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Adding Fuel to a Hot Start

The Guardians are on fire - how can they keep that burn going?

MLB: Cleveland Guardians at Oakland Athletics Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports

The Guardians are off to their hottest start since 2011; what can they do to keep it going?

It’s impossible to not be pleased with the Guardians at 8-2 through 10 games. If they can win one more game against the White Sox, they would clinch series wins in their first four games. However, things get a little more challenging soon with the Yankees, Red Sox and Astros looming on the schedule. What are some things the Guardians can do to help ensure their hot start to the season continues?

1. Eliminate Austin Hedges At-Bats Late in the Game When the Guardians Have a Lead Of Five Runs or Less

Notes: There have been two times so far that Austin Hedges has batted with leads of five runs or less in the eighth inning or later with runners in scoring position. I understand the desire to have Hedges in hand in case you need to go to Emmanuel Clase, because I do believe Hedges may be a Clase whisperer. But, I hope Stephen Vogt, Craig Albernaz and other decision makers are aware that the Guardians have three catchers on the roster precisely to relieve ME of the mental anguish of seeing Austin Hedges attempt to swing a bat in a situation where removing the bat from his hands won’t require a significant amount of work to replace him in the lineup and field with either Bo Naylor or David Fry. To maintain this possibility, I’d also like to see David Fry start, when he is not catching, at first base over Josh Naylor so the team can maintain the DH while switching Fry in to catch for Hedges as needed.

2. Minimize Ramon Laureano At-Bats Against Right-Handed Pitching

Notes: I know Vogt said he doesn’t believe in platoons, but I tend to believe this is manager-speak for “I believe in my guys to get hits regardless of what pitcher they are facing.” He should believe in his guys. He should also put them in the best position to succeed that he can, and I believe he has generally done that by using Will Brennan and Estevan Florial mostly vs. RHP and Laureano and Fry mostly against LHP. So far, Laureano actually has a 163 wRC+ vs RHP and a 73 wRC+ against LHP. I hope the team and Vogt do not buy into those numbers and instead look at his 119 wRC+ vs LHP since Opening Day of 2020 and 92 wRC+ vs. RHP in the same time period. Let Brennan or Florial DH vs RHP, let Laureano get his starts in right-field and at DH vs. LHP. Believe in the larger sample of numbers.

3. Get Jose Ramirez and Josh Naylor to Take a Breath... and Subsequently More Walks

Notes: The two big bats in the Guardians’ lineup, Ramirez and Big Brother Naylor, are off to solid starts but Jose is running a 49th percentile chase rate and Josh Naylor is at a typical 4th percentile chase rate. Up until 2022, Jose’s chase rate was solidly in the 70th percentile, but since then he has declined to around that 49th percentile mark, while Naylor has consistently been in the single digits. However, both players clearly track pitches well as demonstrated in elite contact rates. I believe both players can look at a lineup where Steven Kwan, Andres Gimenez, David Fry, and Will Brennan are hitting well, and where Tyler Freeman and Bo Naylor should offer marked improvement over what Myles Straw and Mike Zunino/Cam Gallagher did last season and say, “I don’t have to be a hero. If I take a walk, things are going to be ok.” Both have, at several points, seemed so excited to drive in runners that they have swung at pitches that they should inherently know will be difficult to drive. I think both have the ability - at differing levels - to relax and take more pitches. Getting more walks or even just seeing more pitches in at-bats should lead to getting more pitches with which they can do damage which will help the Guardians’ offense immensely handle the regression coming when one looks at their early wOBA (.325) and xwOBA (.299) differences and overall success in situations where runners have been in scoring position (126 wRC+ so far with a .311 BABIP, not at all alarming but a little elevated above normal).

4. Get a Better and Quick Read on Which Relievers are Capable of Going Multiple Innings

Notes: Interestingly, there have been several times Vogt has put reliever in for multiple innings early on (Tim Herrin, Cade Smith, Scott Barlow, and Nick Sandlin are examples who come immediately to mind). This may have been an ask made because of starting pitchers being limited in innings and pitch counts, but none of these four profile especially as long-relief guys. Anecdotally, in none of these cases has the mult-inning experience gone well, though the team has generally found arms to come in and clean up messes (if anyone knows how to look up splits for multiple-inning appearances, please let me know). I suspect that part of the logic of these multi-inning appearances is getting guys experience sitting down and getting back up and seeing which pitchers can handle this situation. I hope that Vogt and the team are quick to abandon the multi-inning experiment if relievers struggle with it. I’d also like to just assume that Herrin, Barlow and Sandlin, specifically, are not meant for this life. Let’s instead try Tyler Beede and Hunter Gaddis, as recent starting pitchers, in these spots when needed, in my humble opinion.

5. See Bo Naylor and Tyler Freeman Settle Into Their Respective Starting Roles

Notes: It’s been a rough EARLY start to the season at the plate for Bo Naylor (78 wRC+) and Tyler Freeman (70 wRC+). I’m not terribly concerned that these numbers will continue, as both are good hitters in their respective ways. What I would like to see is the message communicated to both that their starting spots are secure and the team is supremely confident in their bats to come around. Continue to get Bo starts at DH when he’s not catching, get Tyler Freeman in for an infield start on a day you want to see Florial in center. Tyler Freeman has been excellent defensively, so I hope that gives him some peace in the transition to allow him to relax at the plate and get back to driving the ball as he did early on in the year. Bo has had some defensive bumps, but let the dozen catchers and former catchers on the roster be clear in communicating his skills for the long-term and their confidence in him to get some sloppy defensive work here and there cleaned up quickly. It’s maybe not ideal that Bo didn’t get to start either of the team’s Opening Days, but I’d love to see him get four starts this week, until the Sunday afternoon off-day he should expect. Then, consider giving him a DH start Sunday to really let him settle into a rhythm.