The first half to the Cleveland Guardians' season was not all we expected it to be leading up to mid-May. The recurring motif of the sophomore slump hit this lineup of young talent like a Mack truck early on this season. It was not long before us fans began to go into mega panic-mode, questioning our success last year. Whether that success was legitimate or not, the weaker supports have been exposed, and they are teetering. The contact-first approach that we all saw from the Guardians last year is bringing about a lot more failure than success. This could be since the shift has been banned, opposing outfields are playing further in, or pitchers are figuring many of our hitters out. Whatever the reason may be, the Guardians offense has really gotten weaker. However, the Guardians did seem to hit a stride beginning in mid-late May. After weeks and weeks of a mostly lifeless offense, they felt a small jolt that would guide them in a better direction. We started to see a massive uptick in production from crucial players as the offense began to show that life that they had all last season. This leads us up to this point, where the Guardians stand in level ground at 45-45, but atop the AL Central nonetheless.
As it stands, there are many hitters who are to blame for the Guardians' early shortcomings, but there are some who have improved tenfold, or have begun to show the type of prowess they used to have. In this fanpost, I will be grading the Guardians hitters on, well, how well they have hit or provided something of worth to this offense. So, anything that is not related to defense will be considered in these grades.
Steven Kwan: C+
Coming off of what was a very surprising, but stellar year, Steven Kwan has begun to hit a wall in terms of production this season. It just seems to me as though he has not been able to gain his bearings and settle in for most of 2023. As of today, Kwan is slashing .263/.336/.349 with a wRC+ of 93. Those are not bad stats per se, but you would want your everyday leadoff hitter to be producing at a bit higher of a rate than this. It is also important to note that when Kwan could still make good contact with the ball, he just hasn't been doing it consistently this whole year yet.
Amed Rosario: C-
The first half of this season was not very ideal for the Guardians' starting shortstop. As the magic crystal ball dictated, Amed Rosario had yet another slow start. And likewise, he began to heat up in late May/early June. However, this time around seems much different from previous years. This might be because there are many current prospects and young bats who are ready and willing to have a shot at the last open MIF spot. This could also be because Rosario's splits vs. Righties are decently worse than they were last year. For reference, Amed Rosario posted a .373 wOBA and 146 wRC+ against righties in June of 2022 as opposed to his .319 wOBA and 103 wRC+ in June this year. Granted, those are average stats for June 2023, but maybe that is reason enough to try and get the aforementioned MIF prospects into a platoon role with Rosario to see how things pan out. Nevertheless, Amed Rosario's performance this year (against righties especially) has left a lot to be desired for much of the Guardians faithful.
Jose Ramirez: A
The only reason I am giving Jose Ramirez an A is because he had a pretty slow start to the season (go figure). Otherwise, Jose has displayed that sort of superstar bat we have missed since before his thumb got hurt. Since the beginning of June, Ramirez has slashed an excellent .306/.387/.567 with a .261 ISO and 158 wRC+, driving in 24 runners along the way. This is very on brand with the "when Josey gets going, the rest of the lineup does too" trope we have seen reiterated over the last couple of years, as the whole team started to heat up right when Ramirez did. This just goes to show how important he is to this team.
Josh Naylor: A+
Boy, where do I start? To say that Naylor took a huge leap in his career is a vast understatement. Having a full offseason to work on his bat without the injury bug helped Josh to become arguably the most efficient 1B bat in the AL not named Yandy Diaz. Even during his massive "slump" in April, Naylor was smoking the ball everywhere, with expected stats that placed him very highly in Baseball Savant's percentile rankings for those expected stats. Sadly, I cannot find those expected stats in April because Savant doesn't display them. But, I digress. The point is that Naylor was practically the most unlucky player in the league in April, and that quickly turned around for him in May. He started to get favorable outcomes for smoking the ball and upped his actual stats by a *huge* margin. As it is right now, Naylor is 2nd in the league among 1st basemen in RBI, has a .176 ISO, 130 OPS+ and 125 wRC+. These are all stats that would be much higher if Naylor was to get those favorable outcomes early on in April, and they would most likely put him in the conversation for best 1st baseman in the AL if not the league. Regardless, Josh Naylor is having a monster career year, now that the outcomes are favoring him.
Josh Bell: C-
Now, onto the other Josh of the team. Quite frankly, Josh Bell has been pretty underwhelming this year. His performance this year is not quite what was advertised on the box. This past December, we signed Bell to a 2-year, $33 million deal with a player option for that second year. Chris Antonetti brought him in on the premise that Bell would provide some of the much-needed thump to bolster this lineup. In terms of homers and walks, things are going as planned, but his performance is still leaving a bit to be desired. Bell is hitting homers at a rate relatively close to how he was last year. The one difference, however, is that his basic stats, such as AVG, OBP, and SLG are not close to being what they were last year. But, after a bit of further digging (and believe me, I was very surprised by seeing this), his expected stats are actually pretty solid. According to FanGraphs, Bell displays an expected slash line of .270/.351/.449, unlike his actual slash line of .230/.319/.381. This is all the while he posts an 11.7% walk rate, a 96 wRC+, and an improved 9.5% barrel rate. One thing of concern, though, is his increased K% (21.4%) and his GB% (50.5%). So, all things considered, he is having a better season than I initially imagined. He just has not been able to find much fortune all year.
