HomeMLBCleveland Guardians Season Preview 2024 Odds and Predictions

    Cleveland Guardians Season Preview 2024 Odds and Predictions

    Adam Burke's season preview for the Cleveland Guardians as part of the VSiN 2024 MLB Betting Guide.

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    Cleveland Guardians 2024 preview

    In the interest of full disclosure, I was born and raised in Cleveland. I say that, not because I’m going to give you a biased view of my hometown team, but because this is probably going to be a little bit of a thick read.

    The Guardians organization is the reason why I got into sabermetrics in the mid-2000s. I wanted to know how the front office operated and how the team was able to put together competitive rosters with meager financial budgets. When Dick Jacobs sold the team to Larry Dolan in the early 2000s, payroll plummeted, a byproduct of the coffers of that side of the Dolan family, but also because Cleveland’s downtown area was in disarray.

     

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    Multiple companies that were headquartered downtown left and the population was moving farther and farther away from Cleveland proper into other counties with cheaper taxes and plenty of land to build on. The Indians actually ran top-10 Opening Day payrolls in 2000, 2001, and 2002. They’ve never been higher than 15th since and attendance is an annual struggle.

    As a die-hard baseball fan whose nostalgia about the ‘90s turned into inquisitiveness about the ‘00s and 2010s, I felt compelled to dive into the world of baseball analytics, which has certainly changed and improved over the years with the depth and public availability of stats. So, that’s why I am who I am, both as a fan and as a baseball handicapper.

    In terms of the 2024 season, the Guardians have a high floor because they may very well have the best starting rotation in the American League, but the ceiling will be defined by the offense. A contact-based approach worked wonders in 2022 and backfired tremendously in 2023, so now we wait to see if the philosophical changes being preached in Spring Training yield more power or if the Guardians will be on a nightly quest to win every game 3-2 or 4-3.

    2024 Cleveland Guardians Odds

    (odds from DraftKings as of Mar. 6)

    World Series: +7000

    AL Pennant: +2800

    AL Central: +350

    Win Total: 78.5 (-120/+100)

    Make Playoffs: Yes +200 / No -240

    Cleveland Guardians Preview: Offense

    Service time manipulation for Kyle Manzardo and a passive approach to prospects with Chase DeLauter will likely lower the bar for the offense at the outset of the season. The case for DeLauter at least makes sense, in that he has a total of 28 plate appearances against Double-A pitching, but the tools are clearly there and he looks the part in Spring Training. The regular season is a different beast, but he should debut at some point this year.

    With Manzardo, it is another example of what is wrong with baseball economics. The Guardians can’t handle most contract demands, so they have to manipulate a guy’s service time five or six years before it actually matters financially. Most teams do this and it isn’t unique to Cleveland, but it is my belief that games in April count the same as games in September from a wins and losses standpoint and the idea of not putting your best lineup out there to save a few million dollars down the line is asinine. That’s especially true in this situation when the Guardians will have a new majority owner by that time with much deeper pockets.

    But, it is standard operating procedure for a lot of teams and it is what it is, so we move on to talking about Jose Ramirez, a superstar who doesn’t get the respect that he deserves. I know people laugh at WAR and other analytics, but from a wins above replacement player standpoint, the list of players with more value than Ramirez over the last three seasons is Aaron Judge, Freddie Freeman, and Mookie Betts.

    Ramirez hasn’t won a Gold Glove yet, but has been a five-time finalist at a high-value defensive position, along with posting a 134 wRC+ over the span of 2,012 plate appearances from 2021-23. Among 226 qualified hitters, Ramirez ranks 19th in wRC+, with names like Kyle Tucker, Austin Riley, Julio Rodgriguez, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Rafael Devers, and Pete Alonso flanking him.

    The primary problem for the Guardians is that Ramirez shoulders a tremendous load on offense. Despite his heroics last season, Cleveland still finished 27th in wOBA, better than only the Tigers, Athletics, and White Sox, and 22nd in wRC+. Despite league-low 18.7% K%, the Guardians were 13th in batting average.

