Advertisement

Guardians 'doing damage' with Vogt's aggressive hitting philosophy | Jeff Schudel

May 27—The Guardians are for real. Major League Baseball says so in its updated power rankings revealed May 26. Bleacher Report also says so by the same metric.

The oddsmakers in Las Vegas agree. The visible proof is in the American League Central Division standings, and the measure of the Guardians' success goes deeper than the record of 36-17 that has them in first place, 2.5 games ahead of the Royals.

Bleacher Report and MLB each rank the Guardians third among baseball's 30 teams, behind only the Phillies and Yankees.

The Guardians before the 2024 season began were pegged at +300 by BetMGM.com to win the Central Division, meaning a bettor would win $300 and recoup the original $100 if the bet wins.

Anyone can still bet on the Guardians to win the Central, but the odds have changed. Dramatically. Now they are minus-110, meaning it would take a bet of $110 to win $100 and recoup the original $100.

The Guardians were 24-29 after 53 games last season. The A.L. Central was so anemic they were just 3.5 games behind the division-leading Twins at 28-26. A team with a record of 24-29 in the division today would be 12 games behind the Guardians.

Check out these numbers: The Guardians have scored 263 runs, fifth most in the majors, and they have homered 59 times — good for 10th. After 53 games last year they had scored 183 runs and homered 30 times.

The Guardians won nine straight games, their longest winning streak since 2017 when they won 22 straight, before playing the Rockies in Denver on May 27. They have won 12 of their last 13 games. Remarkably, they have put together this amazing run while their leadoff hitter, Steven Kwan, is recovering from a hamstring injury that forced him to the injured list May 6. Kwan was leading the American League with a .353 batting average when he was sidelined.

Even more remarkable than winning without Kwan is they are winning with a first-year manager who just two years ago was behind the plate catching for the A's.

Stephen Vogt was unknown to most Guardians fans before he was hired to replace legendary Terry Francona. Guardians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti admitted knowing little about Vogt before he and General Manager Mike Chernoff began their search for the 47th manager in franchise history.

The early report card on Vogt: So far, so very good.

"I haven't done anything," Vogt answered a reporter in Anaheim on May 26 when asked about managing a team on a nine-game win streak. "It's all about the guys in (the clubhouse). They believe in each other. They fight for each other. We play all 13 (positional players) guys.

"They all chip in on their day. The pitching has really stepped up. It's been a fun week and a half. We want to keep it going."

What Vogt said is not true. Not the part about the Guardians believing in each other and fighting for each other. That part is definitely true.

The "I haven't done anything" part of Vogt's statement is inaccurate, yet his in-game decisions aren't the main reason there has been a 12-game improvement from a year ago with basically the same everyday lineup — not counting Tyler Freeman replacing Myles Straw in center field. Freeman has homered four times in 48 games. Straw homered three times in 359 career games with Cleveland over three seasons.

Vogt's philosophy on hitting differs from that of Francona. Francona, 64 when he retired as manager, was big on his players making contact, pushing the runner up a base or two with another hit, and running the bases wisely.

Vogt wants his hitters to be more aggressive at the plate. The results show in the numbers — 29 more home runs and 80 more runs scored after 53 games from 2023 to 2024.

"It's been a theme going back to spring training," Antonetti said recently. "We were looking to try to impact the ball more consistently.

"I think maybe we fell victim a little bit to the narrative around our identity about, 'Hey, we're a team that just puts the ball in play.' And yes, that's a strength and we want to make sure we maintain that, but the goal is to try to put the ball in play with authority. Let's put the ball in play when we can, but let's look to try to do a little bit more damage when we do."

Credit hitting coach Chris Valaika, too.

The Guardians were dead last in the majors with 124 home runs last year, but they also struck out a Major League-fewest 1,142 times.

The 2024 Guards have not sacrificed plate discipline for swinging aggressively. The Guardians have fanned 403 times this season. Only the Royals, Blue Jays and Astros have struck out fewer times.