CLEVELAND -- The Guardians put a strong emphasis on doing all the little things right in 2022, and playing tremendous defense was at the top of that list. If the eye test wasn’t enough to prove that the team did just that, the group now has some hardware to back it up.
The Guardians had five finalists for AL Gold Glove Awards and four of them came out victorious, as announced on ESPN2 on Tuesday evening. Andrés Giménez took the honors at second base, Steven Kwan was awarded in left field, Myles Straw was the winner in center and Shane Bieber bested all other starting pitchers. This marked the most Gold Glove winners in a single season for Cleveland in franchise history.
“It wasn’t always perfect, but when we were able to put that group out there, it was a pretty good defensive team and it made a difference,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said at the end of the season.
Along with Bieber’s sparkling numbers he posted this year on the rubber, including a 2.88 ERA with 198 strikeouts in 200 innings, the former AL Cy Young will now boast a Gold Glove. He became the first Cleveland pitcher to win the award after owning a .969 fielding percentage. Bieber finished second in the league in putouts (32) and fourth with three Defensive Runs Saved.
So much of the Guardians’ success this season revolved around Giménez. Aside from his offensive struggles in the postseason, he was a rock for his team in all facets. His .356 average and 1.097 OPS in 129 plate appearances in high-leverage situations played a huge role in why the Guardians were consistently able to fight their way back into any game. And his defense was a big part of keeping them in each and every game.
Giménez is the third Cleveland player to win a Gold Glove at second base, joining César Hernández (2020) and Roberto Alomar (1999-2001). According to Statcast, Giménez ranked in the 98th percentile in Outs Above Average, and FanGraphs ranked him eighth in the Majors among all position players with 16 Defensive Runs Saved (most for AL second basemen).
Pair Giménez with what rookie Kwan brought to the table and the Guardians were suddenly a more dangerous team than expected. Kwan not only became the ideal leadoff hitter for an offense that needed to have a patient approach in the box, but he also was better than advertised in the outfield.
Kwan was a natural center fielder and it took some adjustments for him to settle in over in left. But it certainly wasn’t obvious if he had any struggles. Kwan had a handful of game-saving, highlight-worthy catches throughout the season and was never afraid to sacrifice his body to make a play, considering he belly flopped into the stands in foul territory in Seattle to make a catch in August.
Kwan’s efforts were rewarded with a Gold Glove. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Kwan became Cleveland’s second rookie to win the award, following Sandy Alomar Jr., who took the honors in his Rookie of the Year season in 1990. Kwan is also the fifth rookie outfielder (not just with Cleveland) to win the honors, joining Tommie Agee (1966), Fred Lynn (1975), Ichiro Suzuki (2001) and Luis Robert (2020), per Elias.
The outfield was once a liability for Cleveland. The team had most recently boasted a Gold Glove recipient in the grass back in 2008, with Grady Sizemore. Now, the organization has multiple Gold Glove outfielders in the same season for the first time in its history.
There was a reason the Guardians never gave up on Straw even when he was at his worst offensively. He floated around the Mendoza Line all season, but his defense was so elite, the Guardians didn’t want to risk not having him in center field. His 16 Defensive Runs Saved were tied for sixth among all position players and, like Giménez, he ranked in the 98th percentile in Outs Above Average to earn him his first Gold Glove.
“I think with a reset, Straw can be better than he was offensively,” Francona said. “Defensively, that was some kind of year. He never once took his offense to the outfield. I mean ever. There’s a lot to like about what we have going.”