an enormous disappointment fresh off a second-half push that nearly powered them into the playoffs last season. Gallen was one of the few individuals who put together a superb 2020 campaign.

Acquired from the Miami Marlins in a 2019 trade deadline transaction, Gallen has been a wonder in the desert. Across 12 starts the right-hander recorded a 2.75 ERA, a 167 ERA+, and 82 strikeouts this season. Gallen is effective with a consistent four-pitch arsenal (four seamer, cutter, changeup, and curveball).

The D-Backs have a wide net of hurlers to be enthused by moving forward, Gallen probably the most creditable; he appears to be the backbone of their rotation. If and when pitchers like Madison Bumgarner, Luke Weaver, and Alex Young get back on track, the D-Backs will have a formidable pitching staff.

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