top of page

Changing of the Pitching Guard


C.C. Sabathia. Cliff Lee. Corey Kluber. Carlos Carrasco. Trevor Bauer. Shane Bieber.


Since the turn of the century, the Cleveland Guardians have had five Cy Young award winners (six if you include Bauer's 2020 award with the Reds) with a slew of young, talented arms that have propelled them to several AL Central division titles and playoff victories.


Sabathia won an American League Cy Young award (2007) with 251 victories and over 3,000 strikeouts in his possible Hall of Fame career.


Cliff Lee won the 2008 American League Cy Young award finishing his career with 143 wins.


Kluber won two American League Cy Young Awards (2014, 2017) and nearly propelled Cleveland to a World Championship in 2016.


Bieber who just turned 28 years old, has a winning percentage of .667 with an American League Cy Young award in 2020 and won the All-Star MVP at Jacobs Field in 2019.


Year in and year out, the Guardians continue to develop some of the best starting pitching arms in the game.


Once every few years, a new wave of young, promising arms comes up through the system slowly replacing the established veterans of the ballclub.


2023 marks one of those seasons in which a transition is taking place. Here's what it means for the immediate and long-term future of the Cleveland Guardians:


The Old Guard

In the 2016 MLB amateur draft, Cleveland drafted Aaron Civale (3rd round), Shane Bieber (4th round), and Zach Plesac (12th round). It proved to be a high impact pitching draft class for the ballclub as Bieber emerged as one of the best young pitchers in the game in 2018 while Plesac and Civale solidified the rotation in 2019 with impressive debut rookie seasons.


At the time Cleveland had a long run of success with proven arms such as Danny Salazar, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger, and Trevor Bauer. But injuries and service time saw all these pitchers give way to a new cast of starting pitchers by the end of 2020.


Trevor Bauer was traded to the Reds in the summer of 2019. Corey Kluber was traded to the Texas Rangers at the end of 2019 (for Emmanuel Clase). Danny Salazar's career was cut short to injuries as he retired at the end of 2019.


Mike Clevinger was dealt to the San Diego Padres in the 2020 shortened season and Carlos Carrasco was gone after the 2020 season to the New York Mets in the Lindor trade (in which we got Rosario and Gimenez).


All of this took place in the span of just over a year. By the start of 2021, Bieber was the new ace with Civale and Plesac now firmly fixed into the rotation (along with the young Triston McKenzie).


Now once more here in 2023, the start of another youth movement is taking place for Cleveland's rotation.


Zach Plesac's tenure with the team has come to an end with his release from the 40 man roster on Sunday. After a promising start to his career in 2019-2020, Zach's career has take a sharp decline with self-inflicting injuries and poor performance on the mound.


Aaron Civale is approaching his 28th birthday and has been in the rotation since 2019. However, since the middle of 2021, he's been plagued with injuries.


Four different times in the span of 2 seasons he's spent time on the injured list. While he doesn't become a free agent until after the 2025 season, his lack of reliability and inconsistency makes him a prime candidate to be traded in the near future.


Then there's Shane Bieber....



So Long Shane


It's inevitable and unfortunate----Shane Bieber is getting traded. The question is not if but when. Bieber is a free agent after next season and is represented by Drew Roshenhaus as his agent. He (Drew) isn't known for his players getting team friendly deals.


Also Bieber's velocity has been on a slow decline since his shoulder injury he suffered back in 2021.


In his Cy Young season his average fastball was 94.2 mph, last year was 92.4, this season it's down to 91.2. As a result his strikeout rate continues to drop. He struck out 198 in 200 innings last season but only has 53 in 75 innings (before Monday's game).


Bieber is projected to make over $20 million a year on the open market and is still a reliable, solid starter for a contending team. He could be dealt before the July 31st trade deadline to acquire a much needed power outfielder. Amed Rosario might be included in a deal with Bieber to free up salary space to improve the team's extreme lack of power.


Would trading Shane make it impossible to make the playoffs? Signal to the fanbase that this is a lost season? Not necessarily. Here's why....

An Ace and Anchor


With their veteran ace traded away, most teams would be in trouble. The Guardians, however, are in prime position to not skip a beat in weathering the transition.


This past Sunday, Triston McKenzie made his long awaited first start of the season after two months out with a back injury. He dominated the Minnesota Twins with a whopping 10 strikeouts in only 5 innings allowing just a single walk and hit.


McKenzie has all the makings of an ace with a power arm and few hits allowed in his starts through his very young career.


2022 was his first full season in the majors in which he threw 191.1 innings striking out 190. His main issue was keeping the ball in the ballpark, allowing 25 homers. Yet his ERA was an outstanding 2.96 and he only walked 44 batters.


His very slim body makes him vulnerable to injuries which is the biggest issue towards him taking the reigns as the Guardians ace. Soon to be 26 years old, Triston is under team control for 3 and a half more seasons (through 2026).


Cal Quantrill can serve as a veteran anchor to the staff at the age of 28. He's off to a miserable start this season with a 5.61 ERA which can largely be contributed to a sore shoulder. Currently he's on the injured list but is expected to return back to the rotation by the end of June/early July.


In 2021-2022 Quantrill was a reliable starter who posted a 23-8 record in 336 innings of work. His ERA was a respectable 2.89 and 3.38 in these two seasons. While he doesn't miss many bats, more often than not batters make weak contact against him.


Quantrill is under team control for the next two and a half seasons through 2025.

The New Guard

With McKenzie and Quantrill in the rotation, there's some hope. But it's the new wave of young pitchers that have arrived and are soon on their way that it's instilling excitement in the Cleveland baseball fan base.


