There were 40 batters who hit at least 30 home runs in 2021. It’s the traditional tipping point between “effective hitter” and “power threat”, and even if that arbitrary mark leaves off such studs as Juan Soto and J.D. Martinez, it’s a nice mental qualifier for calling someone a true slugger in modern baseball. On average, it took a hitter 148.75 games to reach that 30 dinger mark in 2021, just south of one every three games.
The Guardians had two hitters crest the 30 mark, José Ramírez and Franmil Reyes. Ramírez posted a pretty typical for him 36 while playing 152 games while generally being one of the best players in baseball. A great player, a great number of home runs, in the number of games you hope for from your franchise cornerstone.
We care about Reyes for this piece though, and he just made that 30 home run mark despite a 12-game cold streak to end the season. Due to missing a month and change, he was battling from behind, and yet still got there in 115 games. For things like this, and more general reasons related to frightening power, fun-to-be-aroundness, and those insane at the plate infernos he found himself in throughout the season, that’s why Reyes comes in as the 5th most valuable player in Cleveland baseball this year. To me, it should be higher.
When the Guardians traded for Reyes in 2019 at the expense of Trevor Bauer (what a diametrically opposed pair of trade pieces, in so many ways), fans everywhere started pounding their fist, bellowing for DINGERS, DINGERS, DINGERS. This was the type of player everyone loves- tremendous in size and joy, able to hit a ball through a three-inch steel plate if it came to it, a man who saw bouncing a homer off the left-field scoreboard as a challenge he must chase. To be honest, this level of potential hasn’t been seen in Cleveland since Travis Hafner.
How could you do anything but love Reyes? In this transitory time, he was immediately recognized as that lineup anchor that everything else could be built around. Even if he didn’t look amazing down the stretch in 2019, and only alright in 2020, this past season was the year where he really put his stamp on his place on the team.
When it comes down to it, that power and might are what Reyes represents for this team. He exists to be the intimidator, looming in the lineup with the ability to strike like lightning at any time. He, along with Ramírez, is very much a name opponents circle, focusing on mitigating what he can do. When you watch the ALCS this year, you see the Red Sox with Martinez, the Astros with the massive Yordan Álvarez, and earlier even the Rays got in on the trend when they picked up Nelson Cruz from the Twins. In the American League, this is a requirement if you want to dance with the big guys. You need that monster, that huge power threat that centers everything. With Reyes in the lineup suddenly pitchers have to throw to Ramírez, suddenly Straw and Rosario have another bopper to chase them home after an infield single or walk.
In terms of WAR, full-time DH’s will never rate well. It’s fair, they don’t play defense, so they inherently can’t demonstrate quantifiable value. In the last twenty years, there have only been eight 5-plus WAR seasons by a DH out of countless hundreds of player-seasons we’ve watched, and four of those are the greatest DH ever in David Ortiz, with Travis Hafner three others. That five wins is a mark that would represent a middling José Ramírez season. But it’s the impact beyond just WAR, whether other rate stats like Rbat+ (Reyes’ 123 was second-best on the team) or counting stats like homers and, yes, even RBI. It’s also the evening out of the lineup, the lengthening that allows for Harold Ramirez to be a second half of the lineup guy, for the pressure to come off Bobby Bradley a bit so he can figure out his own life, and for opposing pitchers to have fewer breaks.
I fully expect the best season yet for Reyes next year in every possible mark, just as he had this year short of the counting stats. He’s getting better everywhere he needs to by setting a career-high walk rate, career low chase rate, and making more contact on balls both in the zone and in general. This year was a launching pad. Those hot streaks he gets on, like that run from when he came back from the IL and posted a 1.008 OPS through July — just as Spider Tack disappeared, oddly enough — will get longer, the cold streaks will be mitigated as he becomes a bit more of an on-base machine.
For 2021 though, he was more than just a presence in the lineup in those 115 games. He was the rock, the keystone that let J-Ram and the boys do their thing. Of all the things we get to look forward to in the coming years, Big Fran (workshopped nickname, please suggest others in the comments) is on the shortlist of what will make the Guardians a joy to watch, just like he did this year.
- Shane Bieber: 96.2 IP, 3.17 ERA, 33.1 K%, 8.1 BB%, 3.21 SIERA, 2.6 fWAR
- Aaron Civale: 124.1 IP, 3.84 ERA, 19.9 K%, 6.2 BB%, 4.41 SIERA, 0.8 fWAR
- Andres Gimenez: .218/.282/.351, 5 HR, 11 SB, 5.2 BB%, 25.7 K%, 73 wRC+, 0.8 fWAR
- Triston McKenzie: 120.0 IP, 4.95 ERA, 27.5 K%, 11.7 BB%, 4.36 SIERA, 1.1 fWAR
- Eli Morgan: 89.1 IP, 5.34 ERA, 21.4 K%, 5.8 BB%, 4.51 SIERA, 0.4 fWAR
- Zach Plesac: 142.2 IP, 4.67 ERA, 16.7 K%, 5.7 BB%, 4.73 SIERA, 1.1 fWAR
- Bradley Zimmer: 227/.325/.344, 8 HR, 15 SB, 8.6 BB%, 35.1 K%, 89 wRC+, 1.1 fWAR
- Myles Straw: .285/.362/.377, 2 HR, 13 SB, 10.8 BB%, 18.7 K%, 108 wRC+, 1.6 fWAR
Who should be our No. 6 Guardians player for 2021?
This poll is closed