The 2023 Major League Baseball quickly approaches, and it's time to start throwing out some predictions.
Plenty of Cleveland Guardians are having hot starts this spring (which is just one of the topics we cover in the latest episode of the California Penal League podcast), but how will that translate to the regular season? Who will build off strong 2022 campaigns, who will fall back, and who will emerge out of nowhere to contribute?
The Five Guardians Who Will Have the Highest OPS+ in 2023
The Cleveland Guardians boast a potent lineup, not just from a power perspective now thanks to the addition of Josh Bell, but in players who simply know how to hit and get on base. It was that "disgusting" brand of baseball that the team rode to the AL Central crown and ALDS last season, and Cleveland will be looking to do it again in 2023.
So who will lead that charge? Let's start by predicting who in the Guardians lineup will have the best OPS+ by season's end.
What Is OPS+ and Why Does It Matter?
OPS+ is one of those advanced stats that attempts to create a league average baseline to better understand a player's success or struggles. Essentially, OPS+ is an OPS variation that accounts for external factors like the league a player is in and the ballparks he plays in. All of that is factored into the formula, producing a score so that 100 is league average, and 150 is 50 percent better than the league average.
The overall formula might make your eyes go cross, but it produces a beautiful, simple number that helps us better understand just how good a player is compared to the rest of the league.
So with that in mind, here are the five Guardians who will have the highest OPS+ in 2023.
5. Will Brennan
Brennan had just a cup of coffee with the Guardians in 2022, debuting in September and raking his way to a .357/.400/.500 line in 45 plate appearances. It's a ridiculously small sample size, but Brennan has all the tools of a complete hitter, much like fellow outfielder Steven Kwan. It wouldn't be shocking at all to see Brennan put up an OPS+ close to 110-120 this season. Brennan could be pushing center fielder Myles Straw for more playing time, and if that hapens, Brennan could have a true breakout campaign.
OPS+ Prediction: 115
4. Andrés Giménez
Giménez truly had an incredible year in 2022, with a 141 OPS+ that nearly rivaled that of José Ramírez (148), produced by a slash line of .297/.371/.466 with 17 home runs, 26 doubles, and 69 RBI. He doesn't walk a ton and is right in the middle of the pack when it comes to strikeouts, but he made the best contact of his career in 2022, and the 24-year-old could just be getting started. Will he repeat an OPS+ over 140, though? That could be a lofty expectation, but Giménez should remain a key member of the Guardians lineup.
OPS+ Prediction: 124
3. Josh Bell
Bell, of course, was Cleveland's big offseason signing, and for good reason. He has 30-homer potential, and has maintained a 120 OPS+ over his seven-year career. With a guy like Ramírez hitting in front of him, the 30-year-old could have a career year. Bell is prone to cold spells at the plate, which hampers his overall production at times, but he's in a solid lineup full of guys who get on base, and Bell is playing for probably one more big contract in his career after this two-year deal. The ingredients for a great season are very good here.
OPS+ Prediction: 130
2. Steven Kwan
If you read ABG regularly, you know we're especially high on Kwan, so much so we believe he could win the AL batting title this season. In his rookie season, Kwan sported a 124 OPS+, batting .298/.373/.400 with six home runs, 25 doubles, and seven triples. With Kwan's talent, there's every reason to believe he could get better, and possibly even add a little more pop to his bat now that he's more familiar with major-league pitching. For reference's sake, Luis Arraez, last year's batting champ, sported a 130 OPS+ for the Minnesota Twins.
OPS+ Prediction: 135
1. José Ramírez
This is an easy one. Ramírez remains Cleveland's best player, and he maintained a 148 OPS+ last season even while dealing with a right thumb injury for much the season that ultimately required surgery. But with Ramírez back to full health and now backed up by a true power hitter in Bell, the sky's the limit for the perennial MVP candidate in 2023. This is the year he crosses the 150 OPS+ threshold.
OPS+ Prediction: 150