    Why? Because their contact quality was abysmal. They were dead last in Hard Hit% by a full 2.1%. They were dead last in Barrel% by 0.7%. They had the league’s lowest average exit velocity. Only the A’s, who play in a cavernous venue that actively suppresses offense, had a lower slugging percentage. The Guardians hit 124 homers, 17 fewer than any other team. Two teams had more than double that (Braves and Dodgers). Four more teams hit over 100 more home runs than Cleveland.

    To fix the offense, the Guardians brought in…nobody. Unless Manzardo makes the roster, the only newcomers are Estevan Florial and Deyvison De Los Santos, a trade acquisition from the Yankees who is out of minor league options and a Rule 5 Draft Pick from the Diamondbacks.

    It wasn’t just the Jose Ramirez Variety Hour on offense. Josh Naylor actually outdid him with a 128 wRC+ and brother Bo Naylor had a 124 wRC+. The Guardians will have a full season of Bo behind the plate and hopefully a full season of Josh in the 1B/DH role after he missed 41 games last season. Those are two big building blocks, but they need more.

    Steven Kwan was a league-average hitter with a 100 wRC+ as the BABIP gods realized that they could make a sacrifice out of him. He posted a 126 wRC+ with an inflated .298 average in 2022. He’s a BABIP-dependent guy, but he is one of the guys that the hitting coaches are attempting to change, trading a little more swing and miss for a little more power.

    A Kwan bounce back would be great and a full season of the Naylors would help, too, but the Guardians desperately need Andres Gimenez to get back on track. Gimenez posted a 97 wRC+ in his first season after signing a contract with life-changing money. He had a 142 wRC+ in 2022, as the BABIP gods shined down upon him with a .353 BABIP. In 2023, it was less about a correction in the numbers and more about a lack of quality contact, as his Hard Hit% went from 37.6% to 27%. With limited protection in the lineup, he saw fewer fastballs, more sliders and cutters, and struggled to hit the ball authoritatively.

    Ultimately, while what the coaches are saying sounds good in theory, until we see it in practice, we’ll have to assume that the Guardians have a below average offense this season. Overachieving in the BABIP department covered up a lot of holes in 2022, but the Guardians saw a major correction in 2023. What 2024 has in store will be interesting, but they learned a valuable lesson of not just relying on contact to generate offense.

    Cleveland Guardians Preview: Pitching

    While the offense may not provide a whole lot of punch, this may be the best defensive team in Major League Baseball. We’ll see how Naylor does behind the plate, but the infield is outstanding and the outfield may be even better with Ramon Laureano, Kwan, and Myles Straw or Florial. Tyler Freeman is also a great athlete and is getting CF reps in camp. The pitching staff will certainly benefit from that.

    The starting staff could be really, really good. One of the silver linings of losing Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie (as well as Cal Quantrill and Aaron Civale) for extended periods last season is that the youth movement began. Tanner Bibee, Logan Allen, and Gavin Williams are all 25 or younger and will hold down spots in Cleveland’s rotation. Bibee was second in AL Rookie of the Year voting to Gunnar Henderson and looked every bit a future ace.

    He posted a 2.98 ERA with one strikeout shy of a K per inning. He had 35 walks in 148 minor league innings prior to the start of his big league career and walked 45 in 142 innings, so that’s an area where he could very well improve. My favorite thing about Bibee entering the season is that he threw 157.1 innings between Triple-A and MLB, so he should be poised to be something of a workhorse.

    Some are expecting a massive breakout for Williams, who had a 3.29 ERA with a 4.05 FIP in 82 innings of work. He had gaudy strikeout numbers in the minors that didn’t fully translate to the big leagues, but he held the opposition to a 38.6% Hard Hit% and a 5.4% Barrel% while not really having his trademark velocity. It seemed like the Guardians pulled him back a little bit, as he regularly hit 100 mph in the minors, but sat with an average fastball velo of 95.8 mph at the MLB level, down 1.2 mph from what he averaged in nine Triple-A starts. He’s reportedly smoothed out his delivery entering this season.

    Allen is a change-of-pace, control lefty that stands just six feet tall, but he’s had plenty of success against minor leaguers and had a 3.81 ERA with a 4.19 FIP in 125.1 MLB innings last season. Like Williams, Allen’s K% from the minors didn’t make the jump with him, but he, too, held hitters to a solid Hard Hit% and a strong Barrel%.

