Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Shane McClanahan was a strong Cy Young Award candidate midway through last season. His 1.71 earned run average for the season in mid-July was first overall in the major leagues. With both strikeout and grounder ability, McClanahan seemed unstoppable.
The team that gave McClanahan a nightmare was the Cleveland Guardians. Cleveland, who met McClanahan in the last game in July, was expected to be weak. However, from the first inning, he was persistent and lost to McClanahan with 5 runs in 4⅓ innings. It was McClanahan’s most runs in a single game. After the game, McClanahan said, “I realized again what a humble sport baseball is.”
On this day, Cleveland hitters didn’t watch the ball for long. He prevented being cornered into an unfavorable count. At the same time, he focused on producing balls in play as much as possible. Even the luck of the batted ball followed Cleveland, and McClanahan was clearly embarrassed. On top of that, he dramatically increased the number of pitches thrown by McLaren Han while demonstrating his new Kurt technique (24 foul balls were the most fouls by McLaren Han in one game last season). The pitcher, who was not afraid of cannons, was knocked down by a rifle.
This game was the game that best revealed the characteristics of Cleveland’s batting line last year. He showed that he could take down an opponent with just a hook, no straights. He reminded the growing number of believers in batting ball that ‘the basics of batting is contact’.
Two years ago, Cleveland stepped back. It failed to advance to the postseason, and the 50% odds season for 10 consecutive years was also frustrated. It was a time when change was necessary. It was also exquisite that the team name changed just in time. Ty Van Buckleo, who served as hitting coach since 2013, stepped down and was replaced by Chris Balaika. Balaika, born in 1985, was of a different generation from Berkeo, who was in his late 50s.
In 2021, Cleveland became the first team in major league history to go three no-hitters in a single season. Not only did hitters miss the ball, but they were afraid to be out before they even hit it. “You have to take pride in playing as a major league hitter,” Balaika said, starting with a different approach at the plate.
Balaika’s most important theory was ‘controlling the strike zone’. And he emphasized ‘a blow that blows the batted ball to the other side’. He believed that as long as these two things were not shaken, he could deal with any pitcher.
In fact, there was nothing special about Balaika’s theory. However, he reminded us of the things we should not forget from the blow. This advice was perfect for Cleveland, which had many prospects ahead of their major league debut. It is a risky attempt for a hitter with inherently low power to recklessly pump up batted balls to keep up with the league trend. Balaika was very wary of imitating others indiscriminately like this. The goal was to make use of each hitter’s strengths.
Cleveland, with the color of Balaika, has become a different batting line than before. He showed a persistent appearance at the plate, but the form of his persistent appearance was different. Usually, persistence means watching the ball for a long time, but Cleveland didn’t keep an eye on the ball for long. The number of balls watched per at-bat was 3.86, which was lower than the league average (3.89).
Instead, there was no law to just pass by. He focused on hitting the ball rather than looking at it. He hit balls that were easy to hit, and balls that were hard to hit. The game was no different from batting practice. As a result, Cleveland ranked first overall with 85.3% of the contact rate for balls that entered the strike zone last year.
What was surprising was the Outzone response. A ball out of the zone is likely to be a difficult ball for the batter. If the percentage of following difficult balls is high, it is difficult to expect good results. An example is Javier Baez of the Detroit Tigers. Baez, who spins the bat wherever the pitcher throws the ball, has the highest out-of-zone swing rate at 47.5%. This random swing led to a high miss rate (35.8% was the third worst overall).
Cleveland also never had a low out-of-zone swing rate. At 30.9%, it was followed by Detroit (33.6%), Chicago White Sox (32.6%) and Atlanta Braves (31.1%). However, Cleveland possessed a formidable contact ability that the previous three teams lacked. The percentage of hitting out-of-zone balls was the highest at 64.9%. Cleveland, which hit the ball like a magnet on a bat, also had the lowest miss rate (21%).
The center of Cleveland’s lineup is Jose Ramirez. Unlike Francisco Lindor, who left after looking at the money, Ramirez is a pillar of Cleveland who left after looking at the team. Last year, he showed off his strength by winning the Silver Slugger for the 4th time in his career with outstanding performance (.280 batting average, 29 homers, 126 RBIs).
But without Ramirez, Cleveland’s lineup wouldn’t have changed much. In that respect, the player who led the change in Cleveland’s batting line is Stephen Kwan. Kwan, who made his debut last year, was at the heart of a changed Cleveland baseball game. No matter where the pitcher throws the ball, the hitting that chases the ball and hits it is the Cleveland batting line itself that has changed. The high out-of-zone contact ratio (79.6%) and low miss rate (9%) also support this fact. As Kwan began to come out as the number one hitter, the Cleveland lineup improved.바카라
Of course, the weaknesses were also clear. If you are in a hurry to hit the ball, it is difficult to come up with a good hit. Cleveland’s in-play hits increased, but hard hits didn’t. The percentage of barrel batted balls with an ideal balance of exit velocity and launch angle was the lowest (4.9%), and the percentage of batted balls with an exit velocity of 95 mph or more was also the lowest (33.1%). The destructive power of other ships still remains a challenge.
At a time when everyone was obsessed with home runs, Cleveland was immersed in contact. It was a team that introduced dead ball baseball in the live ball era. However, if freshness was brought in last season, maturity should be added this season. An excessive imbalance between power and accuracy needs to be addressed. Only then can Cleveland’s distinctive tick-tock baseball continue its competitiveness.