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Cleveland Guardians: How Much Does Josh Bell Improve The Lineup?
In what might be one of the more savvy and under-the-radar moves from the MLB Winter Meetings, the Cleveland Guardians added first baseman Josh Bell on a two-year, $33 million dollar deal.
While the slugger was not at his best after the midseason trade to the Padres last year, Bell should still be able to give a significant boost to Cleveland’s offense. Let’s take a look at how much Bell improves the lineup heading into 2023.
Last Year’s Offense
Cleveland had a phenomenal run last year, going 92-70 on the season, good for first in the AL Central. They had their success in spite of an offense that ranked in the bottom-half of the league.
Last year, the Guardians’ offense ranked 19th in scoring (4.23 runs per game), 23rd in slugging percentage (.379), 15th in on-base percentage (.314), and 29th in home run percentage (2.1).
General manager Mike Chernoff identified first base and catcher as two areas for upgrades, and between Josh Bell and Mike Zunino, the Guardians’ brass feels they accomplished their mission of improving their club.
Josh Bell Last Season
Last season presented a tale of two halves for the 30-year-old Bell. In the first half, he was an All-Star while playing with the Washington Nationals. He hit .301/.384/.493 with 14 home runs, 57 runs batted in, and 52 runs scored and 375 at bats.
His production in the first half made him a valuable asset for the Nationals, and they cashed that asset in as part of a trade that included Juan Soto to the San Diego Padres.
Unfortunately for Bell, he couldn’t find the same success on the west coast. In 53 games (177 at bats) with the Padres, he hit just .192/.316/.271 with three home runs, 14 runs batted in, and 26 runs scored.
Which Bell Will Cleveland Get?
With Bell’s performance being so divided based on the team, it begs the question, which Bell will Cleveland get? The answer probably falls somewhere in the middle.
In seven seasons, Bell has a career line of .262/.351/.459. His highest home run output was in 2019, when he hit 37 home runs and 116 runs batted in for the Pirates. Since becoming a full-time starter, and excluding the pandemic-shortened season of 2020, Bell has never hit less than double digit home runs in a season, and he has hit 26 or more in three of those years.
It is also worth noting that Bell is a switch hitter, which allows manager Terry Francona to have more flexibility in his lineups. In terms of his splits, he hit .262/.364/.404 with 10 home runs last year as a lefty and .276/.357/.459 with seven home runs as a righty.
Cleveland’s Offense Got A Lot Better With This Signing
At the end of the day, Cleveland is a better team for having signed Bell. Most notably, he adds some thump that had been missing.
Again, last year, the Guardians ranked 29th in the majors in home runs, hitting just 127 on the season. When you take into account that Jose Ramirez hit 29 of those, it doesn’t say much for the power department of the rest of the lineup.
Not only does Bell add power, but he should add protection as well. With Bell, Ramirez, Andres Gimenez, Josh Naylor, Oscar Gonzalez, and Steven Kwan in the lineup, the Guardians’ offense all of the sudden becomes pretty deep. Also, with the home run threat of Bell in the middle of the lineup, some of these players, including Ramirez, should get better pitches to hit.
Bell’s signing also helps the defense as it means that Josh Naylor will shift to being more of a designated hitter. Bell will never be a Gold Glove candidate, but he is certainly better than Naylor.
All in all, Cleveland got a great signing at a great price, especially when you take into account the insane money that has been thrown around since the Bell signing. While Cleveland might not catapult into one of the game’s top offenses, they should certainly find more consistency in the offense to go along with their dynamic pitching staff.
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