As of this writing the Guardians (in their inaugural season under that name) are 41-42, 2nd in the division, 4 1/2 games out of first place. Overall the Guardians remain in the hunt for a playoff spot (and not even due to the expanded playoffs, which MLB foolishly implemented). We've played about to our Pythagorean record (a run differential of -9 runs), playing about to what we all anticipated of the team (record wise) for the 2022 season. Let's recap the Good, the Bad and the Ugly for the Guardians thus far.
Not only did our homegrown superstar sign an incredibly team friendly deal to remain in a Cleveland uniform for basically the remainder of his career, but he's also posting an incredible season. Jose has cooled since his roaring start, but remains batting .290/.371/.581 OPS+ 168, leading the league in RBIs & XBH. Overall Jose remains a superb baserunner & hitter, although DRS suggests his defense has slipped a bit for the year. He remains in the hunt for an MVP award, which is nothing new for Jose, and he'll represent Cleveland in Los Angeles in the All-Star Game.
Young Stars: the Good Edition
Andres Gimenez also earned All-Star honors and has outplayed Francisco Lindor thus far this year. Andres is hitting a sizzling .299 (OPS+ 137) and ranks among the best second basemen in the league. He'd be worth even more when Cleveland trades Amed Rosario and lets him start at shortstop (unless Gabriel Arias, or some other infielder, gets the nod instead).
Steven Kwan started out the season basically as an untouchable batter who never struck out, but has since settled in as a solid batting left fielder, with a good glove. Kwan also supplanted Myles Straw as the leadoff man (probably for the best) and stabilized the top of the lineup, while boosting one of our most troublesome positions in recent memory.
Josh Naylor has struggled to stay on the field recently, but has hit quite well. His OPS+ of 139 is second on the team for any player with at least 200 PAs.
Eli Morgan has settled in as a solid middle reliever, was lights out for several weeks, but has recently fallen back to earth. For the year he's posting a 3.05 ERA (ERA+ of 128), with 47 strikeouts and only 6 walks in 38.1 innings. I think Morgan is a great reliever, a better Bryan Shaw who should pitch several innings and miscast as a set-up man.
Clase has put it all together, been named an All-Star, and is one of baseball's top relievers. I have not seen a Cleveland pitcher throw like Clase in my lifetime; it's something else to see a guy who's slider averages 90 MPH and averages 100 MPH on his cutter.
Young Stars: the Bad Edition
Not every young player will flourish. While Kwan, Naylor & Gimenez are all playing well: Owen Miller has not. He started out hot, but has since cooled off to a below average production. His OPS+ of 92 is poor, especially when Miller spends most of his time at first base. To make matters worse: Miller is also not a good defender (even at first base).
Myles Straw has also struggled mightily on the season (although as of this writing he enters today's game with a 6 game hitting streak). His OPS+ is an abysmal 62 on the season, and while I do not think he's quite that bad with the stick: I think it's notable that in about 600 PAs with both Houston & Cleveland he has a remarkably similar batting line:
HOU: .256/.334/.318 (OPS+ 81)
CLE: .242/.327/.311 (OPS+ 82)
Granted, a superb defensive centerfield who can run, and bats only 82 is still likely a valuable player (if not a star). If he plays a full year he'd be worth about 2 bWAR, which is the definition of an average player. I think with slightly better offensive production he's closer to 2.5. That's pretty good! Certainly not awful value on his extension, but it's less tolerable on a team which lacks strength elsewhere.
I know Reyes has played better as of late, but it's unavoidable to conclude that Franmil's first half was dismal. An OPS+ of 77 from your primary DH is quite bad. Cleveland ranks 24th in DH production on the season. I do anticipate Franmil to return to something more closely resembling his 116 OPS+ career average, but he hasn't helped so far.
The Starting Pitching
I considered breaking this down by player, but I think it's more important to discuss our starting pitching as a unit. The team's starting pitchers have simply not played up to our recent expectations. Fangraphs ranked our starting pitchers as 19th entering the season, and thus far the team's starting pitchers rank 28th in the league (to be clear: I do not think our pitching is this bad). Yes, there have been injuries. Yes, Shane Bieber has not pitched to his talent level, but I am not confident most of our starters are much more than average. Baseball-Reference reckons Emmanuel Clase has been our most valuable pitcher on the season.
