The reigning AL runs scored leader now resides in the senior circuit.
Indeed, the trade that brought Mookie Betts from the Red Sox to the Dodgers also brought 135 runs scored from 2019 with it.
Betts actually scored more runs in 2019 than he did in his 2018 AL MVP-winning season (129) despite almost all of his offensive stats taking a step back a season ago.
That said, he also played in 14 more games in 2019, so in an on-pace sense, he would have set another career high.
Nonetheless, Betts has cracked the 100-run barrier in four consecutive seasons and notched at least 122 runs scored in three of the last four.
As a result, it’s no surprise to see the new Dodger as the favorite to lead his new league in runs scored at +325, but he’ll have his fair share of competition.
Foremost amongst that group is young superstar Ronald Acuna Jr. (+500), who is the reigning NL runs king with 127 runs scored as part of a 2019 season that nearly saw him join the 40-40 club, coming just three stolen bases shy of accomplishing the feat.
It’s certainly more than a two-man race, however, especially in the sprint that will be the 60-game regular season.
Therefore, let’s take a look at three players holding increased value at various odds tiers in case something whacky comes about in a sport chock-full of just that.
3 Players Worth Backing to Lead the NL in Runs in 2020
Mookie Betts, Dodgers (+325)
While it’s far from guaranteed, it’s probably a good idea to back one of the two names above as they’re in the best positions to rack up the runs scored in the 2020 campaign.
That said, while Acuna is the reigning leader and certainly has value potential at his odds, I can’t help but look at that Dodgers lineup and not agree that Betts offers a ton of value despite being listed as the favorite.
After all, no one scores more runs than this guy.
Not only did he lead all of baseball last season, but he’s also scored more runs than anybody else since the 2016 season. He also holds that distinction for the last two seasons combined while only the Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon has more since 2017, but the Coors Field effect certainly gives him a big edge in that department.
While Betts enjoyed quality protection in the Red Sox lineup last season with Rafael Devers (who finished second in the bigs with 129 runs scored), Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez hitting behind him, this stacked Dodgers lineup should afford him plenty of protection as well.
Mookie Betts scored his 100th run of the season tonight.
He's now just the 5th player in Red Sox history to score 100 runs in the teams first 110 games.
Betts joins Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, Billy Werber and Tris Speaker to accomplish the feat and first since Williams in 1949. pic.twitter.com/kfRh5sDML2
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 2, 2019
While we don’t know who Dave Roberts will roll out and in what order on Opening Day, the safest bet on the table is that Betts will hit in the leadoff spot for Dodger blue this season.
It’s likely Max Muncy (35 home runs, .265 ISO, .889 OPS in 2019) and Cody Bellinger (47 home runs, .324 ISO, 1.035 OPS, NL MVP) will be soon to follow. Throw Justin Turner somewhere in there as well.
Nonetheless, the protection will be there. The Dodgers are chock-full of power and high-OBP players, finishing first in the NL with a .215 ISO and second with a .338 OBP in 2019.
The high OBP’s keep’s the train going around the base and thunder brings them home. It’s therefore no surprise that they paced the NL with 886 runs scored a season ago.
If all this weren’t enough, Betts can obviously move around the bases quite well, ranking in the league’s 73rd percentile in terms of sprint speed, as per Statcast.
At the end of the day, no one in baseball scores runs at a higher clip than this guy, and I wouldn’t expect that to change much in the upcoming campaign.
Kris Bryant, Cubs (+1400)
I’m wildly bullish on Bryant in the upcoming season and I’m officially issuing a warning that he sports quality value at +2500 to win the NL MVP for the second time in five seasons.
While I’ve already debated that notion, there’s plenty of reasons to buy in on Bryant at +1400 to pace the NL in runs during this shortened season.
First and foremost, Bryant is set to take on a new role in the form of the club’s leadoff hitter this season, and rookie manager David Ross confirmed as much during the team’s initial spring training.
And it makes complete sense.
Bryant may have tailed off some from his MVP-winning 2016 season, but not in the on-base department.
In fact, his .385 OBP from that season matches his career mark, but does not represent a career-high. That distinction would belong to the following season in which he posted an enormous .409 OBP on the back of a career-high 14.3% walk rate and .295 batting average.
