Outfielder Steven Kwan has begun to find trouble at the plate, but Guardians fans shouldn’t worry about the talented rookie.
Steven Kwan burst onto the scene for Cleveland this season with a barnstorming start to 2022. The Guardians’ 15th-ranked prospect absolutely dominated from the outset, prompting many fans to crown Kwan as the next Michael Brantley and rejoiced as they watched a stud hitting prospect that finally paid off at the major-league level.
He was it. Alongside Myles Straw, he was going to man left field for years to come. Either to make a point or to grab headlines, pundits lumped him in with José Ramírez and Emmanuel Clase as part of a young nucleus that was going to lead the Guardians for years to come.
That is, until he fell off a cliff at the plate.
The honeymoon phase for MLB players is usually painfully short. It’s less like a weeklong trip to Venice and more like an overnight at your house where the kids are off with their grandparents. Kwan was the shiny, new, young toy that fans could play with, but the second he started striking out more than looping singles into the outfield, they threw him away with the rest of the misfits.
While Cleveland fans are rightfully jaded by years of watching flash-in-the-pan performances and top prospects flame out at Triple-A or the major-league level, it’s unfair and downright wrong to castigate Kwan for his slump. He’s not a one-hit wonder, he just needs time and seasoning in the major leagues in order to blossom into the talented hitter that always gets on base – something I believe he can turn into.
Look at the statistics. Pull up his Baseball Savant page and take time to dive into the numbers that have defined Kwan so far. He’s not a shooting star fading from the spotlight. He’s going to be a consistent major-league player that will become a fixture with the Cleveland Guardians.
Kwan sprays the ball, hitting to each third of the field around a third of the time. On top of that, he hardly pops the ball up and either hits for a ground ball or line drive 70.1% of the time. No matter what Kwan does with his career in MLB, he’ll always put the ball into play, especially because he’s hitting the “sweet spot” 30.9% of the time.
There are a few troubling statistics that Kwan has exhibited since the beginning of the season, namely his xwOBAcon, which calculates the expected weighted on-base average of just the contact, excluding walks and hit by pitches. His xwOBAcon sits at .290, which means he’s not even expected to get on base 30% of the time. Kwan’s average exit velocity is also just 83.9 mph.
Luckily, exit velocity is something that he can work on, and his raw OBP is really commendable. It’s frankly quite hard to cherry-pick statistics that make Kwan look bad, even if his slump continues and his season begins to be hampered by injuries.
Strikeout rate, walk rate and chase rate are three statistics that one can look toward to show if a young player is seamlessly transitioning to MLB pitching. Kwan is in the 99th, 92nd and 84th percentiles, respectively, in MLB in those categories. Yeah, I’d say he’s holding his own against the world’s best pitching.
What fans need to recognize when watching Kwan this season is that his slump isn’t simply a product of his production slipping. Major-league pitchers are figuring him out, and scouting reports are becoming increasingly detailed. Of course, Kwan needs to adjust to becoming more well-known amongst MLB, but his sabermetrics demonstrate that he’s holding his own through the learning curve each major-league player takes towards becoming established.
There’s no need to worry about Kwan falling off from the absolute tear he was on to begin the season. It’s foolhardy to believe his 15 minutes of fame are done and he’ll be a Columbus regular by July. Stick with him, for once; have patience and you’ll see Kwan blossom into the talented player we all know he can become.