Shane Bieber has been my personal disappointment. His velocity has declined, and he's gotten unlucky according to Fangraphs reckons he's probably a touch unlucky on hits, but more importantly: his HR rate is half his career average on fly balls. Is that sustainable? I am not sure. Overall the statistics are a mixed bag on Bieber in my opinion. He's given up more medium contact hits this year compared to last year, but his hard hit percentage and barrel percentage are about the same. I am hoping he can keep this up, but his standing as a top pitcher in the league is weakened
Triston McKenzie has put up a good season so far as well, although I personally remain unconvinced. I do not think McKenzie is a bad pitcher, but I do not think he's as good of a pitcher as he's shown this year. His underlying statistics have not changed much from last year, and I suspect as the season continues he'll revert closer to his 2021 numbers. This is not to say he's bad, but that he's not an ace.
The remainder of our staff has been about average. Civale has been hurt and ineffective, Plesac & Quantrill about average, and our main 6th starter (Plinkington) is not good. Overall the days of when Cleveland regularly churned out top-flight starters has not continued into 2022, and frankly the position I would hope we bolster at the deadline, or during the offseason, is our starting rotation.
Ugh. Cleveland ranks 25th at the Catcher position in bWAR, but our offense has been downright dreadful. Austin Hedges hits an anemic .152, and Luke Maile is little better. Our depth at the position is not strong; we had to reacquire Sandy Leon to fill in when Hedges was hurt, and I do not anticipate either Hedges or Maile to play better in the 2nd half. This is the other main position where the front office needs to spend time addressing.
Shaw is our top paid reliever, and probably also our least effective. He's appeared in more games than any reliever not named Emmanuel Clase, and frankly I am sick and tired of watching Shaw pitch in a Cleveland uniform. Given the performance of our relievers I understand the desire to sign a veteran to provide some stability (especially given that Logan Allen, Anthony Gose & Anthony Castro have all been abysmal; others have been up and down). But Shaw is clearly not the answer.
Attendance & the Name Change
This still falls under the "ugly" category unfortunately. But Cleveland's attendance for the year is poor to say the least. As of this writing Cleveland ranks 25th in attendance, at only 16,325 patrons a game. This is a real reduction of attendance from 2019, our last full season without Covid where we averaged 22,008 patrons a game for the entire year. There are extraordinary factors, we did experience an unusual amount of rainouts in our early season which I am confident is hurting attendance.
That being said: Cleveland's attendance is down roughly 35% from 2019. This places Cleveland near the bottom of teams in comparing 2022 attendance v 2019 attendance. The biggest loser is Oakland (for obvious reasons), and the only other team with similarly worse attendance is the Minnesota Twins (who won 100 games in 2019). Overall given the negative energy surrounding the name change (regardless of its merits) and the general apathy expressed around Cleveland: the Guardians need to do better in order to attract attention.
I will write one more thing: I suspect it’s clear that the name change likely harmed attendance. The name change was not popular among most Cleveland fans. A Plain Dealer poll in 2020 showed a majority of fans opposed the name change, a Morning Consult poll showed Americans (note: not Clevelanders) roughly split on the name change. I find it interesting that about 35% of Americans opposed the name change, and attendance is down about 35% (although I suspect that’s merely a coincidence). I personally still think ownership handled the name change about as poorly as possible. Fan input was minimal, the name itself inoffensive but mediocre, and the marketing rather bland. It doesn’t help that their first season appears to be a rebuilding year as well, nor did it help that Rob Manfred chose to "shut down" baseball in the offseason.
At the end of the day the Guardians made their bed with the name change, and now they must sleep in it. At this point the only thing ownership/the team can do to win over lost fans is to play good baseball and hope declarations from disgruntled fans on disowning the team are hot water. Even if you think people who abandoned the team over the name change are idiots: an idiot’s money is worth just as much as everyone else’s, and the team could ill afford to lose any fans in the first place.
Looking at the team my hope is they will spend their excess prospect capital & financial wiggle room to acquire a catcher & a starter. I could also live with them bringing in more relievers as well. I personally think this is unlikely, I think they’re more likely to shed some veterans. Franmil Reyes & Amed Rosario are picking up at the plate, which means their trade value will also increase. Trading both will save money for 2023, while also hopefully plugging holes elsewhere on the roster. Perhaps they can trade Amed & Franmil for solid, controllable, relievers? Or combine them with other pieces for a solid, controllable, starter?
We shall see, I have not read many rumors on the Tribe this year. Meisel did suggest the team might consider rotation upgrades in a mailbag last month. The team is in a strange spot: it does not feel like the team can realistically compete in the playoffs, but we’re also clearly in the hunt. Can you afford to allow a potential playoff season to escape you, especially with a roster crunch? My personal opinion is no, but (thankfully) I am not in charge.
Note: I also posted this on my Substack: Staying Current. I hope everyone is having a good summer and season.