A glaring issue for the Cleveland Guardians the last couple of years has been making it easy on opposing pitchers. After Franmil Reyes the lineup fell off a cliff, shortening the game and making watching the team an utter misery for fans. A squad that wants to challenge, not even for a title but just to play in October, needs to make navigating the lineup a problem.
The Guards are starting to put that on the field, and have what feels like a pretty strong top five or so. That back end though, it needs to create some kind of havoc, score some opportune runs and break hearts now and again. For that, on top of everything else he brings to the table, Andrés Giménez is precisely what this team needs to make an impact, in 2022 and beyond.
It has to be mentioned, so I will early, that Giménez is ostensibly the bigger piece in the return for Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco. Based on the talent that left, you’d think that the expectation should be sky-high. And I suppose it is. But that context, while important, is in the past and shouldn’t color what we see in Gimenez as the player before us. At least not too much. Neither he nor Amed Rosario were supposed to replicate what Lindor, in particular, brought to the table, but having said that, Giménez is doing some things at least in the realm of what Frankie brought to the table. To wit:
Is there a ton of blue on that chart? Yes, quite a bit. But there are a few marks there that make me feel pretty good about Gimenez. These ones:
Yes, the red parts, that’s right. These are the things we want. It’s not quite Trout-ian, not even Kwan-esque, but there are building blocks. Between his outs above average and his speed, he’s got raw physical talent and defensive acumen that is just near-unteachable, and easily makes an impact on overall, season-long success. Plus his expected batting average is encouraging. He’s upped his average exit velocity in the early goings to about league average at 88.1 mph, his barrel rate is up a hair to 4.6%, and his hard-hit rate (batted balls at least 95 mph) and sweet spot rate are up 3.6 and 3.7 points respectively.
Numbers going up? Good, even if it’s in extrapolated rates and process numbers. But the process, especially in early May, is what matters more than the results. They’re a bit less noisy than counting numbers and the traditional rates — batting average, dingers, things of that nature — because it takes away the impact of the defender and luck. A hard-hit ball at the right angle is what it is, the atmosphere and placement of the defender be damned. It’s not hard and fast, but seeing his improvements in these places tells me that Giménez is working on his offensive game and showing small steps of growth.
A huge leap would be wonderful, but as with guys like Triston McKenzie or Owen Miller, we’re talking about a guy with 136 career major league games, and just over 2400 career plate appearances at any professional level. Shoot, José Ramírez had a .644 OPS after his first 180 major league games, and he turned out alright. It’s going to take time for Giménez to flourish fully, and he’s sneaking in the right direction.
Giménez isn’t going to be a .406 wOBA guy. Especially with a walk rate in the 1%. Well, technically it’s a walk count that is literally 1%. He’s shown a walk rate in the low 5% prior to this year, and that will come with time, but he’s an aggressive hitter. He likes to swing, to attack. Again, he’s showing small bits of growth there too, actually swinging at the first pitch less — 22.2% of the time compared to 35% and change the last two years — chasing just a third of the time compared to 40.7% last year, and best of all, he’s recognizing the balls he can smash much easier. According to Statcast, he’s swinging at meatball pitches, or those in the heart of the zone, 80% of the time, rather than just 69.9% last year. This is still an aggressive approach, but it’s aggression with a growing reservoir of wisdom backing it up.
Again, the process is what matters here. Cleveland has an outside shot to contend for a spot in the playoffs this year, especially if the pitching gets back on track and especially if guys like Kwan and Miller are anything resembling the real deal we’ve seen the first month. But a guy like Giménez, who does have 20 homer power on top of his defensive prowess, is the type of player they need to have batting sixth or so. His offense is a bit of a bonus on top of the glove, but it needs to be there in some kind of consistent manner. If that happens, if what we’re seeing here is real — a lot of if’s and wonderings, but far from irrational to hope for in a young, physically talented player with a big prospect pedigree — then sixth or seventh is his floor.
Just imagine if he figures out how to work a walk.