    In an ideal world, Carlos Carrasco is good enough to provide some depth, along with Xzavion Curry, Joey Cantillo, and Hunter Gaddis, who all showed various flashes last season. Others will emerge, as they always do out of Cleveland’s pitching factory. Cantillo is a name to watch.

    But, it is Bieber and McKenzie who truly define the ceiling for this rotation. The kids will be alright, but there is hope and optimism that Bieber is back. The impending free agent has missed a lot of time over the last three seasons, but his missing velocity has been the big story. The disappearing strikeouts and increase in loud contact have been ugly developments. After an offseason at Driveline Baseball, Bieber was back to hitting 93-94 and his curveball was reminiscent of the pitch we saw in 2021 when he had a 33.1% K%.

    I’m skeptical of guys who don’t go the surgical route with UCL damage, but McKenzie and the Guardians agreed to gamble and we’ll see what happens. He only threw 16 innings last season coming off of a stellar 2022 in which he had a 2.96 ERA with a 3.59 FIP in 191.1 innings of work. I’m not surprised that the 6-foot-5, 165-pound right-hander had trouble with the huge workload increase, but if he’s healthy enough to be a contributor, that could go a long way.

    The Guardians bullpen should be solid. I’ll be curious to see how first-time manager Stephen Vogt leverages his relievers, especially with a setback for Trevor Stephan in Spring Training. Emmanuel Clase had good numbers with a 3.22 ERA and a 2.91 FIP, but he was hardly dominant, despite racking up 44 saves. The cash-strapped club traded away Enyel De Los Santos for the more expensive Scott Barlow, so they must have seen something there.

    Depth-wise, this is a pretty good unit with a lot of reinforcements waiting in the wings, including a name to remember in Franco Aleman, who struck out 84 batters in 55 minor league innings last season.

    Cleveland Guardians Player to Watch

    SP Triston McKenzie

    With reports that Bieber might be back – and a high floor on him, anyway – the focus shifts to McKenzie. The 2023 season was a true throwaway and McKenzie says he feels good, for whatever that’s worth. I’m still not entirely sold that 2022 was real, as McKenzie had that aforementioned 2.96 ERA with a 3.59 FIP, but he still allowed a 40.4% Hard Hit% and a 9.8% Barrel%. He’s an extreme fly ball guy and barrels will happen, but he got remarkably fortunate to run a .237 BABIP with that level of hard contact.

    Cleveland’s elite outfield defense will help him and it’s entirely possible he can keep pitching above opposing hitters’ swing planes enough to keep his home run rate down. He’s been brought along very slowly in camp and made his Spring Training debut on March 6. It took me all season to buy in during his ‘22 campaign and I’m not rushing to buy in coming off of a UCL injury for 2024.

    Cleveland Guardians Season Win Total Odds & Prediction

    I got caught up in all the excitement last season and had the Guardians Over a much higher season win total line. This season, I’m cautiously optimistic. As I mentioned multiple times, the floor is very high with this pitching staff and defense. If the offense takes a big leap, this team could be a darkhorse AL Pennant contender. If the offense takes a decent-sized leap, this team could spend a good bit of the season as the AL Central favorite.

    If the offense is the same as last season, it’s a .500 ballclub or thereabouts. I typically like to play on high-floor teams with a wide range of outcomes. I don’t think it’s surprising that PECOTA projections have a little bump around 90+ wins because it is doable. I hate the offensive philosophy that they embraced last season and they’re actively trying to change it, especially with some higher-upside bats in the system. How quickly they get to the big leagues may determine what the ceiling is for this team.

    I do think that they are much closer to winning the AL Central than the +350 price implies, so I do like that bet and I don’t hate 70/1 as a World Series long shot. If they win the division, they’ll host a playoff series with the pitching to make a run. I’d rather take some gambles with a high-ceiling, high-floor team than make a win total bet with a low-percentage ROI and a six-month hold.

    Strong Lean: Over 78.5; consider AL Central and World Series futures

    Get all of our preseason coverage in the 2024 MLB Betting Guide.

    Adam Burke
    Adam Burke
    Adam Burke is the Managing Editor of VSiN.com and has spent well over a decade in the sports betting content creation space. He has been with VSiN since 2021 and covers a wide range of sports, along with hosting the VSiN Daily Baseball Bets podcast.

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