HomeTeamsGuardiansGuardians Star Josh Naylor Has Entered The Elite With A Unique Profile

Guardians Star Josh Naylor Has Entered The Elite With A Unique Profile

The Cleveland Guardians opened Tuesday at 17-6, the best record in MLB. It has been a collective effort: the rotation is deep and effective, the bullpen has lots of weapons to navigate the high-leverage late innings, and the offense has been better than anticipated. Their new manager, Stephen Vogt, has been an incredibly positive influence. Yet the Guards wouldn’t be where they are if it wasn’t for Josh Naylor.

An intense competitor with a fierce personality and unmatched competitive fire, Naylor took a while to develop. He had his first decent full season at age 25, in 2022, with 20 home runs and a .771 OPS for Cleveland.

He took it up a notch last year, slashing .308/.354/.489 with 17 dingers, 97 RBI and a .842 OPS in 495 plate appearances. Little by little, and with the backing of a solid organization, Naylor started scratching his potential.

Well, Naylor has taken yet another step forward in 2024 and appears to have entered the upper echelon of first basemen in MLB. He entered Tuesday hitting a cool .325/.393/.623 with six homers, 20 RBI, five doubles and a 1.017 OPS.

Before Tuesday’s games, Naylor was tied for sixth in MLB in RBI, tied for fifth in home runs, fifth in slugging percentage, and fifth in OPS. There is a strong argument to be made that he has carried the Guards in 2024, at least to this point, which is considerable praise given that there is some guy named José Ramírez manning third base every day.

When it comes to Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Naylor entered Tuesday’s action in third place among all MLB first basemen with 0.8, only behind Michael Busch (0.9) and Vinnie Pasquantino (0.8).

In many senses, Naylor is unique. He is a slugging first baseman, but we know there are a lot of those in the league. However, his strikeout rate is a well above-average 11.2 percent: no player who has hit more than four homers this season (Naylor has six) has a lower strikeout rate.

Naylor not only makes contact very often, but he also makes the ideal kind of contact. He ranks in the 97th percentile in expected batting average (xBA) and in the 96th percentile in expected slugging (xSLG). It means that just a handful of hitters (three and four percent, respectively), have a higher expected batting average and slugging percentages judging by quality and quantity of contact.

Naylor barrels the ball with frequency (13 percent barrel rate, good enough to be in the 83rd percentile in baseball) and 44.9 percent of his batted balls are 95 mph or faster. He is just a natural hitter, one that hits the ball hard often.

He isn’t the smoothest defender, but the Guardians are happy to place him at the low-leverage first base as long as he keeps mashing like this. He is carrying the team on his back with his bat and has blossomed into a legitimate star.

The Guardians didn’t really make many moves over the offseason because they were confident some stars would emerge from their talented pool of young hitters. The Naylor brothers, Steven Kwan, Andrés Giménez, Tyler Freeman, Gabriel Arias, Brayan Rocchio, Will Brennan and Estevan Florial are all young and with upside, and we aren’t even mentioning the top prospect knocking on the door: Jhonathan Rodríguez, Juan Brito, Kyle Manzardo, George Valera, and Chase DeLauter, among others.

Naylor has gone from interesting talent to contributor to star in a span of three years. Sometimes patience goes a long way, and the Guardians have certainly exercised it with him. Now, it’s time to enjoy the results.

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