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Rangers Lose Hot Hit Steven Kwan

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Steven Kwan was instrumental in helping the Rangers climb to the top of the AL Central and compile the league's second-best record (23-12) and the division lead (2.5 games). Unfortunately, the 26-year-old striker will not be there to help them for a while due to a pulled muscle, although there is a silver lining, the injury opened the first door for one of their top prospects, 23-year-old Kyle Manzardo.

Kwan felt tightness in his left hamstring and exited after the third inning of Saturday's game against the Angels. During the inning, he ran into the foul zone to catch a basket on a Mickey Moniak fly ball, and afterward, he showed some discomfort:

An MRI revealed that Kwan suffered a hamstring injury, and on Monday, the Rangers placed him on the 10-day disabled list. This is Kwan's first trip to IL in the majors, but according to the left fielder, he's no stranger to hamstring injuries, having experienced them in college at Oregon State and as a kid. “I had a few here and there in both legs,” he said after Saturday's game. “It's something that affects a muscle. The hamstrings keep popping up. “

The injury, which is expected to sideline Kwan for four weeks, occurred while he was in satisfactory condition. He's hitting .353/.407/.496, good enough to lead the AL in batting average and ranks third in on-base percentage, fourth in WAR (1.9), seventh in wRC+ (164), and even 13 in slugging percentage. What is remarkable is that he does this in the way he always does: he rarely hits the ball hard, but he always hits it when it is in the hitting zone. In fact, Kwan's exit velocity of 84.4 mph is the lowest mark of his three-year career:

Steven Kwan Statcast Profile

The season BBE EV LA bin % HardHit% AVG xBA SLG xSLG WOB xOBA
2022 509 85.1 11.8 1.4% 20.8% .298 .268 .400 .341 .341 .312
2023 570 86.0 10.7 1.1% 18.8% .268 .282 .370 .358 .313 .317
2024 122 84.4 11.0 3.3% 18.0% .353 .322 .496 .426 .399 .355

Kwan's exit speed is only four percent, but don't worry, he can go down. His hard-hit rate, which is also a career low, ranks in the first percentile, but his barrel rate — which tripled from last year — is up in the 15th percentile instead of ranking in the first percentile, as it is. has had it for the past two seasons. He already has four shutouts, which puts him more than halfway into his career high seven. Likewise, his three homers put him among his career high six.

Kwan could not succeed without doing other things very well. He holds his own at the plate, chasing just 24% of pitches out of the zone according to Sports Info Solutions. If he likes a pitch in the spot enough to swing, he doesn't miss. His 96.9% strikeout contact rate is the second-highest in the majors, and unlike the highest-rated hitter (Jeff McNeil, 97.5%), he's been extraordinarily productive; McNeil hasn't, hitting .231/.311/.306 (87 wRC+). Kwan's 2.9% swing rate is the lowest among righties, and his 7.6% strikeout rate is second only to Luis Arraez (6.7%). He hit IL while riding a streak of 74 consecutive plate appearances without a hit, the last of which was hit by Boston's Cutter Crawford on April 15.

Where Kwan has been most effective in comparison to previous years is in the shadow zone, a region roughly the width of one ball inside and outside the strike zone:

Steven Kwan in Shadowland

2022 268 62 .256 .247 .318 .298 .284 .279
2023 318 71 .242 .253 .314 .303 .268 .271
2024 63 22 .379 .389 .517 .493 .417 .408

SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Kwan's wOBA on those balls this year is just less than a point below his wOBA on balls in the middle of the zone (.409, with a .381 AVG and .556 SLG), which is just ridiculous. Five of his 11 extra-base hits have come on those pitches, including a homer off Chris Sale on April 26, a triple off Justin Verlander on May 1, and two doubles at the expense of A's players who should have been testing it. Slapstick Techniques:

In Statcast's swing/take metric, Kwan is three runs above average in the bullpen, good for 13th in the majors and a 15-run improvement over last year.

