2022 Season Review: Cleveland Guardians

Check out my 2022 Season Preview Article for the Guardians here.

Image: Jed Jacobsohn / AP

2022 Record: 92-70 (.568 Win%, 1st in AL Central)

2022 Payroll: $82,057,492 (28th in MLB)

2022 Lineup

1. LF Steven Kwan, .298 AVG/.373 OBP/.400 SLG, 4.4 fWAR

2. SS Amed Rosario, .283 AVG/.312 OBP/.403 SLG, 2.4 fWAR

3. 3B Jose Ramírez, .280 AVG/.355 OBP/.514 SLG, 6.2 fWAR

4. 1B Josh Naylor, .256 AVG/.319 OBP/.452 SLG, 1.7 fWAR

5. RF Oscar Gonzalez, .296 AVG/.327 OBP/.461 SLG, 1.6 fWAR

6. 2B Andres Gimenez, .297 AVG/.371 OBP/.466 SLG, 6.1 fWAR

7. DH Franmil Reyes, .221 AVG/.273 OBP/.365 SLG, -1.1 fWAR

8. C Austin Hedges, .163 AVG/.241 OBP/.248 SLG, -0.6 fWAR

9. CF Myles Straw, .221 AVG/.291 OBP/.273 SLG, 2.0 fWAR

UTL Owen Miller, .243 AVG/.301 OBP/.351 SLG, 0.6 fWAR

2022 Rotation

1. Shane Bieber, 200.0 IP/2.88 ERA/1.04 WHIP, 4.9 fWAR

2. Cal Quantrill, 186.1 IP/3.38 ERA/1.21 WHIP, 2.2 fWAR

3. Triston McKenzie, 191.1 IP/2.96 ERA/0.95 WHIP, 3.6 fWAR

4. Zach Plesac, 131.2 IP/4.31 ERA/1.32 WHIP, 0.9 fWAR

5. Aaron Civale, 97.0 IP/4.92 ERA/1.19 WHIP, 1.3 fWAR

2022 Top 4 Relievers

1. Emmanuel Clase, 72.2 IP/1.36 ERA/0.73 WHIP, 2.4 fWAR

2. Trevor Stephan, 63.2 IP/2.69 ERA/1.18 WHIP, 1.7 fWAR

3. Sam Hentges, 62.0 IP/2.32 ERA/0.97 WHIP, 1.1 fWAR

4. Enyel De Los Santos, 53.1 IP/3.04 ERA/0.90 WHIP, 1.0 fWAR

Regular Season Recap

Coming off of a mediocre 80-win season and sporting a brand new on-field identity, uncertainty defined the Cleveland Guardians entering the 2022 season. With the reigning AL Central champion White Sox looking poised to take the division again, Fangraphs gave Cleveland just a 15.2% chance to make the newly expanded playoffs prior to Opening Day. 

Fast forward to the season’s end, and much of this uncertainty has morphed into optimism. A 2022 campaign that started with an extension of perennial MVP candidate José Ramírez and ended with 92 wins and an AL Central crown exceeded expectations of fans and experts alike, and shut down the notion that a full-fledged rebuild was necessary to bring Cleveland back to its winning ways. 

Much of the credit for Cleveland’s 12-win improvement from ‘21 to ‘22 can be attributed to the pitching staff. The club managed to shave almost a full run off their season ERA (4.34 to 3.47) without making any major acquisitions in the offseason, a testament to the organization’s ability to develop young arms. 

The rotation was once again headlined by Shane Bieber, who bounced back from injury to put together his second-best full season as a pro. Despite posting a career-low 8.91 K/9, the 27-year-old right-hander pitched to a 2.88 ERA over 200 innings en route to accumulating 4.9 fWAR, 8th most among MLB pitchers. 

Cal Quantrill carried over his success from 2021, once again throwing the most innings (186.1) in his career and establishing himself as a dependable middle-rotation arm. The former Padre pitched to contact all year long, receiving support from a defense behind him that featured three Gold Glove award winners in Steven Kwan, Myles Straw, and Andrés Giménez.

24-year-old Triston McKenzie entered the year as the X-factor in the rotation. After struggling mightily with command and home run problems in his first true big league season in 2021, McKenzie silenced the naysayers and demonstrated that he has the stuff to become a front-line starter in the big leagues. By dropping his BB/9 over 50% from 4.35 to 2.07 and HR/9 from 1.58 to 1.18, McKenzie kept runs off the board, lowering his ERA from 4.95 to 2.96 and FIP from 4.70 to 3.59 in the process. 