Tanner Bibee was drafted in the fifth round of the 2021 MLB draft by the Guardians from Cal Fullerton. In his first season in the minors, he struck out an incredible 167 batters in just 132.2 innings of work combined in Single A and Double A.


After only two starts for the Clippers in Triple A, he was called up to the majors and already proven to be a dominant, promising young pitcher with 40 strikeouts in 39.1 innings and a 3.20 ERA.


It's been a long time coming, but the Guardians finally have found a young promising lefty arm for their starting rotation. Logan T. Allen (not to be confused with the lefty Logan Allen who pitched for us in 2020--2022) was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2020 MLB draft from Florida International University.


He quickly rose through the minors with an outstanding 2021 season for Single and Double A, boasting a 9-0 record striking out an average of over 11 batters per 9 innings.


After continuing to impress with Akron in Double A in the first half of 2022, he struggled to adjust with Columbus in Triple A finishing last season on a bit of a down note with a 6.49 ERA in his last 14 starts.


Like Bibee, Allen only made a few starts for Columbus this season early in April, then was called up due to the injuries of McKenzie and Civale. He immediately has made an impact, striking out 8 batters in his first two starts and has 47 in 45.2 innings of work with an outstanding 2.76 ERA in 8 starts.


The Future Ace


Both Bibee and Allen have the stuff to be aces. There is one more pitcher, though, in the minors for the Guardians that has Cleveland fans giddy with enthusiasm. His name is Gavin Williams and he's currently pitching for the Triple A Columbus Clippers.


As the number 1 pick for Cleveland in the 2021 MLB draft out of East Carolina, Williams was a highly touted prospect out of college but became available later for the Guardians in the first round due to health concerns.


Carefully managing his workload in his debut professional season, Gavin dominated single A and double A batters in 25 starts striking out 149 in just 115 innings! His strikeout rate in Single A was an amazing 13.40 batters for every 9 innings of work!


This season, Williams only had 3 starts for Double A Akron before being promoted to Triple A. In 10 starts so far in 2023, he's pitched just over 50 innings striking out 71 batters. In total, his minor league ERA is 1.95 in 35 minor league starts!


His control, however, has become a concern in Columbus has he's walked 17 batters in 7 starts. Due to his similar physique and arm delivery, Williams has a striking similarity to the New York Yankees current ace, Gerrit Cole.


Most likely Williams wouldn't join the major league rotation for the Guardians until 2024, but when he does he could immediately become one of the best young arms in baseball while serving as a co-ace to McKenzie.


Arms on the Mend


One more promising arm is lefty Joey Cantillo who was acquired in the Mike Clevinger deal back in 2020. He's suffered his share of injuries pitching only 13 innings in 2021 and 60.2 innings last season.


Joey has an electric arm with huge strikeout potential. He's struck out 50 batters in just 35.2 innings of work combined for Akron and Columbus. However, he's being carefully monitored and wouldn't be ready for the big leagues for at least another season while he builds his arm strength.


Another promising pitcher that has been injury plagued is Cody Morris. Drafted back in 2018 in the 7th round, Cody has never been able to pitch a few season health in his 3 plus seasons in the minors. He made a few starts and appearances for the Guardians last in 2022, eventually settling into the bullpen.


This season he's been out with an injury and is currently on a rehab assignment. Morris is most likely going to transition to a bullpen role in the future, possessing the stuff to be dominant with an above average fastball and curveball mix.


Lastly is the unfortunate tale of Daniel Espino. Drafted in the first round by the Guardians in 2019, Espino as of last season was considered the number one prospect by the organization (and one of the best prospects in all of baseball heading into 2023).


After an outstanding debut season in 2021 for in both levels of single A ball, Espino looked to be on the fast track to the majors with a fantastic 35 K's in 18.1 innings for Akron last season. Then he was shut down the rest of the year with a shoulder injury.


Early in spring training this season, he suffered another setback and is now out all of 2023 with major shoulder shoulder. Espino isn't projected to return to the mound until the middle of 2024 and wouldn't be under consideration to make the big league team until 2025 at the earliest.


He's still young at the age of 22 and could still work his way back to having ace potential in a few years for the Guardians. Or the organization might switch him to the bullpen as a dominant back-end reliever.

Putting the Pieces Together


Let's now access the starting rotation moving forward. Zach Plesac is now off the roster soon to be released or traded. Aaron Civale is currently back into that rotation but due to injuries probably is soon be traded. Shane Bieber will be traded either at the deadline or at the end of the season.


So our 2024 starting rotation could look like this:


Triston McKenzie

Tanner Bibee

Logan Allen

Cal Quantrill

Gavin Williams


Of course injuries always play a factor each season and could derail this projected rotation. The good news is that the Guardians have a lot of pitching depth with Hunter Gaddis, Xzavion Curry, Joey Cantillo, and Peyton Battenfield (to name a few) with more young prospects in the low minors as well.


While it hurts to see a fan favorite in Shane Bieber be traded, the Guardians are in great shape to move on and flourish with a new set of aces ready to make their mark in the coming years.


Now if only the Guardians could develop some offensive power bats to complement the pitching! However, that's a discussion for another time!


Cleveland baseball fans can rest assured that the this changing of the pitching Guard will keep the team in playoff contention in the next several seasons to come. The sun is rising to a new era of pitching dominance on the shores of Lake Erie. It should be a lot of fun to watch!


Sources:

All images courtesy of Flickr.com

Data and stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com

Comments


bottom of page