Welcome to the black void of the All-Star break, where festitivies have ended, the All-Star Game is finished, and we’re left with nothing until Friday. Truly, a test of will for baseball fans in the dog days of July.
While players enjoy their time off fishing or playing Mario Kart or whatever they do, it’s the perfect time to for the rest of us to start looking ahead to the second half of 2022.
For the Guardians, the first half was a mix of high highs and very low lows. They experienced the arrival of Andres Gimenez; the spectacular debuts of Steven Kwan, Nolan Jones, and Oscar Gonzalez; Emmanuel Clase earning an All-Star nod with an unhittable slider/cutter combination; Triston McKenzie pitching 21-straight scoreless innings and flirting with a no-hitter; and Owen Miller tearing the cover off the ball for a solid month-plus. They also, unfortunately, saw the lows of Myles Straw’s struggles at the plate, Franmil Reyes’ continued failure to hit breaking balls, and a rotation that is suddenly shaky at its core.
This is arguably the most volatile of a team Cleveland baseball has seen in a long time, with the youngest team in baseball by a mile and only set to get younger with more promising rookies knocking on the door. So, what do the robots have to say about the future? I’ll turn to Steamer and ZiPS projections for that — two of the most prominent projection systems available for free to the public.
I’m only looking at starters here, because bench players and relievers are so reliant on small sample sizes that one bad inning (for relievers) or a few games (for position players off the bench) can skew everything so widly. If you’d like to look at the projections yourself, they can be found at the bottom of every players’ Season Stats section on FanGraphs or in full at FanGraphs’ projections section.
Austin Hedges, C
We’re starting at a low point, folks. Neither projection systems sees Austin Hedges suddenly figuring out how to handle a bat, with Steamer coming out slightly more favorable at a .262 wOBA compared to ZiPS’ .250. Austin Hedges, if he is still on the team and its starting catcher for the remaining half of the season, is here purely for defense.
Josh Naylor, 1B
On the one hand, it’s a little disappointing that both systems see Josh Naylor regressing from his .274/.328/.507 slash in 247 plate appearances. On the other hand, they aren’t regressing that bad and I think that’s quite OK. Naylor also posted that excellent slash line after recovering from a devastating leg injury and battling multiple little knicks and bruises — something the heartless computers don’t take into account. Maybe this week of rest does him some good and he comes out even better than his first half?
Andrés Giménez, 2B
Steamer and ZiPS both see Andrés Giménez as lucky in the first half, it’s as simple as that. Neither deviate far from h is 4.9% walk rate or 21.5% strikeout rate that he posted in the first half, but both drop his first-half BABIP (.353) considerably. I think they’re both being a little harsh, with ZiPS at .321 and Steamer at .299. Given Giménez’s speed and ability to spray the ball, I do think he can still maintain a higher-than-average BABIP. Steamer is especially punishing with its BABIP regression, putting Giménez at a .308 on-base percentage, despite a higher walk rate than he had in the first half.
Amed Rosario, SS
There’s a decent chance these projections are while Amed Rosario is another team, but that’s neither here nor there. The robot overlords have him right about where he has been all season long. To date he has slashed .291/.327/.403 with four home runs and a 107 wRC+. Both systems see that as spot on, presumably with a lot of peaks and valleys evening themselves out.
José Ramírez, 3B
There was a time when projection systems straight up did not believe in José Ramírez, even when he had a hot first half. That time is long gone, as ZiPS especially sees him continuing a great offensive season. Both see a slight power dip coming, however, and have him falling short of his career-high 39 home runs set in 2018. As both systems weigh recent performance more heavily, his struggles in July may mean me outperforms these projections after he gets a couple of days off and hopefully gets fully healthy for the second half.
Steven Kwan, OF
There’s a reason ZiPS had Steven Kwan with a .287/.343/.426 slash (as one of the Guardians’ better hitters) all the way back in December. He has an outstanding minor-league track record, and now that he has proven he can handle major-league pitching and still only strike out 8.5% of the time, the projection systems actually see him hitting better in the second half. He finished 78 games with a .279/.361/.359 slash and a mere 110 wRC+. Both Steamer and ZiPS have him finally finding his power stroke and reaching as many as four home runs in the second half.
Myles Straw, OF
Steamer and ZiPS love Myles Straw in the second half, at least compared to his first. After long stretches of hittless at-bats, Straw finished 87 games with a .212/.305/.266 slash, only starting to hit when the All-Star break was on the horizon. Both projection systems seem to be in agreement that he’ll do everything better in the second half, and even hit a home run somewhere along the way.
Nolan Jones, OF
What, are you saying Nolan Jones can’t maintain a 176 wRC+? You want to fight me, computers? I’ll punch you right now. Steamer and ZiPS both have Jones striking out a little more and walking a lot less, which adds up to only being 9% to 14% better than the average batter. Still pretty damn good for a rookie who had a lot of question marks before his debut.
Owen Miller, UTIL
I was only going to include starters here, but I was curious what each system had for Owen Miller in the second half. Turns out, basically the same as the first. As with Amed Rosario, Steamer and ZiPS see the peaks and valleys evening out to a slightly below-average hitter. Nothing too exciting here.
Franmil Reyes, DH
This is kind of the opposite of the Josh Naylor problem with projections, where they can’t see that he performed so well with various nagging injuries. While both systems have Franmil Reyes pegged for a comeback, they also don’t see how utterly lost he has looked at the plate for long stretches of the season. Even the 39.9% strikeout rate (which both of them drop by a few percentage points) doesn’t tell the whole story. He is going to have to fundamentally change his plate approach if he’s going to rebound to an average hitter in the second half.
Shane Bieber, RHP
The robots saw Shane Bieber’s low strikeout totals and short-circuited. Both want him to rebound before he causes a black hole in the universe, but I’m not so sure the new-look, slider-heavy Bieber will ever get back to double-digit K/9’s. ZiPS certainly thinks so, and it has his ERA dropping considerably as a result. Steamer sees him trying to darnest to get back to his old ways, sacrificing walks for strikeouts and ultimately being an ever-so-slightly worse pitcher.
Triston McKenzie, RHP
Triston McKenzie gets by on stranding a lot of runners — 83.3% in the first half to be exact. Both of the Steamer and ZiPS projections are predicated on the idea that he won’t do that forever. The former has him stranding 73.3% of runners in the second half, the latter 70%. They each also see him trading strikeouts for walks — as they did with Bieber — but I don’t see that happening as wildly as they do. What direction McKenzie goes in might quietly be the most interesting thing to watch for in the rest of the season.
Zach Plesac, RHP
Zach Plesac hasn’t been great and the projection systems see him getting worse. The biggest difference appears to be home runs. He’s given up 1.15 per nine on the season, while ZiPS has him at 1.38 and Steamer at 1.44.
Aaron Civale, RHP
I feel like you could flip several coins and they would all correctly guess what Civale’s second half will be like. He’ll start the gauntlet on the injured list with a sore wrist, but after that? Is he even a full-time starter for the rest of the season? Can he find his splitter and curveball again? What in the world? Projection systems throw a dart in the mid-4.00s for his ERA.
Cal Quantrill, RHP
With his low strikeout totals and consistent contact (usually soft contact, when he’s on, but still contact), Cal Quantrill is never going to be a projection system darling. ZiPS and Steamer are both desperate to get some more K’s, but if he can keep making it work the way he has, he can keep being a solid back-of-the-rotation arm but not much else. That’s not the worst fate in the world for a pitcher.