Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Cristian Guzman is hitting .313 but he's also killing the Nats in the field.
The question on everyone's mind, of course, is this: What was Guzman doing in right field in the ninth inning of a one-run game in the first place? Jim Riggleman, who made a few double switches over the final few innings, cited the fact Guzman has actually played more innings in right field this season than Michael Morse. Well, technically speaking, yes. But Morse was supposed to be one of the primary right fielders when the season began, before he landed on the DL and turned into nothing more than an occasional pinch-hitter.
Guzman, you'll remember, was actually supposed to be a bench player when this season began. That was the plan when Riggleman named Ian Desmond his starting shortstop. Guzman would get some occasional at-bats filling in both at shortstop and second base, but he wouldn't be out there every day.
Turns out Guzman is one of the Nats' regulars once again. He's started 40 of 55 games overall, and 16 of the club's last 19. Riggleman's rationale for this is simple: He believes Guzman is one of his team's best offensive players.
That perhaps has been true at times, though Guzman's offensive value has diminished some in the last two weeks. When the Nationals left town way back on May 25, he was batting .345 with a .373 on-base percentage and an .810 OPS. Good numbers.
But over the course of that road trip, Guzman was only 7-for-37 at the plate, with one RBI and zero walks. His average is now down to .313, his on-base percentage to .337 and his OPS to .728.
Now, that's still better than the revolving door of right fielders the Nationals have been using. And it's better than Adam Kennedy has posted as the other second baseman. Kennedy's hitting just .239 with a .318 on-base percentage and a .654 OPS.
But Guzman's also killing the Nats in the field. Though he had committed only two errors prior to yesterday's three-error fiasco, he wasn't getting to nearly as many balls as Kennedy at second base, Desmond at shortstop or all the other guys in right field. Guzman's Ultimate Zone Rating at second base is -0.8 (Kennedy's is 1.1). Guzman's UZR at shortstop is 0.5 (Desmond's is 3.8). His sample size in right field is too small to make a reasonable comparison.
We've seen what a difference defense can make, especially for a team that plays almost exclusively close, tight ballgames. Three of their seven losses on this road trip came via unearned runs in the bottom of the ninth or later.
So what's the answer? Guzman needs to take a seat a bit more often. While he's a better offensive player than Kennedy and probably should get the majority of starts at second base, he shouldn't be out there every single day. And he should be replaced for defense late, no matter what position he plays.