With the 2023 season winding down, it's to time to do an inventory of where the Cleveland Guardians are at moving forward. And in the case of Steven Kwan, it's... pretty incredible how similiar his 2023 season was to his breakout rookie campaign.
Here's a look at how his two seasons in the major leagues compare:
2023: .272/.344/.376 with five home runs, 35 doubles, seven triples, 20 stolen bases, 68 walks, 72 strikeouts, and a 102 OPS+ in 695 plate appearances
2022: .298/.373/.400 with six home runs, 25 doubles, seven triples, 19 stolen bases, 62 walks, 60 strikeouts, and a 124 OPS+ in 638 plate appearances
That is some eerie stuff. For all of the - albeit minor - talk about a dropoff for Kwan this year, he's been pretty consistent. And really, a lot of the drop in his batting average comes down to luck. He currently sports an xBA of .285 and a BABIP of .299, which suggests there is a little room for improvement on these numbers next year. In his stellar rookie campaign, Kwan had a .323 BABIP and .268 xBA, so this season was something of a course correction.
Barring a huge jump in his third year - which is entirely possible - this is likely the player Steven Kwan will be over the course of his career, and that's totally fine. There will be years when he's luckier than others, and probably a few seasons where he really puts things together, hits maybe ten home runs, and flirts with a batting average well over .300.
The truth is, Kwan's career numbers probably lie somewhere in the middle, and that's exactly what the Guardians will take in their left fielder. It doesn't hurt that he's one of the best defensive outfielders in the game, either; Kwan is leading in Outs Above Average among left fielders by a wide margin this season, sitting at nine with the closest to him being Christian Yelich with four.
In the larger context of the Guardians' season and the team's troubles at the plate, it's easy to be disappointed with Kwan, lumping him in with the rest of the underperforming lineup. Calling myself out here, I thought there was a chance Kwan could even contend for the AL batting title with Luis Arráez shipped off to Miami.
I still believe that could happen in a magical season where everything goes right for Kwan (much like the year Yandy Díaz is having for Tampa Bay), but if this is what we're going to regularly see from him moving forward, that's going to work, too.
This was no doubt a disappointing season for the young Guardians, but Kwan is part of a still-promising core that should continue to develop well over the next 3-5 years. The best years are likely still ahead for Cleveland, and Steven Kwan will no doubt be a part of them.