The 2020 baseball season was abbreviated, but it featured award-worthy performances from several Tigers.
When I planned ahead of time to put together an end-of-season awards post for Mizzou Baseball, I didn’t expect my decision to be based on a handful of games and a few dozen at-bats. Nonetheless, here we are.
This year was a strange one for Mizzou Baseball, at first because of the NCAA’s postseason ban, then because of the abrupt cancellation in the face of COVID-19. The Tigers finished 11-5 with wins over Oklahoma, Texas and Utah, and seemed to be gaining momentum in their final push toward SEC play — they had won seven straight heading into a series against Alabama.
Still, you have to stick to your guns, so I’m going to dole out some awards. I used the MLB awards format, and only got to four different awards — I might have added more if the season had gone full-length, but decided to keep it simple with the small amount of data on hand.
Most Valuable Player
Peter Zimmerman, Senior
Siri, please play @PeterZim30 hitting a baseball over Jesse Hall and The Columns
— Mizzou Baseball (@MizzouBaseball) March 11, 2020
This was a tough call, and if I’m being completely honest, I think there’s a player who may be more deserving of this award. Scroll down to, “Most Improved Player,” to see that.
However, I am still a red-blooded baseball fan, and Peter Zimmerman’s brief 2020 season was too much to overlook. In my season preview, I noted that Zimmerman would need to take a big step if the Tigers were to succeed, and he answered in a big way. Zimmerman was a wrecking ball for the few weeks of the 2020 season, jacking his on-base percentage up 50 points and his slugging percentage 150 points.
And while his towering home runs (above) and late-inning heroics (click here) were the headline-grabbers, I think it’s his strikeouts and walks that tell the story of his improvement best. In 57 at-bats Zimmerman only struck out seven times and actually walked nine. It takes quite the hitter to total more walks than strikeouts in a season, and Zimmerman was on that path early on. It’ll be interesting to see if he decides to come back for an extra year (assuming the NCAA offers him one) — a lineup with he and Brandt Belk every game would be deadly.
Cy Young Award
Ian Bedell, Junior
There may be eligibility relief on the way for spring sports athletes, but don’t expect to see Ian Bedell in a Mizzou uniform again. The dominant righty was already a Day One draft prospect, and his junior year numbers suggested he’s ready for the next level. In four starts, Bedell never once failed to go six innings, striking out 35 against four total walks. And while his 3.70 ERA isn’t exactly sterling, his worst outing of the year came in the season opener against Jacksonville State, when he gave up four earned runs — the rest of his season ERA comes out to a much-better-looking 2.98. It’s unfortunate that Mizzou fans will miss out on Bedell’s junior year, but it should instill some confidence that Steve Bieser was able to turn out yet another elite pitcher from the Tiger program.
Rookie of the Year
Spencer Miles, Freshman
Spencer Miles, a freshman out of Rock Bridge High School, won’t wow anyone with his pure freshman year numbers, but the trajectory he was on earns him this award. Miles earned starts against Texas and Western Illinois in the last week of the season, limiting each team to three runs each. His final start of the season was his best — he went six innings and struck out five with no walks. By the time the season had been called, Miles had cemented himself as the team’s third-best starter and should be a staple of the rotation for the next few years.
Most Improved Player
Brandt Belk, Redshirt Junior
Honestly, the only thing keeping Belk away from taking home this year’s MVP was the fact that he didn’t play as much as Zimmerman. Almost everything else points to Belk as the team’s most dangerous offensive weapon. The Pepperdine transfer didn’t slug as many home runs as Zimmerman, but was outrageously effective in his 46 at-bats, ranking Top 5 in the SEC in both batting average and on-base percentage. Oh, and his .652 slugging percentage still led the team. Belk was good in his final year at Pepperdine, slashing .303/.363/.455 with 3 home runs, but he took an astronomical leap in his first year as a Tiger. He should be back next year, and will headline the Tiger offense.