Nonetheless, Bryant has posted an OBP of at least .369 in all five of his big-league campaigns to this point and at least .382 in three of his last four.
Since the beginning of 2016, only six players have posted a superior OBP to Bryant’s .389 during that time, while teammate Anthony Rizzo has matched that mark:
His combination of patience at the plate (11.9% career BB rate) and bat-to-ball skills (.284 career batting average) allows this guy to get on base a ton.
As a result, Bryant has posted at least 108 runs scored in three of the last four seasons, the lone exception being his injury-filled 2018 season in which he posted just 59 runs while appearing in only 102 contests.
Furthermore, he already has one runs-scored title under his belt from that MVP-winning season in which he led the NL with 121 runs scored with fifth-place finish the following year and an eighth-place finish last season.
There’s also the protection behind Bryant in that Cubs lineup.
I would suspect the 2020 Cubs front five batters to look something look this:
- 1. Kris Bryant
- 2. Anthony Rizzo
- 3. Javier Baez
- 4. Kyle Schwarber
- 5. Willson Contreras
That’s a potent group itself.
The power/on-base combination is strong among this group, as it is with the aforementioned Dodgers.
In 2019, the Cubs ranked second in the NL with a .200 ISO and fourth with a .331 OBP. With Anthony Rendon moving from the Nationals to the AL’s Angels in free agency, I would suspect the Dodgers, Cubs and Braves duke it out for the best offense in the senior circuit.
It also might surprise you to know that Bryant was slightly faster than Betts last season, ranking in the league’s 78th percentile in terms of sprint speed, as per statcast.
Of course, I expect Bryant to thrive as the Cubs’ leadoff man and that spot in the order gives him a real shot at leading the NL in runs in 2020.
Fernando Tatis Jr., Padres (+2500)
I’m not quite sure what to make of this Padres club this season.
They appear to be a team on the cusp of contention, yet they finished with the seventh-fewest wins in baseball last season with 70.
What I do know, however, is that Tatis is one of the best young players in baseball and on the cusp of superstar status.
After cracking the Friars’ lineup straight out of Double-A, Tatis did nothing but impress with a .317/.379/.590 slash line to go along with 22 homers, 16 steals and a massive 150 wRC+.
Unfortunately, a back injury cut his rookie campaign to just 84 games, robbing baseball fans of one of the most exciting players in the game for nearly half the season.
The speed is electric, ranking in the league’s 95th percentile, as per Statcast, and used that speed not only to steal 16 bags but also score 61 runs in those 84 contests.
If we give Tatis, say, 155 games played, that equates to 113 runs scored, which would have been good enough for fifth-most in the NL last season.
If we go by plate appearances and hand him 675, he nets him 111 runs scored. At the end of the day, he was on pace to score a whole bunch of runs in his rookie season.
Besides, the guy was scoring runs on his own last season.
"Hunter Renfroe out on a sacrifice fly to second baseman Kevin Newman. Fernando Tatis scores."
Excuse me, WHAT?
— SB Nation MLB (@SBNationMLB) June 23, 2019
While his role as the leadoff hitter is pretty much set in stone, the protection behind him isn’t in the same category as the Dodgers or Cubs mentioned above, but it’s not terrible, either.
- 1. Fernando Tatis Jr.
- 2. Tommy Pham
- 3. Manny Machado
- 4. Eric Hosmer
Pham is a wildly underrated bat in this league and Machado is one of the better bats in baseball if he came return to his 2018 form that saw him post a 140 wRC+.
While Hosmer’s megadeal with the Padres look atrocious in hindsight, you could do a lot worse than those three bats hitting behind Tatis.
Last season, the Padres ranked 13th in the NL with just 682 runs scored on the back of an 11th-ranked .172 ISO and 13th-ranked .308 OBP.
While I’d love to sit here and tell you they are set to make a giant leap in the right direction, that’s anything but guaranteed, but the production bat of Pham near the top of the lineup should help some.
That said, those numbers are without Tatis for nearly half the season and he was on pace of being amongst the league leaders in the runs scored department in his rookie season.
With his speed and aggressiveness, I’m willing to roll the dice on Tatis as a longshot to pace the NL in runs in 2020.