Supplementing the improved rotation in Cleveland was an elite bullpen. Closer Emmanuel Clase, who will be featured below, paced a group that was top-5 in both ERA (3.05) and FIP (3.39). Trevor Stephan emerged as the team’s next-best reliever and a legitimate weapon, recording 11.59 K/9 and a 2.19 FIP in just his second big-league season. 

On the offensive side, Cleveland saw their scoring improve from 18th to 15th in Runs/game (4.31) relative to the rest of the league thanks to a lineup led by José Ramírez, Andrés Giménez and Steven Kwan. These three combined for 16.7 fWAR in 2022, and will all be featured heavily in the sections to come. 

DH Franmil Reyes was by far the biggest disappointment of the year for the Guardians. After leading the team with 30 HR and slugging .522 in 2021, Reyes posted a paltry .604 OPS that resulted in him being designated for assignment after 70 games with the club. 

SS Amed Rosario continued to establish himself as an everyday player in his second season in Cleveland, posting a career high 103 wRC+ while duplicating his 2021 fWAR output of 2.4. The light-hitting Myles Straw maintained a stronghold on the starting center fielder job thanks to his great glove, racking up the second most Outs Above Average (13) among AL CFs. 

Cleveland also received solid offensive production from Josh Naylor (20 HR, 117 wRC+), who took over the starting first base job after returning from a knee injury that sidelined him last season, and 24 year-old rookie Oscar González (.461 SLG, 1.6 fWAR), who established himself as the everyday right fielder in the second half of the season. 

Rounding out the lineup was backstop Austin Hedges, who struggled mightily at the plate to say the least, posting a slash line of .163/.241/.248. But as a valuable defensive asset that has developed good chemistry with Cleveland pitchers since coming over from San Diego, the 30 year-old veteran was able to catch in 105 games for the Guardians in 2022. 

M-SABR Predicted Record (84-78) vs. Actual (92-70)

Prior to Opening Day, it seemed like 84 wins was a fair, arguably even optimistic outlook for a young Guardians squad that made little noise in the offseason. But breakout seasons from Giménez, Kwan and McKenzie, as well as domination of head-to-head matchups against the division rival White Sox (12-7 record against) and Twins (13-6), were key in helping Terry Francona’s ballclub eclipse the 90-win mark en route to a surprise AL Central title. 

Postseason Recap

In the first year of Rob Manfred’s new playoff format, Cleveland joined the Cardinals as the first division winners to have to play in the wild-card round (excluding the 2020 COVID-altered campaign). Facing off against the 86-win Rays, the Guardians took care of business thanks to dominant performances from Bieber (7.2 IP, 8 Ks, 1 ER) and McKenzie (6 IP, 8 Ks, 0 ER). 

After winning the opener 2-1, Cleveland outlasted Tampa in a 15-inning Game 2 affair, advancing to the ALDS on a majestic walkoff solo homer by González that broke a scoreless tie and sent Progressive Field into a frenzy. 

Awaiting the Guardians was a matchup with the Bronx Bombers, a familiar playoff foe throughout the last decade. Quantrill struggled in a Game 1 defeat, but via an extra-inning rally in Game 2, Cleveland was able to leave New York with the series square 1-1. 

In Game 3, they looked all but dead as they trailed 5-3 entering the bottom of the 9th, but another rally punctuated by a 2-out, 2-strike walkoff single off the bat of the playoff hero González put the Guardians in the driver’s seat with a chance to clinch at home. 

Unfortunately for Cleveland, they were not able to cash in on the opportunity. Once again, the Yankees flexed their muscles in October, outscoring them 9-3 over the last 2 contests to bounce the Guardians from the postseason and set up a date with the Astros in the ALCS. While many what-ifs will certainly surround the club in the offseason after blowing a 2-1 series lead, 2022 should serve as valuable playoff experience for a young group that is trending upwards.

Surprise of the Season

After trading face-of-the-franchise shortstop Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco to the Mets for a crop of young talent in early 2021, it seemed unlikely that we’d discuss the possibility of Cleveland winning the deal this quickly. But thanks to the 2022 campaign put together by surprise star Andrés Giménez, that is already a very realistic result. 

