2023 MLB Season Preview: Cleveland Guardians

Image: AP Photo / Ross D. Franklin

2022 Record: 92-70 (.568 win%,1st in Division)

2023 Payroll: $75,010,000 (25th

2023 Projected Lineup (From Fangraphs):

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 José Ramiréz, .280 AVG/.355 OBP/.514 SLG, 6.2 fWAR

4. DH Josh Bell, .266 AVG/.362 OBP/.422 SLG, 2.0 fWAR

5. 1B Josh Naylor, .256 AVG/.319 OBP/.452 SLG, 1.7 fWAR

6. 2B Andrés Giménez, .297 AVG/.371 OBP/.466 SLG, 6.1 fWAR

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

8. C Mike Zunino, .148AVG/.195 OBP/.304 SLG, 0.0 fWAR

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

10. INF/OF Tyler Freeman, .247 AVG/.314 OBP/.286 SLG, -0.1 fWAR

(Utility player)

2023 Projected Starting Rotation (From Fangraphs):

1. Shane Bieber, 200 IP/2.88 ERA/1.040 WHIP, 4.9 fWAR

2. Triston McKenzie, 191.1IP/2.96 ERA/.951 WHIP, 3.6 fWAR

3. Cal Quantrill, 186.1 IP/3.38 ERA/1.208 WHIP, 2.2 fWAR

4. Aaron Civale, 97 IP/4.92 ERA/1.186 WHIP, 1.3 fWAR

5. Zach Plesac, 131. IP/4.31 ERA/1.322 WHIP, 0.9 fWAR

2023 Projected Top 4 Relievers (From Fangraphs):

1. Emmanuel Clase, 72.2 IP/1.36 ERA/.729 WHIP, 2.4 fWAR

2. James Karinchak, 39.0 IP/2.08 ERA/1.103 WHIP, 1.0 fWAR

3. Trevor Stephan, 63.2 IP/2.69 ERA/1.178 WHIP, 1.7 fWAR

4. Cody Morris, 23.2 IP/2.28 ERA/1.394 WHIP, 0.1 fWAR

What Baseball Means to Cleveland:

Cleveland sports certainly have a lot of history and passion. However, the Guardian supporters have been waiting 74 years for their team to finally bring home another World Series, as they have the longest drought in Major League Baseball.

It seems that Guardian fans are tired of waiting, as they consistently rank at the bottom of average fan attendance. And it also appears that winning doesn’t help either, as they still ranked 25th in home attendance even after winning the American League Central Division in 2022. 

Their fans understand that Cleveland ownership will never spend as much as the majority of teams in baseball. However, the team has still finished with an above .500 record for four of the past five seasons. The Guardians organization hopes by consistently winning enough to make the postseason and competing for a bona fide championship, fans will change their tune and attend more games.         

2022 Offseason Recap:

After a division title and a Wild Card series win, the Guardians have retained the majority of its 2022 roster. The team had the youngest roster in all of baseball and still was solid in both hitting and pitching, as they were in the top ten in the league in ERA and batting average.   

Compared to other teams around the league, the Guardians had a pretty quiet off-season. However, they did spend more than traditional Cleveland standards by signing two potential sluggers: first baseman Josh Bell now has a two-year, $33 million deal and catcher Mike Zunino has a one-year deal worth $6 million. Because the team ranked 15th in runs and 21st in slugging, management hopes that these two big bats in their lineup can fix their power deficiencies. 

There are still some question marks behind both Bell and Zunino. For example, Josh Bell played great in the first half of the 2022 season by posting a .301 batting average and a .493 slugging percentage (the average MLB slugging percentage is .392). Still, in the second half of the season, he struggled mightily with a .192 average and .271 slugging percentage.

One could argue that Bell struggles when playing for championship contenders, with his best seasons occurring with the Nationals in 2022 and the Pirates in 2019. Both of these clubs finished dead last in their divisions. And the only time in Bell’s career he played for a serious contender, his numbers suffered. 

Zunino had the best year of his career in 2021. Making the American League All-Star team and slugging .551. However, last year was a similar story to the rest of his career, with an average and on-base percentage below .200. He also only played in 36 games and has only played in 100 games once in the last four seasons. Zunino may not provide a lot of consistency at the plate, but will definitely be an asset behind the dish when healthy. 

The Guardians have made other changes. Some of these include: Losing outfielder Oscar Mercado and catcher Austin Hedges to free agency and signing Amed Rosario, Shane Bieber, Cal Quantrill, Zach Pleasach, Aaron Civale, and Josh Naylor to avoid arbitration.      

2023 Regular Season Preview:

The Guardians had a surprise playoff berth in 2022, as they had the youngest team in all of baseball and ranked 27th in MLB payroll. This year’s projections for the Guardians are far different from last year, with Cleveland being the odds-on favorite to win the AL Central. This team may not have the sexiest roster in the world, but they sure do know how to win ball games with the 2022 American League Coach of the year, Terry Francona, at the helm.  

