Season Win Total
Cleveland o86½ -120 -120 over

Posted on March 2 -- are subject to change.

Pinnacle o86½ -120  BET365  o86½ -130 Sportsinteraction o86½ -130 888Sport -105

Season Win Total

Cleveland o86½ -120

The Guardians enter the 2023 season coming off one of the most exciting events in team history. No, not the Oscar Gonzalez playoff walk off or the AL Central crown in 2022. Those were great, but none compare to the spending of actual dollars on a free agent hitter. Oh, sure, fine it’s Josh Bell, but still. Cleveland’s contact-and-defense approach didn’t do much to impress Deserved Runs Against (DRA-) or Deserved Runs Created (DRC+), which is understandable given the focus they have on avoiding balls in play and power, respectively.

The Guardians ranked in the bottom third of the league in slugging in 2022, but counteracted their general lack of punch with a top-10 batting average and a top half of the league on-base percentage. They were also one of the more aggressive teams on the bases, checking in third in the majors with 119—the new pickoff rules could help them push that figure up even higher in 2023. It all added up to just about a league-average offense—Cleveland was tied for 15th in the league in runs scored with Colorado. Bell should be able to push them higher, but they’ll also need to avoid regression from crucial breakout bats like Steven Kwan, Andres Gimenez, and the aforementioned Gonzalez.

Things are steadier in the rotation, where the club returns each of their top five starters from last year, the top two of whom (Bieber, McKenzie) logged ERAs under 3.00. While the organization always has pitching depth, the first line of starter fill-ins might not inspire much confidence—Konnor Pilkington walked five per nine innings in double-digit starts last year. But there remain intriguing arms galore below the surface: Gavin Williams and Tanner Bibee both landed on some reputable publications Top 101 (as did Daniel Espino, who recently went down with a shoulder injury). Add in Xzavion Curry, Hunter Gaddis, and Joey Cantillo, and the minor league system seems poised to bear more fruit, should any starters hit the IL.

The Guardians are absolutely addicted to incredible defensive catchers who can’t or won’t hit. Their best catcher OPS in the last three seasons was Austin Hedges’ .527 mark in 2021. Zunino hasn’t topped .600 in three of the last four seasons, though the one exception (2021) landed him a down ballot MVP vote, he was so good. At his best, he’s a three-true-outcomes performer who can add tons of value as a framer. If he can’t make it work with the bat, the Guardians top in-house option is Bo Naylor, who had offensive struggles of his own as he was pushed aggressively through the system. Given a bit of time to catch his breath, he pulled through with a dynamic 2022 season, even getting a cup of coffee in the majors. He’s not the defender the Guardians are used to back there, but he’s also not the black hole of a bat they’re used to seeing at the plate from that position. Naylor is the future of the position for the club, assuming they don’t keep throwing glove-only roadblocks in his way.

First base has been one of the Guardians’ sore spots for a few years now, and even with Bell’s inconsistency, he should represent a marked upgrade at the position. His presence makes this one of the better infield groups around, headlined by Jose Ramirez’s consistent, MVP-level abilities—he’s projected for 5.6 WARP. Ramirez was joined in that tier of performance via a breakout season from Andres Gimenez, who jumped from a 78 DRC+ in 2021 to a 118 mark in 2022. His projected DRC+ (105) anticipates some regression—Gimenez’s average and max exit velos are more solid than good, and he put the ball on the ground over 45% of the time—but still forecasts an above-average season for the 2022 breakout. 

Amed Rosario actually has a slightly better average exit velocity than Gimenez, and a significantly better max (115 mph), but his swing path means he’s drilling those balls into the ground far too often. A 5° launch angle produced a batted ball profile with grounders more than half the time, each of the last two years. Those streaks that Rosario goes on aren’t complete mirages—but they likely coincide with either a run of elevated launch angles, a bit of BABIP luck on all those grounders, or both. We should also be careful to note his annually high BABIPs are more likely the residue of the pressure he puts on defenses with his speed than luck in general.

Josh Naylor is expected to split time with Bell at first base—neither of them being defensive wizards there. It shouldn’t surprise if Bell sees more time at DH than first base, though, as his -3.7 DRP at first base is markedly worse than Naylor’s -0.7. Neither is what you want, and both will be relied upon to make up with their bats what they lack with their gloves.

The rest of the infield backups are likely to be supplied by the Guardians’ verdant farm system, which is overflowing with middle infield options on the position player side. Gabriel Arias is a premium defender at shortstop, but saw much of his time last year at first base when he was able to get into games. Throw in Tyler Freeman, Juan Brito, and even some off-depth charts options like Jose Tena, and Brayan Rocchio, at the upper levels of the minors for additional depth. Arias, Freeman, and Brito will be first in line, but should they flop in case of injury, Cleveland has many options to turn to for middle infield assistance.

Steven Kwan was a revelation both at the dish and in the field last year, employing his high-contact swing and quality eye to produce a 116 DRC+. Expect more of the same: a 115 DRC+ alongside elite defense in left field. Sometimes the good players leave so much left to say because what makes them good is so obvious, so we’ll leave Kwan with this: He’s an absolute blast to watch on all sides of the ball—toss in his good baserunning and the upcoming rule changes, and it wouldn’t shock to see him eclipse even this sunny projection.

Center fielders and catchers don’t usually have a lot in common, but they do in Cleveland. The org does not much care about the offense offered at either position as long as the defense is elite. Straw fits the strategy: an upper-echelon outfield roamer who ranges from quite poor with the bat (75 DRC+ in 2020) to average (99 DRC+, 2021) to palatable given the defense (80 DRC+, 2022). This WARP projection might even undershoot Straw’s overall contributions, because his projected Deserved Runs Prevented (DRP) is under what he’s been able to produce each of the last two seasons. That said, his projected DRC+ (88) would also be a significant improvement on each of the last two seasons. His 2021 season (3.7 WARP) showed what happens when he marries league-average offense with his defensive abilities, but it’s also the only season in which he’s been able to make that happen. If he can somehow begin to do so with more consistency. it'll only improve our chances of cashing this ticket.

Gonzalez landed on our list of hitters the analytics do not like. The short version is: elevated BABIP, too many ground balls, an allergy to walks, and not-quite-league average contact rate. He had a great rookie season and we can reasonably anticipate growth in some of those categories, but he’s not going to make use of his solid pop unless he starts lifting the ball a bit more often. 

Will Brennan emerged as a quality strong-side platoon bat last year, capable of filling in at all three positions, and the club moved upper-minors breakout Will Benson to Cincinnati before spring training, seemingly a vote of confidence in Brennan’s ability to hold the fourth outfielder position all year. George Valera and Jhonkensy Noel are the biggest bats below the surface, and both will likely require an adjustment period in Triple-A. We do not expect either to see meaningful at-bats this year, but another way to read the trade of Benson is that Cleveland would be comfortable turning to one of these two bats should it be required at either outfield or DH

Long the strength of the Guardians, this year’s rotation returns the top five starters from 2022. Bieber returned to form after some early-May struggles. Some velocity returned on his heater, and he shifted away from his curve in favor of that deadly slider a bit more often. While there seems to be some diminishment with Bieber as time rolls on—his strikeout rate dipped eight points from 2021 to 2022, for example—it’s a little difficult to quibble with the results. He hit the 200-inning mark last year after a 2021 season that saw him fall short of 100.

Triston McKenzie looks to be the heir apparent to Bieber’s title as front of the rotation starter. He’s coming off a 3.6 WARP campaign, where he struck out batters at an above-league-average clip, and walked them at a below-league-average rate. So… what gives with the league-average DRA- and middling WARP projection? Chicks might dig the long ball, but DRA- does not. McKenzie surrendered 25 homers last year, 16 of which were solo shots. That figure isn’t exactly an accident—he held a WHIP under 1.000 at the end of the season and was likely even more aggressive than usual in attacking the zone with the bases empty. Still, it’s easy to imagine that variance could push that figure in a different direction pretty easily if he’s giving up that many home runs a year. For a guy who faced durability questions on his way up the organizational ladder, and then ran into a few concerning arm injuries, McKenzie has been remarkably solid the last couple seasons in terms of workload. He just needs to avoid the stiff breezes coming off of Lake Erie or turning sideways and falling down a sidewalk grate, and he should be just fine.

Of the back three, Quantrill and Plesac somewhat fit together as guys who don’t miss many bats and lean on Cleveland’s defense to convert balls in play into outs. Quantrill’s ERA has significantly outpaced his peripherals the last few years, and he can thank the guys behind him for that. Civale is a bit of a different story, showing the best strikeout stuff of his career in 2022 but, like McKenzie, giving up too many home runs in the process. Unlike McKenzie, nearly half of those homers came with men on. Even more importantly, Civale couldn’t stay on the mound, notching only 20 starts. If he can stay upright in 2023, it will be interesting to see if he can keep missing bats thanks to an adjusted pitch mix that saw many more cutters and curveballs than in years past. Cleveland’s rotation doesn’t have to be great. This is the new era of baseball where starters are asked to go four or five strong and let the pens take over.

Cleveland’s bullpen is among the best in the game, ranking fifth in DRA- last year, and they project to be in the top 10 by WARP in 2023. Emmanuel Clase not only pitches at an elite level, but he appeared in a league-leading 77 games last year, and he’s joined by three other Guardian relievers who exceeded 60 innings pitched. Those three (Hentges, Morgan, Stephan), and a suddenly-effective-post-sticky-stuff Karinchak make for a high-quality, high-volume group. With depth beyond those four, and a number of depth starters who could shift to relief waiting in Triple-A, it shouldn’t surprise if Cleveland once again ends the year with a top-five bullpen.

Aside from Bell, a lateral move at catcher, and the internal options matriculating through their system, Cleveland is mostly just running it back after a successful 2022. It’s hard to blame them given how handily they won the division, but Minnesota especially has made a number of moves to potentially challenge for the Central.

If Cleveland takes a step back in terms of W-L record, it’s likely to come down to one or more of these reasons: regression from the 2022 breakouts (Gimenez, Kwan, McKenzie), Minnesota just generally providing stiffer competition, or injuries to key members of the rotation or bullpen. Cleveland won 92 games last year. This total suggests they won’t match it but we’re going to have to disagree. First, a close colleague of ours, who is sharp as a whip and rarely gives his opinion on a wager, believes the Indians are going to be tough as shoe leather this year with the new rules greatly benefiting them. He, too, prefers playing unders to overs so when he is eyeing an over in a season win total, we pay attention. The Guardians are poised to repeat last year’s success and perhaps even surpass it. This is a beatable number.  


Our Pick

Cleveland o86½ -120 -120 (Risking 2.4 units - To Win: 2.00)

L.A Angels over 81½ -110
Chicago White Sox u83½ -110
Baltimore o76½ -128
Toronto Blue Jays o91½ -125 over
Miami over 76½ -109 over