The legitimacy of the Cleveland Guardians’ offense
The Cleveland Guardians currently possess an offense that ranks as one of the best in the league. How legitimate is the offense and can they keep it going?
Despite a 7-9 record, the Cleveland Guardians are tied for the third-best run differential in the American League at +10. This is even after getting swept and outscored by the New York Yankees 19-7 over the weekend.
However, they owned an AL-best +25 run differential as of last Friday morning. What this means is that the Guardians’ offense has vastly exceeded anyone’s expectations early on this season. Behind superb offensive starts from rookie Steven Kwan and infielder Owen Miller, alongside an MVP-caliber start from Jose Ramirez, it is no wonder Cleveland’s offense has performed so well in the early going.
It was, of course, figured that Cleveland’s offense would be subpar while the pitching would continue to be top-notch. However, the pitching staff has been rather mediocre thus far in 2022, contributing to the team’s sub-.500 record.
All of this has me asking, is the offense legitimate?
The Guardians’ Two Best Offensive Performers
Jose Ramirez is currently batting .350/.420/.667, good for a 1.087 OPS and 219 OPS+. He has hit four home runs and leads the majors with 20 runs batted in. He has also walked seven times while only striking out seven times as well. His 10.1% strikeout rate ranks eleventh in the sport. He won’t continue to his .350 or slug .667, nor will he be able to keep up his absurd .469 wOBA, but still, Ramirez is one of the best players in the league and his year-end numbers will reflect that.
Steven Kwan is batting .341/.456/.500, good for a .956 OPS and 186 OPS+. He does not have a home run but has driven in seven runs and has nine walks compared to only six strikeouts. Additionally, his 1.1 bWAR in only 14 games leads the team. While Kwan has always been tabbed as a bat-to-ball type of hitter who likely won’t strike out much, there are already some signs that regression will come. His .421 wOBA is outstanding but his .366 xwOBA looks much closer to average. His .274 xBA is much lower than his actual .341 and his xSLG of .383 is over one hundred points fewer than his actual slugging percentage.
Additionally, his hard-hit rate and average exit velocity both rank in the bottom fifth percentile or lower in the league. His 15.8% walk rate likely won’t remain that high but his 10.5% strikeout rate looks legitimate. I will say this: a rookie who can capably put up a .270-.280 batting average with a low strikeout rate and above-average defense can still be a valuable player.
Cleveland’s offense has already put up 3.1 fWAR, which is the third-best figure in the American League. The team’s 14 home runs are middle of the pack but their 75 runs scored is the eighth most in the league. Their 21.4% strikeout rate ranks ninth-best in the sport while their .256 batting average ranks third. The offense currently has a .729 OPS and .327 wOBA which both rank eighth in the sport and a 117 wRC+ that ranks sixth. What all of this shows is that Cleveland’s offense is doing a good job at not striking out while consistently making contact and putting pressure on opposing pitchers. Offense is down around the league but the fact that the Guardians have managed to be this good early on is definitely surprising. This is also with slugger Franmil Reyes performing very poorly so far, after hitting 30 home runs with a .846 OPS in only 115 games in 2021. Reyes is a big part of this offense when he is right and there is no doubt the collective numbers could look better once he turns things around.
Under the Hood
While a lot of the surface-level numbers make the Guardians look like a top-ten offense in the league, some of the analytical stats do not reflect this. While walk rate is not an analytical stat, it is a basic one that plays a role in determining how good an offense really is. The team’s 7.9% walk rate ranks 23rd in the league. Walk rate is important and is usually a good indication of how effective an offense can be even when it starts to struggle. Additionally, the team’s .310 BABIP looks higher than average and likely points to a regression to the mean.
In looking at Baseball Savant, Cleveland’s offense is below-average in many statistical measures. They rank at or near the bottom of the league in barrel percentage, hard-hit rate, average exit velocity, xBA, xSLG, xwOBA, and xwOBACON. What this all means is that there is likely some big-time regression coming for this Cleveland offense.
Besides the fact that Cleveland’s offense might not be as legitimate as it seems, there is reason for some hope and optimism for fans. Kwan is a promising rookie outfielder who looks like an everyday contributor at the big-league level, which the team has not consistently had in the outfield for quite some time. Jose Ramirez will continue to be Jose Ramirez, regardless of his walk rate. They have a very young and athletic team with some promising bats who should only be getting better as their careers progress. One good thing is that this is a very contact-oriented team, as they are better than league-average in whiff rate, chase contact rate, and in-zone contact rate. While the Guardians might not have the most dynamic offense in the league, there are things to be hopeful about.