Why Bell fits the Guardians' offense so well
This story was excerpted from Mandy Bell's Guardians Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
The Guardians were confident that they had the power bat they needed to keep a home run threat in the middle of the lineup when they left Spring Training earlier this year. Franmil Reyes was ready to go from a hot-and-cold contributor to a dependable cleanup guy.
Instead, his performance was so underwhelming that he was optioned to Triple-A Columbus and designated for assignment at the beginning of August.
It was then that the Guardians knew they needed to find a bat to replace what their hopes were for Reyes. The team had no problem looking at players who could serve solely as a designated hitter, assuming they’d be able to make more contact than Reyes did in the first half of the season. But Cleveland enjoys the flexibility of having different players (especially José Ramírez) rotate through the DH spot to get a semi-day off every once in a while. So, a slugger who can play somewhere in the field is the ideal scenario.
Enter Josh Bell.
The Guardians have not confirmed the reported two-year deal with free agent Bell that broke during the Winter Meetings earlier this week, but the 30-year-old 1B/DH already took to Twitter, expressing his excitement to be in “The Land.” Assuming all the fine details are agreed upon, Bell will try to fill a gaping hole in Cleveland’s lineup in 2023.
For a lineup that is notably young but carries a tremendous amount of promise, Bell will be a great fit, bringing more of a veteran presence to the clubhouse. I asked a handful of people -- most of whom were involved with the Padres’ organization in some capacity -- and none could find a bad word to say about Bell. The two-time Roberto Clemente Award nominee should be a perfect fit in this close-knit group.
Most important, his bat can bring this exciting (and scrappy) lineup to another level. Let’s look at three stats that prove just that:
1. Guardians had the worst DH production in 2022
There’s really no place to go but up. With Josh Naylor still expected to get some reps at first base, there’s no doubt Bell will see time as the team’s DH -- a spot that produced a mere 64 wRC+, which ranked worst in the Majors. Cleveland had the second-worst DH OPS and slugging percentage and hit the fewest home runs (eight) by a landslide of all 30 clubs. For a position that’s sole purpose is to provide offense, the Guardians hardly received any. The bar isn’t high, but Bell should easily be more productive out of this spot for Cleveland in 2023.
2. 37 homers in 2019
Yes, 2019 was a long time ago (which seems weird to say). But this still shows a type of power that Cleveland has rarely seen in recent memory is possible. In ’21, Bell launched 27 long balls, which the ‘22 Guardians lineup would’ve gladly welcomed. Bell’s numbers weren’t as exciting in ‘22, mostly because he wasn’t as successful in the second half of the season following his trade from Washington to San Diego, but the reputation he has made for himself is enough to believe that he can be the missing power piece to pair with Ramírez that this team has been searching for.
3. 83rd percentile in K%
We can’t talk about this team without mentioning the small-ball stats, right? If you’re going to fit in with a group of scrappy young guys like this Cleveland roster, there’s no better way than proving you make a lot of contact. Bell’s walk percentage in ’22 was ranked in the top 7% of the league, while his 15.8 strikeout rate placed him in the 83rd percentile. That K% marked the lowest in his career, aside from his 12.5% in 2016 when he played in just 45 games. If Bell doesn’t strike out too frequently, walks a ton and can hit 20-25 homers, this Guardians offense has already made a giant leap.