Looking at the title, you might be asking yourself, ‘It’s only week two?’
After three series, it seems like the Guardians have been through a lot. Maybe that’s because they’ve already shown how streaky they can be as a group, or maybe it’s just because playing two non-contenders – in the Royals and Reds – really messed up expectations. The Giants really hit the reset button for a lot of folks who got blinded by Kwanamania and José’s extension and forgot about that offseason.
Anyway, here we are at the beginning of the second full week of the season and Cleveland’s fourth series, once again versus a contending club. Even though I know more names of guys on the White Sox than I did the Giants, I think the Giants matched up better to sweep and hope for better results this week. Here’s what else I imagine might happen.
Franmil Reyes is going to HIT some balls
In the young 2022 season, MLB batters have hit the ball between 105 and 125 mph 450 times. League-wide batting average on those balls is .687. Franmil Reyes has hit the ball that hard three times and has yet to collect a hit on any of those hard hits.
Reyes’ story thus far is one of struggle. He’s slashing .150/.171/.150 with a wRC+ of -12; he’s walked just 2.4% of plate appearances and is striking out 36.6% of the time. These are gaudy numbers in all the wrong way, but it’s only through 41 plate appearances in some pretty frigid weather. Through 12 games last season, Reyes was slashing .233/.277/.558; in 2019 those numbers were .143/.235/.286 (he was called up in May 2018 and, obviously, the 2020 season was abnormal, so we’ll forget those years). Although his numbers are especially poor at this moment, it’s not out of character for Reyes to start slow.
But even with the slow starts in previous years, Reyes has been able to provide above average offense by the end of April. His monthly split wRC+ for March/April in 2019 and 2021 are 113 and 143, respectively, and I would bet on his ability to rebound in the next week or so. Against the Giants, when hardly any Guardians could hit, Reyes had outs at 95.8, 102.2, and 110.0 mph. Eventually these balls are going to find a hole or a seat in which to land safely. Patience pays off for Franmil.
Steven Kwan will seem more human
He’s probably going to be the next .400 hitter in MLB, I think we all agree, but we likely have to temper our expectations a little bit when it comes to the Steven Kwan Experience.
His percentile rankings have already painted us a nice picture of what he can be and how valuable that is:
No swing-and-miss, ability to get on base, good speed, and little thump. This is the old-school second batter profile and I love it. Kwan is not what Tom Tango says should be the platonic ideal of a second hitter, but his ability to wear out pitchers at the top of the order, to move along the guys in front of him, and to generally be a pest of a hitter are all excellent from that spot in the order — especially in front of José Ramírez.
But for every 10-pitch at-bat or clutch hit, we’re going to have to accept the weak contact and even the occasional strikeout. I’m still on board the “Kwan 4 RoY” bandwagon, but I’m willing to give him some grace as pitchers figure him out a bit and he has to respond.
This is what the bullpen is
About that offseason. In the excitement of the Emmanuel Clase, Ramírez, and Straw extensions, some of the team’s inaction was briefly forgiven. Likewise, as Kwan came up and Straw reminded us what competent outfielders look like, not signing an outfielder — which had long seemed the biggest sin of the offseason — was a bit more understandable.
The bullpen, though … still yikes. Adding Bryan Shaw and then standing back and admiring your work does not make a good bullpen, and that has been evident even in small samples.
Cleveland currently ranks 26th in relief pitching at FanGraphs, with -0.1 fWAR, thanks in part to the fifth-highest HR/9 (1.42), seventh-lowest strand rate (69.1% LOB), and sixth-highest FIP (4.49). Trevor Stephan, Eli Morgan, and Sam Hentges have yet to walk a batter, which is great, but (with the exception of Stephan, whose game leverage is 1.63) they’ve accomplished that in very-low-stress innings (Morgan and Hentges have gmLI of 0.22 and 0.13, respectively). Meanwhile, the guys eating the toughest outs…are not looking like Rolaids Reliever of the Year candidates.
Logan Allen might not have allowed an earned run yet, but he’s striking out 3.38 batters per nine innings, which is the same rate he’s walking guys; Nick Sandlin is having the same problem, except he’s striking out and walking batters at a rate of 4.15 per nine innings. Meanwhile, the Anthonys Castro and Gose are allowing batters to barrel up the ball 23.1 and 25% of the time they make contact, respectively, which would be impressive if Konnor Pilkington wasn’t allowing a barrel/BBE rate of 33.3%.
This all gets back to what many complained about during the offseason, if less vocally than the lack of outfield options: the bullpen is in need of help. I don’t think the small sample size makes that much difference here, especially when considering the short leashes most bullpen arms get anyway.
Long term, this is surely something the team is working on, but any moves to improve will take as long as other teams need to evaluate their own young talent. So, in the short term, this is what the bullpen is and the late innings might be bumpy.
With the White Sox and the Yankees on the docket for this second week, those bumps are likely going to be felt a lot more than they were against the Reds and Royals.