1:25 AM UTC
The Guardians knew there was more in the tank for Andr?s Gim?nez.
There was a reason Cleveland demanded that Gim?nez be the centerpiece in the deal that sent All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor and starter Carlos Carrasco to the Mets in January 2021. But Gim?nez’s start to his career in Northeast Ohio was tremendously underwhelming.
Fans were ready for a top-notch replacement for Lindor. Instead, Gim?nez stumbled his way through the first few weeks of the 2021 season and was optioned to Triple-A for most of the summer. But for anyone who was ready to determine that Cleveland “lost” the trade with the Mets, Gim?nez quickly proved to everyone he was everything and more the Guardians were asking for in 2022.
“We all knew he was good, I just didn’t realize that he was this good at everything,” Guardians starter Cal Quantrill said earlier this year. “It’s been a blast to watch. Couldn’t feel more confident in my second baseman.”
Here’s a look at three of the keys to Gim?nez’s breakout success. (Note: all stats entering Sunday)
Transformation against non-fastballs
A classic trope with young players goes like this: They come up, experience success … and then are confronted with big league non-fastballs, and have to adjust. Gim?nez had success in 2020 with the Mets against fastballs, hitting .292, and did have small-sample good tidings against offspeed pitches, with eight hits in 17 at-bats ending on those.
But overall in 2020-21, his first two years in the Majors, he hit just .206 and slugged .290 in at-bats ending on breaking and offspeed pitches. In that same span, he was at .253 and .420 in at-bats ending on fastballs, respectively, still not ideal, but certainly better than how he did against non-heaters.
This is where the aforementioned transformation comes in. This year, Gim?nez is hitting .340 in at-bats ending on breaking and offspeed pitches. There are 98 batters with at least 200 plate appearances ending on those pitch types this year. None of the other 97 has a higher batting average on them than Gim?nez.
He has a .534 slugging percentage on those pitches, which ranks sixth behind Manny Machado, Austin Riley, Nathaniel Lowe, Paul Goldschmidt and Aaron Judge. Talk about powerful company.
If we zero in on changeups, Gim?nez has been, quite simply, the most valuable player against them in baseball. His plus-11 run value against changeups leads all hitters. Run value measures the run impact of an event based on the runners on base, outs, ball and strike count. That means it doesn’t just consider his outcomes on changeups, but also decisions to swing at or take them that do not end a plate appearance.
Anytime you’re the most valuable player in baseball at something, it has to be good.
Making better contact
It isn’t just about those pitches, though. Overall, Gim?nez’s contact has been better. He has a 37.9% hard-hit rate, which certainly won’t set any records, but is a big step up from his 26.4% in 2020 and 30.4% in ’21.
The reason we care about that is that hard contact leads to better results. League-wide in 2022, players are hitting .487 and slugging .950 when they hit the ball with at least a 95 mph exit velocity. For Gim?nez, it’s even more pronounced: a .543 batting average and 1.086 slugging percentage on hard contact. He’s making that kind of contact more often, and it’s paying dividends.
He has a better approach angle to the ball, too. His sweet spot rate – which is percentage of batted balls in the 8-32 degree launch angle sweet spot zone – is 32.5%, which would be a career high. It was just 23.2% in ’21.
Just like with hard contact, we care because it correlates to good results. League-wide batters are hitting .584 and slugging 1.047 on sweet-spot contact in 2022. Hit the ball in the air – not on the ground, and not too high that it’s sky-high – and good things happen. Gim?nez is hitting .612 and slugging 1.173 on sweet-spot contact this year.
Stellar speed and defense, again
Of course, even as Gim?nez was figuring it out at the plate, his abilities on the basepaths and in the field were clear. He’s been in the 93rd percentile or better in Sprint Speed in each year of his career, and 96th percentile or better in Outs Above Average in both 2020 and ’22.
And this year, he’s doing that primarily at second base – a position he’d played in just 26 professional games prior to his 2020 MLB debut. He made four starts there in ’20 and 23 in ’21 at the MLB level. This year, he’s started 95 games at second. Only two players have more OAA at second base this season than Gim?nez’s nine.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen some really good middle infielders,” Guardians starter Zach Plesac said. “Gold Gloves at his position and he’s played every bit as good as that.”
For now, Gim?nez will remain at second base for the Guardians, but a move to shortstop in the next year or two wouldn’t be too surprising, depending what Amed Rosario’s future with the club looks like. Regardless of whether he’s at second or short, Gim?nez has proven that he’s the answer the Guardians were looking for.
“I think last year everything was new to him,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “New team. A little bit of a new position. I think he felt like he had to get hits to stay in the lineup. That’s a hard way to play. … Now he’s a year more familiar with us, with his game, with everything and he’s showing he’s a pretty good player. Not just a hitter. He runs the bases the way he’s supposed to. He plays the [heck] out of second base. I mean, just a really good player. He’s getting better.”