The 24-year-old second baseman slashed a shocking .297/.371/.466 despite mediocre offensive output in his prior 117 games of big league experience. Combine that with the Gold Glove defense that made him a heralded prospect in New York’s farm system, and you get a player who accumulated 6.1 fWAR, the 14th most in all of baseball. And, while Lindor managed to eclipse this number by putting up 6.8 fWAR of his own, a quick comparison of their current salaries ($34.1M vs. $706K) points the trade value needle firmly towards Cleveland at this point in time. 

Players We Watched

In the season preview article I wrote in April, I highlighted José Ramírez, Emmanuel Clase and Steven Kwan as three players to watch in Cleveland this summer. Hopefully you were able to do just that, as all three put up fantastic numbers while helping lead the Guardians to the postseason. 

Jose Ramirez

Elite performance has been the norm for Ramírez, and after taking a hometown discount by signing a 5-year, $124 million extension, he made sure that 2022 was no different. The 4-time All-Star posted a 139 wRC+, swiped 20 bags, and played above average defense at the hot corner in his 10th big league season, good for the most fWAR (6.2) among AL third baseman. He and Giménez will enter 2023 as one of the best infield duos in all of baseball. 

Emmanuel Clase

Clase entered the season as a sneaky candidate to become the best reliever in the majors, and if not for the historic numbers put up by Edwin Díaz in Queens, he would have a very strong claim to that title. The flamethrower took his dominant 2021 season and improved on it, lowering his BB/9 from 2.07 to 1.24 and posting a miniscule WHIP of 0.73. 

He led MLB in good old-fashioned saves with 42, had a FIP of 1.98 and ERA of 1.36. No matter what numbers you look at, Clase’s dominance jumps off the statsheet. Going forward, he’ll look to continue to anchor a bullpen group that posted the 4th-most fWAR in MLB in 2022. 

Steven Kwan

Kwan was obviously the biggest question mark of this trio entering the regular season, but he quickly established an everyday role for himself in Cleveland’s outfield. The rookie burst onto the scene by hitting .800 through three big league games, justifying the organization’s decision to have him start the season in the majors. Kwan’s elite bat-to-ball skills led him to a .298/.373/.400 slash line and membership in a group of just six qualified hitters with more walks than strikeouts in 2022. 

His 4.4 fWAR, Gold Glove-winning campaign would make a strong case for AL Rookie of the Year honors in most seasons, but a historically good rookie class headlined by Julio Rodríguez will likely prevent the former Oregon State Beaver from taking home multiple pieces of hardware. Nonetheless, he projects to feature as a key piece of the Guardians’ young core for years to come. 

Offseason Outlook

With Austin Hedges being the only expiring contract in Cleveland this offseason, this Guardians squad has a great chance to run it back in 2023 and compete for a second consecutive division title. It’s hard to expect a team known for their low payroll to make any big splashes in the free-agent market, but a small signing or two could certainly increase their viability with regards to American League contention. 

Hedges returning is certainly a realistic possibility, and Cleveland could create an interesting catching duo by taking a chance on a stronger offensive track record in Omar Narváez. While he struggled at the plate with Milwaukee this past year, he has posted a wRC+ of 100 or higher in 4 of the last 6 seasons, providing offensive upside and opening the door for a potential lefty-righty platoon behind the plate.

Another option that makes sense for the Guardians is the pursuit of a left-handed starter. The current rotation features 5 right-handed arms, and while Bieber, Quantrill and McKenzie won’t be going anywhere, Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac are by no means irreplaceable at the back end of the staff. 

While they’ll certainly be priced out of the market for top free-agent southpaws like Carlos Rodón and Clayton Kershaw, Cleveland could explore veteran options such as Martín Peréz, Sean Manea or José Quintana to give opponents a different look in 2023. 

Something to Watch

With so much of Cleveland’s roster seemingly set in stone for 2023, the most interesting thing from the club’s perspective will be the behavior of their AL Central competitors. The injury-riddled, Tony La Russa led White Sox were nothing short of a dumpster fire in 2022, and will likely look to do whatever they can to bounce back next season. 

After leading the division midseason, the Twins also suffered a big 2022 collapse, and then saw Carlos Correa opt out after the first year of his massive free agent contract. With both these squads gunning to get back at Cleveland in 2023, next year’s AL Central race could shape up to be a fascinating one.

Categories: 2022 Season Review, Articles, Post-COVID

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