2022 Season Preview: Cleveland Guardians

Image: Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Cleveland Guardians

by Simon Fettig

2021 Record: 80-82 (.494 Win %, 2nd in AL Central)

2021 Payroll: $50,670,534, 29th in MLB

Projected 2022 Lineup (lineup projection via Rotochamp, stat projections via Steamer):

  1. CF Myles Straw, .261 AVG/.343 OBP/.347 SLG, 2.1 fWAR
  2. SS Amed Rosario, .276 AVG/.318 OBP/.423 SLG, 2.2 fWAR
  3. 3B José Ramirez, .268 AVG/.361 OBP/.527 SLG, 5.9 fWAR
  4. DH Franmil Reyes, .254 AVG/.328 OBP/.515 SLG, 2.2 fWAR
  5. RF Josh Naylor, .273 AVG/.336 OBP/.472 SLG, 1.7 fWAR
  6. 1B Bobby Bradley, .212 AVG/.289 OBP/.451 SLG, 0.5 fWAR
  7. 2B Andrés Giménez, .247 AVG/.302 OBP/.412 SLG, 1.8 fWAR
  8. C Austin Hedges .205 AVG/.264 OBP/.372 SLG, 1.6 fWAR
  9. LF Steven Kwan .247 AVG/.343 OBP/.443 SLG, 1.7 fWAR

Projected 2022 Rotation:

  1. RHP Shane Bieber, 193.0 IP/3.42 ERA/1.14 WHIP, 4.3 fWAR
  2. RHP Cal Quantrill, 169.0 IP/4.86 ERA/1.39 WHIP, 1.0 fWAR
  3. RHP Zach Plesac, 171.0 IP/4.82 ERA/1.35 WHIP, 0.9 fWAR
  4. RHP Aaron Civale, 160.0 IP/4.69 ERA/1.33 WHIP, 1.2 fWAR
  5. RHP Triston McKenzie, 122.0 IP/4.67 ERA/1.35 WHIP, 1.1 fWAR

Projected 2022 Top 3 Relievers:

  1. RHP Emmanuel Clase, 68.0 IP/2.96 ERA/1.15 WHIP, 1.1 fWAR
  2. RHP James Karinchak, 60.0 IP/3.56 ERA/1.25 WHIP, 0.6 fWAR
  3. RHP Nick Sandlin, 62.0 IP/3.86 ERA/1.30 WHIP, 0.4 fWAR

Offseason Recap

This past offseason ushered in a new era of baseball in Cleveland. The club officially rebranded as the Guardians in November, ending a 106-year run as the Indians and closing the book on controversy surrounding the infamous “Chief Wahoo” logo. Unfortunately for Cleveland fans, a name change does nothing to wipe out the franchise’s 73-year-and-counting World Series drought, which remains the longest in the league, and the second longest in all four North American professional sports. 

In regards to roster transactions, it was a fairly uneventful offseason for the Guardians. Despite having a lineup that lacked firepower outside of perennial MVP-candidate José Ramirez and slugger Franmil Reyes, the club failed to make any headline moves following a 2021 campaign that saw them finish with a respectable 80 wins, good for 2nd place in the AL Central. 

After dealing star shortstop Francisco Lindor to the Mets the offseason prior, Cleveland remains among the lowest-spending franchises in the game, a disappointing reality for fans of a team that was frequently among the upper ranks of the American League throughout the past decade.

Prior to the 99-day lockout, the club dealt former Marlins outfielder Harold Ramírez (7 HRs, .703 OPS in 99 games) to the Cubs and released reliever Nick Wittgren, who had a disappointing 2021 (5.05 ERA, 1.251 WHIP) after posting a sub-3.50 ERA out of the pen in both 2019 and 2020. 

After the MLBPA and owners finally agreed to CBA terms to allow a full 2022 season to be played, the team brought back veteran bullpen arm Bryan Shaw, a staple of the 2016 AL Champion team who made a career high 81 appearances and posted a solid 3.49 ERA in 2021. 

2022 Season Preview

On the mound, Cleveland returns a young staff led by 2020 AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber. But for a team that has recently relied on their starting pitching, a 2021 campaign which saw the rotation post a 4.84 ERA and 4.69 FIP (both 23rd in MLB) was disappointing. The 26 year-old Bieber has posted 3 consecutive elite seasons (2.92 ERA, 11.94  K/9 in that span), and hopes to fully recover from a strained throwing shoulder which kept him sidelined for most of last year’s second half. 

