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2022 MLB season preview: Cleveland Guardians

By Adam Burke  (VSiN.com) 

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One would think that a new name and a rebrand would be good reasons to go out and spend some money to drum up excitement. Much like the boring logo and the unimaginative color scheme, the Guardians opted not to do anything of consequence with the expedited free agent and trade frenzy. If I sound angry, it’s because this lifelong Cleveland baseball fan is more than ready for the day when rumored minority owner David Blitzer can get the rest of the shares he needs to have control and make the decisions.

You have to hand it to this front office, though. Operating with very thin financial margins, last year’s team was the first since 2012 to finish with a losing record at 80-82. In that span, the Indians made the playoffs more often than they didn’t and even came within one game of ending the painful World Series drought that dates back to 1948.

This year’s team won’t end it either, but this is a very important year for the future of the franchise. Pinching pennies is just standard operating procedure for this ownership group, but the next great wave of prospects is not that far away. The Guardians have two elite players in Jose Ramirez and Shane Bieber and some good complementary pieces, but the real strength of the team lurks below the surface.

2022 VSiN MLB Betting Guide

Offense

Ramirez is a bona fide superstar and may very well be on a Hall of Fame track, especially when the shift gets banned for 2023 and beyond. He batted .266/.355/.538 last season with a .372 wOBA and a 137 wRC+ . His 6.3 fWAR were more than double the next position player, Amed Rosario, who rode a .340 BABIP to the second-best offensive season of his career. The man known as “J-Ram” also stole 27 bases, blasted 36 homers and played Gold Glove defense.

The offensive philosophy has shifted in Cleveland. This used to be an organization that would preach patience at the plate and utilize platoon advantages, meaning a lineup loaded with lefties against a right-handed pitcher and the opposite against a left-handed pitcher. Now, the Guardians are a contact-oriented, straightforward offense that ranked 26th in BB%. They ranked 12th in average exit velocity and 16th in Hard Hit% (percentage of batted balls hit at least 95 mph). They were one of 12 teams to hit at least 200 home runs, but ranked 27th in OBP with a low batting average and the low walk rate.

The projection for the offense doesn’t look much better this season, though there are some bright spots. A full year of Myles Straw, who had a walk rate north of 10% and 30 stolen bases last season, will help tremendously. The team should be committed to taking a long look at 24-year-old OF Steven Kwan, who also walks at a high rate and slashed .328/.407/.527 across two levels last season. Andres Gimenez, the centerpiece of the Francisco Lindor deal with the Mets, didn’t have impressive full-season numbers, but posted a .325 wOBA in September and flashed a bit of power with six extra-base hits in 75 plate appearances.

Cleveland is mostly biding its time until some of the prospects from a deep minor league system graduate to the MLB level. They have a bevy of middle infielders, including Brayan Rocchio, Tyler Freeman and Gabriel Arias, as well as big power potential from 3B/OF Nolan Jones and OF George Valera. The Guardians may have some of the best Triple-A and Double-A lineups this season, but the hope would be that most of those guys get a look at the MLB level. If the kids get to the big leagues, Cleveland will go back to being a team that walks more often, which is very important for creating run-scoring opportunities in the high-strikeout environment with the lowest batting averages we’ve seen since the late ‘60s.

Pitching

What’s most frustrating about the Guardians is that the offense doesn’t have to be great for the team to contend. Bieber is a Cy Young winner and one of the 10 best starting pitchers in baseball with an elite K/BB rate. He’s also coming off of a season in which he was limited to 96.2 innings, so he should be strong and ready for the rigors of 200 innings once again. He posted a 3.17 ERA with a 3.03 FIP and a 2.91 xFIP in his 16 starts last year and led the team in fWAR, despite playing only half a season.

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