Andres Gimenez: B-
As per the common motif of the season, the sophomore slump infected Andres Gimenez as well. As a matter of fact, Gimenez was probably hit the hardest, and has taken the longest to produce up to everyday starter standards. This March, we signed Andres to a long-term deal and locked him up for the foreseeable future. Maybe the pressure of the signing got to him and he hasn't found a way to settle in? Maybe, perhaps, he began to show some of his true colors, as his expected stats depicted him as a very fortunate hitter? It could have been either of those two reasons. Whatever it may be, Andres was struggling a lot. This was until he seemed to get something going for him leading up to the break. Since June 24th, Gimenez seemed to turn things around for him, displaying a .193 ISO and 138 wRC+ (Leading up to that point, his ISO and wRC+ were .129 and 87). Hopefully, Andres feeds off this recent power surge and becomes a whole new hitter that we haven't seen yet.
Will Brennan: B
Will Brennan has made a very respectable case for a platoon spot for the future. Being a reliable choice for the bottom half of the order, Brennan has shown great improvement over the course of the early season. To preface this, Will could not touch a fastball for most of May. With a whiff% of 20.9 and a PutAway% of 22.9, it is clear that Brennan needed to make adjustments to better time up the heater. And that, he did. In the month of June, the whiff% (16.9) and PutAway% (12.9) took a big dip, and in turn, Brennan saw a huge uptick in production, becoming a reliable hitter that could deliver in the clutch. That being said, Brennan still struggles against lefties, slashing .156/.191/.222 with a 9 wRC+ (Yikes) in 47 PAs, so it is very possible we find a platoon option for him in the future.
Myles Straw: D
Though Myles Straw is performing better than last year on paper, he still remains a liability for the time being. There is not much to be said about his offensive abilities this year, as he only shows his prowess in speed on the basepaths. With a .279 xwOBA, 71 wRC+ and 19.9 K%, Straw is practically becoming a black hole in the lineup. He has had a bit of recent success leading up to the all star break, so maybe momentum could roll over to Texas when we play the Rangers, but there is not much to like about Straw's bat.
Bo Naylor: No Grade Yet
If Josh's younger brother could have gotten more time on the field, I would have had a better answer for you. But for now, there is just way too small of a sample size for me to build off of. But, I will be fair and give him an analysis of what I have seen so far. So, it is obvious Bo has struggled early on in his everyday starting role. Given his hitting tools and history of slow starts after getting called up, this was expected at the very least. Bo has had a bit of a hard time getting his barrel on plane with the ball. This all is starting to improve with time, though. As of now, the hope is that Bo continues to adjust and improve his barrel accuracy, so that he can drive more balls out of the infield. If I had to give him a grade on his short time this season, though its weight will be very light, I would give him a B-.
David Fry: C+
David Fry, in the words of Chancellor Palpatine, was "a surprise to be sure, but a welcome one." This was to me, at least. Does he play like a superstar, or does he have any flashy numbers? Not quite, but he does exuberate the aura of a solid role player. And this is even more so, if you acknowledge the fact that he is a super-utility man on defense, playing catcher, infield, and a bit of outfield. But, this is a post about the offense, of course. So, as I said, there is not anything flashy about his numbers, but they are very respectable for his player archetype. In 51 PAs, Fry is hitting .277 (a .245 xBA should be noted here as well) with an OPS+ and wRC+ rating at 97. These stats are solid, given his role on the team, and hopefully we can see this sort of production replicated in the second half of the season.
Cam Gallagher: F
As a devoted fan, it is hard to give such a low grade to any of our hitters, but I want to be as fair and frank as I can be. If this fanpost was considering defense, these grades would look very different. But with that being said, Gallagher has been almost entirely helpless at the plate all season. I do not want to spend so much time ranting about Gallagher, but I will say that his most egregiously bad stats are his OPS+ (-2) and wRC+ (-13). That alone should tell you what he is as a hitter, so that is all I will cover in terms of Gallagher's bat.
Tyler Freeman: B+
Many fans have been rallying behind Tyler Freeman to get him a larger role, and it is very easy to see why. With inconsistent ABs galore, Freeman has made the most out of his chances. In approximately 65 total days on the Guardians' active roster this year, Tyler accrued only 72 PAs. In those PAs, he posted a 112 OPS+, a 111 wRC+, a 41.1 HardHit%, and an xBA of .282. Imagine what he could develop into if only he got more consistent PT, which is a key factor to development in the majors.
Gabriel Arias: D+
On the other side of the spectrum regarding inconsistent ABs lies Gabriel Arias. This is not a total knock on Arias, since he is one of the many players in the MLB who need consistent ABs to adjust to ML pitching. However, I cannot give him such a high grade because he still has not made the most out of his chances. In 154 PAs this year, Arias slashes .187/.292/.313 with a 73 wRC+ and a 32.5 K%. The only reason I am withholding him from a lower grade than this is because, as aforementioned, he needs those consistent ABs and he has pop. He just needs those contact skills to further develop and he might be a front-runner for the future starting spot.
As of now, the Guardians offense is in a huge adjustment period. Many hitters are beginning to find the magic they had last year, and some are making huge progress in their respective careers. Nonetheless, things had to get worse in order for the offense to get better and improve off of last year. It is clear that there are many flaws to the Guardians' offensive scheme. We will need more pop in the lineup moving forward, whether that comes from a trade or within the Guardians' own organization. All things considered, though, the offense has been taking baby steps forward ever since mid-May and are looking to take that giant leap to put the team into contention within enough time. If I were to give a cumulative grade for the Guardians offense, it would be a decent C+. Hopefully, this improvement in the offense carries over into the harder half of the season as we take on more formidable opponents. But, as it stands, there is much room for improvement.