No one will confuse Kwan's batted ball stats with Shohei Ohtani's, but he excels at the type of contact shown by his sweet rate, the percentage of batted balls hit with a launch angle between 8 and 32 degrees. Last year, hitters hit .593 and threw 1.092 on contact, making such balls more productive than 95-mph-and-higher fastballs (.506 AVG/1.008 SLG), though not as productive as barrels. (.742 AVG/2.493 SLG). So far this year, batters are hitting .572 and slugging 1.007 in contact with the sugar. Kwan hasn't been as good with his sweet spot contact (.528 AVG/.801 SLG), but his sweet spot rate of 40.2% is the highest of his career and puts him in the 86th percentile, up from 34.6% (61st percentile ) in 2022 and 37.7% (85th percentile) in '23.

Another thing to note about Kwan is his defense. In both 2022 and '23, he led all left fielders in both Defensive Runs Saved (21 runs above average in 2022, 16 last year) and Statcast's Fielding Run Value (8 in 2022 , 7 last year). Obviously, the sample size is small, but Kwan is tied for the major league lead with 4 FRV and tied for third with 4 DRS as well.

The Guardian will definitely miss him on both sides of the ball. Monday night's game against the Tigers provided a template for how manager Stephen Vogt might handle Kwan's absence. With righty Jack Flaherty on the mound, lefty Estevan Florial started in left field and led off, while Will Brennan started in right; both went 1 for 3, with Floral leading off the first half with a double and Brennan driving him in with a single. In the eighth inning, against lefty Joey Wentz, righty Ramón Laureano pinch-hit and then took over in right — the spot where he usually meets Brennan — and hit Brennan in left. Flowers (.206/.286/.429, 105 wRC+) and Brennan (.245/.287/.415, 96 wRC+) were both around league average, with low on-base percentages but very different approaches; the former hit 38% of the time, the latter just 14.9% of the time, but both provided much-needed pop in an outfield that produced 18 homers last year. Vogt indicated that the staff of Gabriel Arias and David Fry could also be involved. Both are good and have more experience in right field than left field; Fry, the better hitter of the two, is hitting a sizzling .327/.456/.462 (165 wRC+) in 68 PA.

Kwan's roster spot was taken by Manzardo, the 23-year-old first baseman left fielder who was drafted by the Rays in the second round in 2021 out of Washington State and dealt to Cleveland in the Aaron Civale trade on July 31. Manzardo – whose name lives on. it puts me in mind of a great Jerry Stiller moment Seinfeld — spent most of last season with the Rays' and Guardians' Triple-A affiliates, hitting an impressive .236/.337/.464 (97 wRC+) with 17 homers, a 13.3% walk rate, and a strikeout rate which is 19.3%. After ranking 28th on our midseason Top 100 with a 50 FV rating, he fell out of the Top 100 when concerns about his low power (45 green, 40 game) led to him being demoted to a 45 FV in list cycle. . However, his sense of connection in the sweet spot is strong enough to show him to be productive at the right level.

Manzardo played well enough during spring training that he should have broken camp with the team, but between him not being on the 40-man roster and Florial being out of options, he drew the short straw. Back in Columbus, he lit up the International League, hitting .303 / .375 / .642 with nine homers and a 149 wRC+ in 128 PA while doubling his slugging rate from last year's 9.6% to -19.8%; in 91 batting events, nothing. President of baseball operations Chris Antonetti praised his work in Columbus:

“He's been good against left-handed pitching, his approach to lefties has improved… He's worked hard defensively, both his footwork around the bag and his pitching and continues to be patient and handle the at-bats well.”

Manzardo was a hit against lefties last year, hitting .159/.267/.327 with three homers and an 8.6% slugging rate in 131 PA. He's hitting .286/.323/.607 with two homers and an 18.2% slugging average in 31 PA this year. He won't replace first baseman and resident slugger Josh Naylor, who is hitting .275/.360/.533 (151 wRC+) with a team-high eight homers. Instead he will DH and see early where Naylor DHs. With Florial getting the majority of plate appearances among a rotating cast that includes José Ramírez, the Rangers achieved a 118 wRC+ from their DHs, which helped them rank second in the league in scoring at 4.94 runs per game.

There is no getting around the fact that losing Kwan hurts. First and foremost, the Guardians have no one else uniquely qualified to set the table; after Naylor, their next highest OBP is Andrés Giménez's .336. Additionally, during his breakout season, Kwan was on pace to break Shoeless Joe Jackson's franchise record for hits (233 in 1911). At least his absence gives the Rangers a chance to see what they have in Manzardo, a prospect who earned his shot.

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