Despite what was perceived as a “down” 2019 season following his 2018 AL MVP crown, former Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts led the AL – and all of baseball – with 135 runs scored last season.
In fact, despite Boston finishing just six games over the .500 mark, they owned the top two run-scorers in baseball with breakout star Rafael Devers checking in second with 129 runs of his own.
That said, we’ll at least need to look elsewhere at the top for the AL runs leader in 2020 after Betts was dealt to the Dodgers in the offseason where he resides as the favorite to pace the NL in runs at +325.
While the list of candidates over at BetOnline is a little shorter than I’d like, let’s take a look at three players representing three separate tiers of odds to pace the junior circuit in runs scored in 2020.
3 Players Worth Backing to Lead the AL in Runs in 2020
Mike Trout, Angels (+375)
Despite Trout being the odds-on favorite to pace the AL in runs this season, once again we should note that value doesn’t mean taking a dart throw at a player down the list of candidates.
Rather, I’ll look at the possibility versus the odds and I believe we get a nice balance and value with Trout.
With Anthony Rendon making his way to the Angels via a mammoth seven-year, $245M contract in free agency, there is yet another elite layer of protection added to Trout while Shohei Ohtani will return after completing his rehab from Tommy John surgery.
While David Fletcher could be a candidate to lead off for new manager Joe Maddon, don’t be shocked if the Angels front four looked something like this:
- 1. Mike Trout
- 2. Anthony Rendon
- 3. Shohei Ohtani
- 4. Justin Upton
That’s a heck of a first-inning battle for starting pitchers and it would also give Maddon the best possible chance at maxing out the at-bats he gets from Trout and Rendon, two of the best bats in all of baseball.
Even without the services of Rendon and Ohtani in 2019, Trout finished sixth with 110 runs scored. Betts and fifth-place finisher Jonathan Villar both now reside in the National League, for what it’s worth.
Also, keep in mind Trout did so in just 134 games while Betts did so in 150. If we give Trout 150 games, he scores 123 runs and gives us a much closer finish.
Betts had plenty of protection in Devers, Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez while Trout mostly hit in front of Upton last season, or worse.
Trout led the AL with 123 runs during his last fully healthy season in 2016, but injuries have since hurt his raw counting stats while the Angels have been cautious with their future Hall of Famer near the completion of losing seasons in recent years.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) July 15, 2015
In a sprint-to-the-finish, 60-game 2020 season, injury risk is mitigated and the Angels have every intention of competing as evidenced by the Rendon investment as well as a revamped starting rotation.
With plenty of protection and thunder behind him in this season’s lineup, expect Trout to rack up the runs scored once again in 2020.
D.J. Lemahieu, Yankees (+1800)
While the Angels should sport an improved lineup this season, a healthy Yankees lineup is arguably the best in baseball and has to be considered the best in the AL heading into the season.
With Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton reportedly healthy and ready to go on Opening Day against the Nationals on July 23, whoever hits in front of them should be in line for plenty of run-scoring opportunities this season.
That should certainly be LeMahieu after he hit in the leadoff spot for much of the 2019 season and for good reason.
LeMahieu surpassed any and all expectations while hitting .327 with a .375 OBP in his first tour of duty in pinstripes.
Better yet, he did so without the help of a bloated BABIP as his .349 mark from 2019 was right in line with his .344 career mark.
While his career OBP sits at .354, LeMahieu has surpassed that mark in four of the last five season with his 2018 season the lone exception – largely thanks to a .298 BABIP that suggested poor batted-ball fortune.
He owns a career .302 average and has hit at least .301 in four of the last five seasons.
In other words, getting on base has not been an issue for the 32-year-old as he remains very much in his prime and has been a sexy pick to hit .400 in the shortened campaign.
Last season, LeMahieu ranked ninth in the AL with 109 runs scored in 145 games, and did so with Stanton for just 18 contests and Judge for a couple ticks over 100.
It’s important to note that Judge and Stanton – despite the smaller samples – finished first and second with a .382 and .379 wOBA, respectively last season.
The third-place finisher? LeMahieu at .375.
All told, the 2019 Yankees were absolutely decimated with injuries, yet managed to lead the American League with 943 runs scored nonetheless while finishing a single home run shy of the Twins’ MLB-record 307.
If Judge and Stanton can indeed enter the season and remain healthy throughout, LeMahieu won’t have to sprint to score most of his runs, but simply jog and present some air knuckles for the slugging duo that will hit behind him.
As a leadoff hitter for the Yankees these days, you’re going to score a lot of runs. If you’re hitting .300 annually with OBP’s in the .370 range, +1800 is an odds level that offers wild value entering the 2020 season.
Aaron Judge, Yankees (+3000)
I’m attempting to piece Aaron Boone’s lineup in my head, and my best guess for the front five is this:
- 1. D.J. LeMahieu
- 2. Aaron Judge
- 3. Giancarlo Stanton
- 4. Gleyber Torres
- 5. Gary Sanchez
After his monster 2019 season, I considered Torres at +2500, but the high-OBP ways of Judge should have him hitting in front of Torres who posted a .337 OBP a season ago compared to Judge’s big-time .394 career mark and .381 mark from a season ago.
While Judge still has swing-and-miss woven into his game, he’s also managed a massive 16.1% walk rate for his career and maintains a solid .273 batting average to boot.
He also runs well – especially for a monster standing at 6’7″ and 282 lbs – as he registered in the league’s 79th percentile in sprint speed last season, >a href=”https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/savant-player/aaron-judge-592450?stats=statcast-r-hitting-mlb” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>as per Statcast.
In 2017, Judge immediately grabbed the attention of the baseball universe when he set a new rookie record with 52 home runs.
What largely flew under the radar was the fact he also led the AL – by far – with 128 runs scored that season, 16 more than second-place Jose Altuve’s 112.
In 2017, Judge led the AL in HR (52), runs scored (128), and was walked a record 127 times that season https://t.co/MuHk7Y8H9T
— Bleacher Report MLB (@BR_MLB) February 14, 2020
That was only season of his big-league career to this point when he’s remained healthy as he’s missed 110 games over the last two seasons.
This Yankees team is not going to be playing much small-ball. They are built for power and power they will deliver.
Judge should have some combination of Stanton, Torres and Sanchez hitting behind him. That’s light-tower power to be sure while this quintet could very well be the most productive group in baseball last season.
Remember at the outset of this piece when I mentioned Betts and Devers – Boston 1-2 hitters from last season – finishing first and second in runs scored?
Well, that could very well be the situation with the 2020 Yankees.
While I’ll still give the edge to LeMahieu – along with the oddsmakers – I’m very much willing to lay down on Judge in his return to health at +3000.