Cal Quantrill, acquired from San Diego in the Mike Clevinger deal, hopes to build off a season in which he posted a surprisingly-low 2.89 ERA while logging a career-high 149.2 IP. Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac both posted FIP numbers above 4.70 in their 3rd career seasons, so the club will need them each to make strides if the rotation is going to improve. 

Cleveland will also be expecting growth from right-hander Triston McKenzie – the 24 year-old possesses two solid breaking pitches that should allow him to continue to rack up strikeouts (10.2 K/9 in 2021), but he’ll need to avoid giving up the longball (1.6 HR/9) in order to take the next step. The top-notch bullpen (3.64 ERA in 2021, 6th in MLB) is headlined by star young flamethrower Emmanuel Clase, who will be featured below, and James Karinchak, who will look to bounce back from a rough 2021 if he can start the season healthy. 

Cleveland’s lineup will once again prominently feature the perennial All-Star José Ramirez. The switch-hitting third baseman anchors a unit that finished 18th in scoring (4.43 runs/game) and 20th in team OPS (.711) last season. Ramirez is joined in the infield by a young duo that came over from Queens in the aforementioned Lindor trade, Amed Rosario and Andrés Giménez. Rosario posted solid offensive numbers (.321 OBP, .409 SLG) as the everyday shortstop and will hope to build on this production in 2022. 

Former Astro Myles Straw will continue to man center field in Cleveland, where last year he posted the 5th most defensive Outs Above Average (11) among all outfielders. Franmil Reyes, who led the club with 30 homers in 2021 and will handle most of the designated hitter duties this season, slugged an impressive .522 last year and should continue to provide important protection for José Ramirez out of the cleanup spot. 

Filling out the likely starting lineup are left handed power bat Bobby Bradley at first (16 HR in 74 games last year), rookie outfielder and highly-touted prospect Steven Kwan — although he might start the season at Triple-A Columbus — Josh Naylor, who hopes to return from injury to be the starting right fielder, and light-hitting catcher Austin Hedges (.527 OPS in 2021). Veterans Bradley Zimmer and Oscar Mercado will remain in the mix, and project to compile a significant amount of playing time in the outfield as well. 

Record Prediction: 84-78

On paper, Cleveland slots firmly behind Chicago, who will be runaway favorites to capture the AL Central crown again. If the young talent that makes up the bulk of the squad continues to progress, the Guardians could be in the mix for a wild card berth, especially if the loaded AL East beats up on each other. 

Player to Watch #1: 3B José Ramirez

Ramirez has been one of the most consistent stars in the game since 2016, posting the 3rd most fWAR (32.7) among all hitters in that timeframe. While his name was floated in trade rumors in early March, they’ve since died down and have even started to morph into extension talks. Possessing gap-to-gap power from both sides of the plate and elite plate discipline (12.2 K%, 10.5 BB% since ‘16), Ramirez is a unique talent that often flies under the radar when it comes to media hype. He is worth the price of admission at Progressive Field.  

Player to Watch #2: RHP Emmanuel Clase

Cleveland’s young closer has the potential to become the most dominant back-end bullpen arm in all of baseball. While known for his electric 100+ MPH cutter, the righty also wields a nasty wipeout slider. Through his first 92 career appearances, Clase wields a microscopic 1.55 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. Hitters recorded a .212 WOBA against him in 2021, which fell in the top 1% of all pitchers. Simply put, he’s one of the toughest relievers to hit in MLB, and will be the key to securing late game leads in Cleveland this summer. 

Player to Watch #3: OF Steven Kwan

The 24 year-old lefty prospect stands just 5’9”, but don’t let his small stature fool you: the kid can hit. Lauded across all levels for his ability to put the ball in play and spray to all fields, Kwan raked to the tune of a .328/.407/.527 triple slash line last season while noticeably increasing his HR totals in the process. 

The youngster has been bestowed the extremely rare 80-grade hit tool by various scouts, and it will be interesting to see how his game translates to the big league level. While he may begin the season down at AAA, keep an eye on Kwan as a candidate to break onto the scene and earn significant playing time for the Guardians in 2022.

Categories: 2022 Season Preview

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