The Cleveland Guardians entered the 2023 MLB season as one of the favorites in the American League Central. The team was expected to lean on a strong starting rotation that included Cy Young candidates Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie before turning over narrow leads for closer Emmanuel Clase to protect. Offensively, the team looked to rely on All-Stars Jose Ramirez and Andres Gimenez to scratch through enough runs to carry this pitching-heavy club.

The team started slowly and was below .500 for much of the first half of the season before a surge before the All-Star break took the Guardians into the black for the first time and into first place in the division. That was as good as it would get for Cleveland. The team went 31-41 after the All-Star break, as a weak offense could not make up for injuries in the starting rotation and late-game struggles from the bullpen.

Cleveland finished at 76-86 — its worst regular season record since 2012. Here are the five players most to blame for this disappointing season:

Cal Quantrill

cal Quantrill re-signed with Cleveland in the off-season, avoiding arbitration with a one-year, $5.5 million contract. The veteran right-hander was coming off a career year, posting a 15-5 record and a 3.38 ERA across 32 starts. Instead, Quantrill had a miserable 2023 season, finishing with a 5.24 ERA while only making two starts between June and August due to injury. His advanced stats are even less favorable. Quantrill had an expected ERA of 5.81 — placing him in the sixth percentile among qualified MLB pitchers.

Even more disappointing is the fact that Cal Quantrill was the third-highest-paid player on the Guardians' roster this season as part of a starting rotation that was supposed to be the team's strength. Yet Quantrill struggled, while Triston McKenzie, Shane Bieber, and Aaron Civale all missed considerable time through injury.

Emmanuel Clase

After leading Major League Baseball last year with 42 saves, Emmanuel Clase once again topped the league in that category in 2023. The issue though was blown saved. Clase — who converted 91.3% of save opportunities in 2022 — closed out just 78.6% of save chances this year. For a Cleveland team involved in so many close games (58 one-run contests, most in the AL) and that finished 11 games back in the American League Central, those MLB-high 12 blown saves cost the club dearly.

When you league the lead with 31 defeats in one-run games, it is very difficult to be a contender. Those struggles for Cleveland this year started from the bullpen.

Trevor Stephan

While Emmanuel Clase had his issues closing out games, he was far better than the rest of the bullpen. Outside of the Dominican flame-thrower, Cleveland relievers were 3/25 in converting save opportunities. Trevor Stephan converted two of those three, but he also finished with eight blown saves in 10 chances. Stephan finished second on the team in relief appearances behind Clase but was simply not good enough for Cleveland this year

Will Brennan and Myle Straw

While expectations for the Cleveland batting order were low entering the 2023 season The Guardians finish 27th in MLB in runs per game and dead last in home runs. It is tough to single out one player here, but few Guardians provided less at the place this season than the outfield duo of Will Brennan and Myles Straw. Neither hit for power (five homers in 455 plate appearances for Brennan, one HR in 518 PA for Straw) but they also did not get on base often (one-base percentage of just .299 for Brennan, OBP of .301 for Straw).

Straw was the better defender (and a Gold Glove candidate at that), but he also had a batting run value of -30 runs — worse than 99% of all Major League batters. When you get that kind of production from the outfield, winning games is very difficult.