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Ramon Laureano is Interesting

Could the Guardians’ latest waiver claim be the lefty-mashing corner outfielder they’ve needed?

Toronto Blue Jays v Cleveland Guardians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

After striking out on Matt Olson and Sean Murphy trades, the Guardians finally acquired an Oakland Athletic. They just had to wait for the tanking A’s to put Ramon Laureano on waivers.

While Laureano isn’t in remotely the same stratosphere as perennial all-stars Olson and Murphy, of course, there are reasons to be optimistic about his arrival in Cleveland. For his career, Laureano has a 110 wRC+, a 26.9/7.7 K/BB%, a .188 ISO, 12 Baserunning Runs Above Average for his career, and 18 Defensive Runs Saved, -1 Outs Above Average and and 11.9 Ultimate Zone Runs per 150 games in right-field. Laureano has been playable in center-field in the past but has been poor there for a while now. Notably, for his career, Laureano, as a right-handed hitter, has a 121 wRC+ against LHP, a skill Guardians’ fans have already seen come into play in his first game with the team:

This isn’t a great camera angle, but we also got a glimpse of Laureano’s best defensive asset, his absolute cannon of an arm:

So far, things sound great, right? The strikeout rate is a little high, but it’s a good tradeoff for a .188 ISO and lefty-mashing ability as well as good defense.

The problem comes in when we look at Laureano’s numbers over the past two seasons. Over these past 2 seasons, He has a 91 wRC+, 28.3/6.6 K/BB%, .160 ISO, 10.9% Barrel Rate and 36.7% Hard-Hit rate, Out of Zone Swing rate 32.4 and contact rate out of zone of 51.1%. His Swinging Strike rate is at 13.3% and he’s been 19/25 in stolen bases. He has had a .275 BABIP during this time, with an average exit-velocity of 88.6.

For comparison, Laureano in his first four seasons had a 119 wRC+, 26.2/7.5 K/BB%, .202 ISO, Out of Zone Swing rate of 31.8 and contact rate out of zone of 55.4, a barrel rate of 9.9% and Hard-hit rate of 39.3% and 34/43 in stolen bases, with a swinging-strike rate of 11.7%. He had a .325 BABIP from 2018-2021 with an average exit-velocity of 88.9.

So, what has led to Laureano’s offensive decline? It’s important to note than in 2021, Laureano was suspended for 80 games for PED use. Notable offensive decline in ISO after a PED suspension does raise some eyebrows, of course, but I don’t necessarily see a huge red flag in Laureano’s underlying numbers. His max exit velocity from 2022-2023 is down about 1 mph from his max in the first four years of his career, but the average exit velo is very similar and his barrel-rate has actually increased. A 3% decline in hard-hit rate isn’t huge, but notable enough to explain part of the power dip. I would tend to believe that his offensive downturn is more due to a decline in speed (shown in stolen base numbers and .050 points less in BABIP), a willingness to chase pitches with more reckless abandon than previously, as well as some bad luck which could definitely skew one’s numbers over only one and a half seasons of baseball.

I would also like to offer the possibility that a lot of Laureano’s issues relate to the situation in which he played for consideration. Over the past few seasons, Laureano has seen the Athletics tear the team down to the studs, all while playing in one of the worst ballparks for hitters in MLB (and worst ballparks, period). He’s also a player who plays with a lot of emotion (which isn’t a bad thing at all, in my book) as seen in an ejection he received earlier this season

I don’t think it’s a stretch to speculate that a fresh start in a town where attendance is steadily up for games, on a young team that despite a disappointing 2023 has plenty of promise for the future in a winnable division, could rejuvenate Laureano. The path for improving his offensive performance is pretty clear - don’t swing outside the zone as much as he has been and focus on hitting left-handed pitching, something he’s done consistently well for his whole career. If Laureano can do that for the rest of 2023, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make the 2024 roster as primarily a platoon-bat who hits lefties who can also be a defensive replacement in right-field as needed.

Long-term, Laureano will need to be a better option than Oscar Gonzalez, Jhonkensy Noel and Johnathan Rodriguez, as the Guardians’ current main in-house options for right-handed outfielders. Only Rodriguez seems to be pushing at any significant level for consideration at the moment, so I could definitely see the team keeping the recently discarded ex-Athletics outfielder for the Opening Day roster next season and seeing if Noel or Rodriguez can take that spot away from him. I suspect that the next two months are do or die time for Oscar Gonzalez whose defense has been so poor that he needs to show he can stop chasing everything and get to his power to have a hope of lasting on the Guardians roster through the offseason.

At worst, Laureano is roster insurance and, at still only 29 years old, a fun player to track for the rest of 2023. At best, he could find new life on a young club with hopes of competing in a city re-embracing their baseball team and demonstrate himself to be a potential option as a full-time right-fielder. EIther way, I’m a fan of the team’s decision to add him and play him, especially when a lefty pitcher takes the mound for the opposing team.

Welcome to Cleveland, Ramon!