(Disclaimer: With the exception of the home run stat, all statistics below come from before play on Wednesday night, meaning Steven Kwan’s two for three night with a home run, two runs scored and two RBI are not included. Statistically, he’s actually been even slightly better than I am listing below. Anyway, onto the article).

You want to know how good Steven Kwan has been this year?

Let’s start with the basics.

Hitting .392, Kwan would be leading MLB in batting average if not for the fact he does not have enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title after missing most of May with a hamstring injury. Not to be outdone though, even if all seventeen plate appearances that Kwan is missing were to be outs, he would have a batting average of .326. What is the current qualified MLB batting average leader Bobby Witt Jr.’s average? .321.

That’s right. Kwan could make an out in every single one of the seventeen at bats that he is short of qualification and would still be leading MLB in batting average.

His success isn’t just tied to base hits though. Kwan is also one of three players with more walks than strikeouts so far this season. Only Mookie Betts has a better differential between walks and strikeouts than Kwan but Kwan is the only one of the three to strike out in less than 10% of his at-bats.

So, high batting average, lots of balls in play and more walks than strikeouts. Those sound like perfect characteristics for a lead-off man, right? Well, there are 35 batters this year that have had 100 or more plate appearances as a lead-off man. Kwan leads them by a landslide in batting average (with the next closest hitter being 76 points away). He leads them all in On Base Percentage (the definition of a lead-off man’s job) and wRC+ (an all-encompassing offensive stat) as well. Quantifiably, there hasn’t been a better lead-off man in the sport this season.

And don’t forget the Guardians’ change in offensive philosophy this year. With more of an emphasis on doing damage, Kwan has never hit more than six home runs in a season. As I type this in mid-June, he already has five home runs in just 45 games, having added some pop without sacrificing his aversion to strikeouts. He is currently on pace to hit about 12 dingers, which is not a massive number at face value but is double his career high. Again, this increase has come without allowing his bat-to-ball skills to suffer.

All of the above goes without mentioning Kwan’s glove work. The two-time Gold Glove Award winner is fourth in Outs Above Average among left-fielders this season despite missing about 25 games. He’s become a maestro at patrolling left at Progressive Field, navigating the 19-foot wall behind him and using a quick release to keep advancing runners at bay.

But maybe the best way to explain how good Steven Kwan has been this year is by using an advanced stat that is all-inclusive. Many of you may be familiar, but to really get an idea of Kwan’s quality this season, I think it is best to do a little explaining.

For those uninitiated to the world of advanced baseball statistics, the website Fangraphs keeps track of this stat called Wins Above Replacement, or WAR. Many of you have probably heard of it, if you haven’t then know that WAR cobbles together as many measurable aspects of the sport as it can about a player. It takes their outcomes at the plate, in the field and on the bases; it also takes into account what position they play in the field and then compares the player in question to a generic, low-level replacement player to create context. The final measurement is a single number that tells how many wins the player is worth compared to that same generic replacement player. Over the course of a season, a player worth seven WAR is a great candidate for MVP. Fives and sixes are All-Stars. A solid, everyday player is usually about 2-4 WAR.

Steven Kwan is currently in ninth place among all positions players in Fangraphs’ WAR with 2.9 in total. That’s more than highly-regarded names like Bryce Harper, Freddie Freeman, the $300-million man himself Francisco Lindor and even teammate Jose Ramirez. And you’re probably thinking “Hey, that’s really impressive. Kwan is having a really good start to the season. He deserves to be an All-Star.”

But I am telling you, that is underselling it. Yes, Kwan is ninth among position players in WAR, but WAR is a counting stat. The more games you play, the more chances you have to earn it. It isn’t a percentage stat that is measured by rate, and therefore doesn’t have this compiling advantage.

But if you wanted to turn WAR into a rate stat, you could. For instance, Kwan’s 2.9 WAR divided by 44 games played would give him a rate of 0.066 WAR per Game. Remember, Kwan missed nearly a month with a hamstring injury, so he’s had that working against him when just counting up his total WAR.

Taking this into consideration and then looking at the top 30 position players in Fangraphs WAR, here’s what the top five in WAR per Game looks like:

  1. Yankees OF Aaron Judge 0.0676 WPG
  2. Orioles SS Gunnar Henderson 0.0662 WPG
  3. Guardians LF Steven Kwan 0.659 WPG
  4. Yankees OF Juan Soto 0.0653 WPG
  5. Royals SS Bobby Witt Jr. 0.0608 WPG

That’s right. On a game-to-game basis, Steven Kwan has been the third best position player in all of baseball.

You’d think maybe the hamstring injury would have hampered him or slowed him down, but he’s hitting a scorching .500 since his return. By no means will he continue to hit to that level long-term, but I’m not sure there’s a better candidate since Tony Gwynn (or maybe even longer) to hit .400 in a season. He could legitimately flirt with this.

Whether or not he is an All-Star shouldn’t even be a debate (though he’s currently fourth in American League outfield voting). At this point, Kwan should be considered for down-ballot MVP votes and an argument for him to win the award could be made had he not missed time. Remember that I said seven WAR is a good threshold for an MVP candidate? Kwan would on pace for 9.9 WAR over the course of 150 games played. Given a clean bill of health, this looks like an MVP-caliber season.

And THAT is how good Steven Kwan has been this year.

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