The Guardian’s lineup was constructed to have their top and bottom of the order put the ball in play consistently to get on base. Then “the meat” of their lineup has the ability to drive in a lot of runs. The Guardians had the lowest strikeout rate in all of baseball, mainly because of Steven Kwan leading off at the top of the order and Myles Straw in the anchor spot at the bottom of the order.

Kwan is a great bat to have at the top of the lineup. Not only does he rarely strike out, but he also is 4th in the MLB in pitches per plate appearance (4.14). Jose Ramirez is also in the top 20 in baseball, with exactly four pitches per plate appearance. 

This is the style of baseball Manager Terry Francona loves. He wants his teams to maximize pressure on defenses by putting the ball in play, getting on base, and seeing a lot of pitches to eventually force the opposing team’s starter out of the game. The real question mark of this lineup is how good will their 4-7 hitters in the order be.

If Josh Naylor, Andres Gimenez, and Oscar Gonzalez have similar seasons to 2022 and Josh Bell returns to his 2019 form, then this lineup will be scary for many opposing pitchers. Most of these players are young and had their best offensive seasons in 2022 and will need to continue their production.

Bo Naylor is another player who could impact this lineup. The young catcher will most likely start in AAA, but could certainly make an impact if Zunino doesn’t stay healthy. Bo has a lot of pop in his bat and has an easy time drawing walks. The youngster recorded a .496 slugging percentage and a .392 OBP in his time in the minors last season. 

The pitching staff is a different story than the offense. The Guardians have no changes to their starting alignment. The staff is led by one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, with Shane Bieber as the ace. The team always has a great chance whenever the former Cy Young award winner is on the mound. The top three pitchers of the staff (Bieber, McKenzie, and Quantrill) are very consistent.

Civale and Plesac are both very much question marks coming into the season. Plesac is entering the fifth season of his career and is considered a tale of two cities for his career. The start of his career was solid as he posted a sub-four ERA in both of his first two seasons. However, in the latter half of his career, he has remained in the mid-fours. 

Civale had a horrendous start to his 2022 season. He averaged more than seven earned runs in the first three months of the season. However, post All-Star break, Civale’s ERA remained in the low threes and was a steady contributor for the staff. Civale can certainly be a worthy starter at the end of the staff in the season to come.

Sadly, many of the Guardian faithful will remember him for his dreadful performance in the 2022 ALDS against the Yankees where he only lasted a third of an inning. Cody Morris is another name that could help this staff. Morris made five starts last season and will be looked upon, given any injuries to the staff.

The strength of the Guardians, heading into 2023, is their bullpen. When they have a lead heading into the last few innings of a game, opposing teams have almost no chance with Cleveland’s stud closer Emmanuel Clase. Clase posted an amazing 1.36 ERA in 77 appearances. He also struck out 77 batters and only walked 10.

James Karinchak, Nick Sandlin, and Sam Hentges all had sub 2.50s last season, and Trevor Stephan led the pen in strikeouts with 82. Cleveland’s bullpen has a lot of talent and will be a big part of the team’s success moving forward.        

The Guardians have a lot to be excited about heading into the 2023 campaign. They have a young and talented group with some veteran pieces as well. They certainly have the tools in place to make a run into the postseason if the club stays healthy.   

Player to Watch #1: 3B José Ramiréz

Jose Ramirez is clearly the best player on this team and one of the best players in all of baseball. The power-hitting switch hitter loves to drive runners in and does so frequently. Ramiréz has been a finalist for AL MVP multiple times throughout his career. The Guardian fans are hoping this is the year he finally brings it home. 

Player to Watch #2: 2B Andrés Giménez

Andrés Giménez got drastically better last season and is heading into his fourth season as an All-Star second baseman. Giménez is a rising star in baseball and it will be huge for the Guardians if he can continue to ascend.   

Player to Watch #3: SP Triston McKenzie

McKenzie was a stud last season. The young starter pitched to a 2.96 ERA. It will be interesting to see how he builds off last season, as that was the first time in his short career he had had a sub-three. 

Position Group to Watch: Power Hitters

Cleveland really struggled last season in the slugging department. It will be fascinating to see whether the off-season additions of Josh Bell and Mike Zunino help their lineup take a big step forward. The two had horrendous seasons in 2022 and are looking to return to their past form. 

2023 Record Prediction: 93-69

The Cleveland Guardians have finished with an above .500 record four of the last five seasons, and I think that continues with a record of 93-69. The AL Central is projected to be a two-team race between the Guardians and Twins, which leaves a lot of games against teams below .500. Cleveland went 22-16 against the Tigers and Royals last season and will need to build on that if they wish to surpass 90 wins.  

Bold Prediction: The Guardians trade one of their top pitching prospects at the deadline to bring in a big-time player to help them make a postseason run.

Categories: 2023 Season Preview, Articles, Season Analysis

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