In a year where 10 players slugged over 50 home runs (4 of them homering 60 or more times!), it’s hard to believe the CY Young award was awarded at all. Don’t tell that to Willie “WB” Barrios and Jordan “Buzzard” Ledezma.
“We planned this, Willie and me” said Ledezma at the awards dinner. “Not everyone knows that we’ve been pushing each other for years to reach this goal. Our goal.”
Barrios (24) and Ledezma (25) are both from the Dominican Republic, the former from Barahona and the latter from Santiago. With just 150 miles separating the two, it was only a matter of time before their paths crossed. They met at a baseball scouting event, and the rest is history. The were both lightyears beyond their peers, and the lines were split down the middle as far as who the better prospect was.
Both were signed as teenagers, but Ledezma made his ascent through the minors at a faster pace. Once Barrios made it to the show in 2020, Jordan called Willie and reminded them of their pact. It was time they both dominate baseball.
We looked at Barrios’ season in a previous post, as he was the only player in the league to amass 200 innings and have a WHIP under 1.00. Barrios ended he year with a 2.59 ERA, a 180 ERA+, 240 strikeouts and 8.2 WAR. His 20 wins in 33 games started lead the American League. He had 26 quality starts, a 28.1% strikeout rate and 10.0 K/9. He won the Triple Crown in the American League. Enough said.
Willie started out the year undefeated through 13 games, winning 9 of those decisions, hitting June without a loss. He never lost more than one start in a row. WB struck out 10 or more batters in a game four times in 2020, his best performance coming against the Baltimore Continentals, where he pitched 7 innings of 2-hit ball, gave up no runs, struck out 10 and walked just 2.
Barrios collected 28 of the possible 30 first-place American League CY Young votes, with Danny Rater of the Tucson Storm Kings snagging the last 2 first place votes and finishing second. Eric Naylor, Danny’s teammate in Tucson, finished third.
WB also had an RBI in 2020, on a strikeout no less. With a runner on third, he swung at a pitch up in the zone. It must have been a cross-up between the pitcher and catcher, because the 0-2 fastball tipped off the catcher’s glove and made it to the backstop. The dugout went wild as Barrios sprinted to first as his teammate raced home. When both reached safely, Barrios could be seen smiling ear-to-ear.
“I had to check the rule book after the game. I figured there was no way I’d get credit for anything in that at-bat, besides not having to go back to the dugout. Turns out I got my very first big-league ribbie”Barrios said at his award acceptance.
Jordan’s season started out just as hot as Willie’s, going undefeated in his first 11 starts, but he won just 5 of those games. Run support was Jordan’s biggest nemesis all year, ending the season at 14-8 across 33 starts, 25 of them quality starts. In 218.2 innings, his 26.1% strikeout rate carried his K total to 227, and his 7% walk rate helped his WHIP finish the year at 1.02. Ledezma lead all National League pitchers with 7.1 WAR.
And, just like Willie, Jordan had 4 games with 10 or more strike outs, his best outing coming in May against the Long Beach 97s, where he threw 7.1 innings of 2-hit ball, striking out 10 and walking three. Looks eerily similar to Willie’s best game doesn’t it…
Ledezma, being in the National League, had a few more plate appearances than his buddy, but only collected two more RBI than Willie. Buzzard hit .103 in 78 plate appearances, with seven hits and two runs scored.
Barrios and Ledezma grew up watching Edinson Volquez, who also grew up in Barrios’ hometown of Barahona. “I knew Edinson when he went by Julio Reyes, before he changed his name. We cheered for him when he signed with Texas in 2001, and when he won with the Royals in 2016, I was just starting to make a name for myself. I knew that his stuff was electric, but he couldn’t throw 100 mph like me” said Barrios in his speech.
When asked if they’d discussed a new goal, now that both had won their CY Young award, the two said the same thing simultaneously – beat the other in the World Series.
“Unless we somehow get to team-up. How cool would that be?” Ledezma said with a smile. “Then we can both win, together again.”
Check out some other posts in the 2020 Best Baseball League Series: