Pick just about any stat from this Guardians‘ season and you’re bound to find something exciting.
The team is batting .252, fourth in the American League.
The hit-for-contact team has managed 203 doubles, also seventh in the MLB.
A 3.81 ERA?
Fifth in the American League.
No one expected the Guardians to put up numbers like that this season.
Even the lowly Detroit Tigers carried higher expectations coming into 2022 than the Cleveland Guardians.
So what happened?
How did this supposedly rebuilding Guardians team rise to, not just the top of the AL Central, but in the mix among the American League’s best?
Here are three stats that help explain this season so far:
1. 26.2 – Average Age of the Guardians This Season
The Guardians have a young team.
A historically young team.
Only three teams (since 1947) have won more games while rolling out a team with an average pitcher age under 26.4 and an average batter age younger than 26: the 1988 Pirates, the 1968 Mets, and the 1970 Reds.
The Reds finished runners-up in the 1970 World Series.
Here’s a little more context.
This Guardians team is even younger than the average Triple-A minor league team: 26.5.
File these incredible stats under the subheading of “Youth Movement.”
It’s been why veteran players like Franmil Reyes were DFA’d in favor of giving younger players time in the majors.
The Cleveland Guardians are one of the best teams in modern MLB history while being at this young of an age. The only teams higher than them are the NL Champ Reds, WS-winning Mets, and a Bonds/Bonilla/Slyke-led ballclub.#ForTheLand pic.twitter.com/BMDmYBHpUC
— David Hrusovsky Sports (@davehrus) August 10, 2022
It’s also likely why the Guardians were largely quiet at the trade deadline, declining to bring in a veteran rental that might take away reps from young players.
The Guardians have deployed a steady strategy this season: feed the youngsters and let the internal cream rise to the top.
2. 89 – Home Runs This Season
It’s impossible to talk about the Guardians season so far without mentioning one glaring hole: power.
As mentioned above, the Guardians are a bat-for-contact team, not a contact-hitting team.
It’s why they have so many doubles and so few homers.
It also hurts that the club’s only real power bat Franmil Reyes slumped for most of the entire season.
But what’s impressive is that the Guardians are excelling despite the 89 homers.
Unsure of how that figure compares across the majors?
Only one team is batting fewer homers than the Guardians: the Detroit Tigers with 66.
The top-mashing New York Yankees have clubbed an eye-popping 191 home runs.
Even more apparent: the AL and NL home run leaders (Aaron Judge and Kyle Schwarber, respectively), have a combined 80 long balls, hot on the Guardians’ tails.
Time will tell if this is a sustainable recipe for success.
3. 47 – Defensive Runs Saved
If the Guardians’ power is a problem, their defense is the polar opposite.
The Guardians’ 47 defensive runs saved is third in the majors, behind just the Yankees and Astros, per Fangraphs.
— Cleveland Guardians (@CleGuardians) August 13, 2022
That stat is a big reason why the Guardians have professional baseball’s second-best overall defense, also per Fangraphs.
President of Baseball Operations Chris Antonetti explained it the best:
“Our defense is the most underrated part of our team. Andres Gimenez is one of the best middle infielders in baseball. Amed (Rosario) has really improved at short. Jose (Ramirez) is good at third. In the outfield (Steven) Kwan and (Myles) Straw are elite. The same is true of our catchers.”
The Guardians have squeezed defensive production out of just about every single player this season.
And like their strategy of prioritizing young players, the Guardians and manager Terry Francona will always prioritize strong defense and poor offense over the reverse.
If the bats can get going, the Guardians are a sneaky dangerous team to get hot and make a run.