Blame 2023 On Guardians Front Office/Coaches?

August 9, 2023

Tony Camino

Are the Front Office and Coaches to Blame for This Year’s Performance on the Field?

In a sport where coaching isn’t discussed to the same extent as in a sport like football, the various staff members play a crucial role in the success of the team, both in the present and the future. Whether it’s managers placing players in the most advantageous positions to succeed, or hitting/pitching coaches uncovering techniques to elevate a player’s performance to the next level, the finer details within a baseball team can often outweigh the significance of the players themselves.

  • How has the front office done?
  • Assessing skipper Tito Francona
  • Taking a look at hitting / pitching coaches

How has the front office done?

Mike Chernoff and Chris Antonetti

During this year’s trade deadline, the front office made the strategic choice to acquire more prospects in exchange for veteran players, rather than going all-in for a division win. While these decisions have been met with fan dissatisfaction and do impact the team’s chances this year, it’s important to acknowledge that the current roster faced significant challenges to contend for a World Series title. Between the pitching staff’s health, recent bullpen struggles, and offensive limitations, it would take a very lucky stretch of everything falling in place to compete for a title.

While many may express frustration over these moves, I believe the front office has executed an admirable strategy in consistently positioning the team for competitiveness. The roster boasts a core group of players to build around, and the farm system ranks among the best in baseball. Prioritizing the development of the farm system during this trade deadline, instead of exclusively focusing on immediate major league success, establishes a more favorable foundation for future “all-in” maneuvers when the team is both capable and healthy. Like the Andrew Miller trade, the current state of the farm system allows for the potential trade of a promising group of young talents for an established major leaguer provided the timing aligns.

As a team who is never going to spend like the top teams in the league, going all-in during a season like this could risk relegating an organization like the Guardians to irrelevance. Within the current organizational methodology, sustained winning is ensured, enabling the possibility of making a huge move when everything falls into place. (as witnessed in 2016).

Admittedly, the front office’s success in securing free agents has been less than optimal. While the signing of Josh Bell was widely regarded as a favorable move at the time around the league, the outcome emphasized the challenge of landing impact players through free agency, especially when they can only shop at the clearance rack. The team’s trade track record under the current regime, however, is remarkable. Notable moves such as Emmanuel Clase for an injury-affected Corey Kluber, a significant return for Mike Clevinger, and leveraging prospects like Clint Frazier and Francisco Mejia for impactful relief assistance highlight the front office’s adeptness in trades. While not every trade has yielded exceptional results (as in the case of Yandy Diaz), the majority of trades orchestrated by the front office have strategically positioned the team for success.


Evaluating Terry Francona

AL Manager of the Year in 2016 and 2022 with the Guardians, there’s no doubt that Terry Francona is a future Hall of Famer. His ability to unite players make strategic decisions with matchups, and lead teams to the playoffs despite limited budgets all showcase his greatness. Francona stands as one of the primary driving forces behind this team’s consistent playoff appearances over the past decade, solidifying his place among the all-time greats.

However, even with his impressive track record, his decisions this year have raised some concerns, rightfully earning him a share of the responsibility for this lackluster season. Firstly, his utilization of Amed Rosario during his time with the team, particularly in this current season, was rather perplexing.

  • 101 wRC+ last three seasons, 103 season-high
  • Down to 87 wRC+ this year
  • 120 wRC+ or better last three years versus left-handed pitching

The statistics have consistently demonstrated that Amed Rosario excels against left-handed pitching, and his defensive performance took a significant downturn this season. Opting to predominantly utilize Rosario against left-handed pitchers is what maximizes his batting potential, a fact highlighted by his brief tenure with the Dodgers. Given Andres Gimenez’s gold-glove proficiency at second base and past experience at shortstop, it raises questions about why Rosario’s subpar defense was deployed at the crucial shortstop position instead of second.

Moreover, alongside the Rosario dilemma, other managerial choices over the course of the year have left room for doubt. To begin with, Myles Straw and Cam Gallagher should almost never find themselves in the lineup, as indicated by their wRC+ of 67 and -12, respectively. While Straw has previously showcased elite defensive skills and has maintained a commendable performance this year, the team’s pressing need for offensive prowess suggests that opting for players like Steven Kwan, Will Brennan, or now even Ramon Laureano in center field would be more beneficial.

Recent decisions, such as having Gabriel Arias take on the role of shortstop and positioning Brayan Rocchio at third base, don’t make a lot of sense, especially when Kole Calhoun is at first base. Rocchio evidently possesses superior range and glove proficiency compared to Arias, while Arias’ stronger arm is better suited for the long throws from third base. Giving Rocchio the majority of games at shortstop, particularly with Tyler Freeman sidelined due to injury, seems like the best call, while Arias could split his playing time between third base and first.

In defense of Francona, orchestrating opportunities for younger players to showcase their potential while also maintaining a competitive team presents a formidable challenge. The organization aims to assess the capabilities of emerging talents who are teetering on the edge of the roster for the upcoming year. This year has definitely shown a heightened level of skepticism towards Francona’s decisions, yet the tough nature of the circumstances he’s had to navigate rarely permits straightforward choices.


Taking a Look at Hitting / Pitching Coaches

Hitting Coaches

When it comes to the roles of hitting and pitching coaches, assigning credit or responsibility to a single individual becomes a challenging task. Typically, these outcomes, whether positive or negative, are a result of the collaborative efforts of the entire organization, emphasizing the significance of comprehensive development across all levels. Recent history reflects that the Guardians have encountered difficulties in cultivating their hitters and extracting optimal offensive performance from their players.


A pertinent case in point is Yandy Diaz, currently enjoying an MVP-caliber season with the Tampa Bay Rays. While Diaz displayed considerable promise during his second season in Cleveland, his current season is far better than what he showed in his time here. His exit velocity metrics have consistently ranked high, but the most notable transformation emerges in his launch angle. Under the Rays’ guidance, Diaz has significantly elevated his launch angle, resulting in heightened success in lifting the ball. This alteration has led to a career-best 161 wRC+, a statistic that ranks him fourth across all of baseball.

Gabriel Arias shares similarities with Diaz in that his launch angle falls below the league average with very high exit velocities. While Arias’ pitch selection requires refinement, adjusting his swing to generate a higher launch angle would unlock his power potential, as evidenced by his two-run homer against Toronto. The team’s offensive philosophy, which emphasizes putting the ball in play over power-hitting, has proven detrimental in various aspects and represents an outdated approach to the game. Although it might have yielded positive results a year ago, it appears to have relied too much on luck.


Pitching Coaches

Bieber, Bibee, and Allen

In contrast to the hitting department, the pitching coaches within the organization exemplify a distinct approach. Year after year, emerging prospects seem to swiftly realize their potential upon reaching the majors. The pitching excellence synonymous with Cleveland is a tangible reality, enabling the team to part ways with accomplished pitchers like Mike Clevinger, Trevor Bauer, and Aaron Civale midseason. The organization’s adeptness at scouting and nurturing pitching talent is evident through the ongoing success of the pitching staff, even amidst injuries to their top two pitchers and the departure of their third-best pitcher at the trade deadline.


Recap

With the lackluster performance of the Guardians in 2023, there’s a shared responsibility for the way this season has unfolded. The initial months saw questionable choices in the lineup, coupled with an unsuccessful run in acquiring free agents, setting the team on an uphill


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