Ron Chenoy / USA TODAY Sports

Amid an unprecedented condensed season abundant in nonstop alterations, Major League Baseball has not fallen short of chaos — controlled chaos, that is. With just over two weeks remaining in the regular season, none other than the Marlins, Tigers and Orioles, the three worst records in baseball last season, have found themselves in the thick of the postseason race. Not to mention the Padres, who finished in last place in the NL West a year ago, and the White Sox, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2008, are both all of a sudden World Series contenders.

It’s been a strange year, to say the least.

Most of us have spent our time discussing this year’s MVP candidates, Cy Young contenders, and anything at all interesting regarding the faces of baseball. But what about the under-the-radar breakout players? Who is documenting their success? That’s where we come in. 

The oddity that is this 2020 season has given way to the unlikeliest of heroes among the unlikeliest of contending teams. With absolutely nothing to lose, some players have clung on to this 60-game sprint of hope and are putting together (what would have been) All Star campaigns. Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Mookie Betts: take a backseat here, because this piece is for the ones who don’t get the recognition they deserve. 

Here are five players you may not have known are having very productive 2020 seasons.

He wasn’t given the nickname “Donnie Barrels” for nothing. Solano, a guy who has never been an everyday starter in his seven-year career, has now earned himself a middle of the order role on a playoff-hopeful team. His .353 BA has him in contention for the NL batting title and his 27 RBI and .899 OPS rank second on the team to only NL MVP candidate Mike Yastrzemski. Although he stands at just 5-foot-8, Solano ranks in the 67th percentile in xSLG and is just one extra-base-hit away from matching a career-high. His .413 BABIP suggests he’s been rather fortunate, but his .432 batting average with runners in scoring position proves he’s making the most of his opportunities.

Take a gander at Marco Gonzales’ 11.50 K/BB ratio. If he is able to maintain that mark, it would be the third-highest in a single-season (minimum 10 games started) since 2010 behind only Clayton Kershaw and Phil Hughes. The Gonzaga product has done a nice job missing barrels early on. Hitters have managed just a 34.7 percent hard hit rate and 86.4 average exit velocity against him. His cutter has been nearly untouchable thus far — opponents hitting just .157 against that pitch. If you are more old fashioned and don’t care much for the analytical angles, allow me to simplify his reason for success: he isn’t allowing anybody on base. He has only allowed four free passes in 50 2/3 innings and owns the 4th-lowest WHIP among qualified MLB starters (0.87).

By now, many of us have heard the term Moneyball and we know how much Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s front office value getting on base. Grossman certainly fits the mold with his .394 OBP — good enough for sixth in the American League. He has gotten on base at a higher clip than all of Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and Manny Machado. He’s also hitting for gaps and power, slotting in the 57th percentile in xSLG. Mostly a platoon hitter who plays against righties, Grossman ranks second in the AL in extra base hits among players who have been limited to 110 at-bats or less. A guy who gets on base and drives in runs is the perfect combination in the East Bay.

Not many people tabbed Miguel Rojas as the favorite to win the batting title but he could be the favorite coming down the stretch run. It may surprise some, but the Marlins captain has actually been swinging the stick for a handful of years now. He ranks fourth in batting average among NL shortstops since 2016. He’s enjoyed a .417 BABIP this year, but he also has a 38 percent hard hit rate to go along with it. He’s not hitting for much power, but he is setting the table for teammates Jesus Aguilar and Brian Anderson. The Marlins, of all teams, currently hold the No. 8 spot in the playoff picture and Rojas has been a huge reason why.

Many are already handing Jacob deGrom his third straight Cy Young and the others are looking at Trevor Bauer and Yu Darvish. But what about Corbin Burnes of the Milwaukee Brewers? While his 1.99 ERA falls just a hair behind the aforementioned three guys, he leads MLB in opponent batting average (.142) and ranks behind only Shane Bieber and deGrom in K/9 (12.71). His leash has been shorter than the more experienced starters, which has hurt his overall totals, but his per game metrics are as good as any. He transitioned from being a four-seam fastball hurler to throwing a hard sinker and cutter. Since then, his whiff percentages are up and his opponent barrel percentage is down. The Brewers are looking to make one last postseason push and you gotta think manager Craig Counsell could loosen the reigns on his young right hander.


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