Thursday, May 20, 2010

Surprise contributor

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Cristian Guzman isn't producing like a typical bench player.
When Jim Riggleman made the difficult (but correct) decision in late-March to name Ian Desmond his starting shortstop, the odd man out figured to be Cristian Guzman. With Desmond at shortstop and Adam Kennedy at second base, Guzman's at-bats would be few and far between. He'd become a $8 million pinch-hitter and spot starter.

Except, that's not at all how this has played out. As the Nationals enter the second quarter of the season, they are more and more counting on Guzman as one of their top offensive contributors.

Really, you ask? Yes. Just look at the numbers. The man who currently leads the Nats in hits is not named Zimmerman, Dunn, Rodriguez or Morgan. His name is Guzman, and he has 42 hits (four more than anyone else on the roster).

Guzman also ranks third on the Nationals in runs (19), doubles (seven) and, get this, at-bats (128). Only Nyjer Morgan (150) and Adam Dunn (133) have more. At this rate, Guzie will wind up with 512 at-bats this season, only 19 fewer than he had in 2009 when he was the everyday shortstop.

It wasn't supposed to happen this way. Riggleman planned to get Guzman as many plate appearances as possible, but Desmond and Kennedy would get the lion's share. And it's not as if those two are playing poorly. Not at all.

But a funny thing happened somewhere along the way: Guzman started hitting at a level we hadn't seen in a couple of years. And he's hitting left-handers at a rate we've never seen. He's currently batting .422 (19-for-45) against lefties, with five extra-base hits and a stout 1.005 OPS. That means when he bats right-handed, Guzman is the equivalent of Manny Ramirez.

Now, Guzman's .663 OPS against right-handers makes him the equivalent of Augie Ojeda, so let's not jump on the bandwagon and anoint him an everyday player again quite yet. But his gaudy numbers against lefties suggest he deserves the playing time he's getting and deserves to keep getting more.

If Riggleman plays his cards right, he'll find a way to get Guzman in the lineup every time the Nats face a lefty. And on nights they don't, he'll find a way to get Guzman a key pinch-hitting appearance against a lefty reliever.

Whether that ultimately leads to 512 at-bats for the season, we'll see. But if nothing else, Guzman has proven he deserves to get more chances than the typical bench player.

Speaking of at-bats, I recorded a video segment yesterday afternoon for about the Nats' recent offensive woes, and the role Dunn's return would play in getting the club back on track at the plate. Thanks to the technical whizzes over there, I am able to offer you a chance to watch the segment right here...


Anonymous said...

That means when he bats left-handed, Guzman is the equivalent of Manny Ramirez.

I think you mean to say right handed?

Mark Zuckerman said...

D'oh! Anon, you are correct. Thanks for the catch.

N. Cognito said...

The crash and burn is coming. I'd be shocked if he finished the season with an OBP over .310.

Doc said...

Good article! MarkMeister, I think that you are setting the pace for internet sports reporting. You seem to have a real grip on how the internet formats as multi-media information.

As the Nats become more prominent to the national baseball audience (SS might have something to do with that!)your commentary will soon compete with Buster, Peter, and Tim.

Anonymous said...

As always, unfortunately, Guzman has no plate patience (which means hot streaks and cold streaks are both magnified) and poor defense that tends to cost the Nationals runs. Besides that, he's playing motivated right now, because he knows he's playing for a contract next year; we've already fallen for that trap once before, which is why we currently owe him $8 million on the year. Let's try not to make the same mistake twice.

Alan said...

Of course the lack of walks increases his AB totals relative to plate appearances compared someone who walks more often, so the AB stat is a little misleading. But your point is certainly correct.

natsfan1a said...

You go, Guzie! :-)

Anonymous said...

Looking at these two sets of stats:

37 AB, 5 Runs, 3 DBLs, 3 BB, 2 K's, .350 OBP, .297 BAvg, .701 OPS
A true part-time bench player and a far better fielder
vs. a guy who, from the beginning, refused to take out of the lineup?
who has the third most at bats? All those chances and repetitions?
128 AB, 16 Runs, 7 DBLS, 3 Triples, 5 BB, 20 K's, .351 OBP, .328 Bavg, .780 OPS

Looks more like a case, again, of younger players who will be here next year and perhaps after, not getting a chance, not getting repetitions that some younger players should? Sure, like JMax or Dukes that may not always work but in the case of Desmond and Bernadina? Does Guzman really look like a bonafide #1, or #2 hitter?

Steve M. said...

With Kennedy, Pudge and Tony Flush all struggling, it is good to see Guzy, "The Flying Dutchman II", and IDes picking it up.

Agree also about Adam Dunn in the lineup makes a difference on how the pitchers approach Zim.

Michael J. Hayde said...

Guzzie and Livo won that game for us last night. I was there. And when Guz got that triple, I stood up and yelled, "All you Guzman-haters, JUST SHUT UP!" It goes for here, too.

Anonymous said...

And what were you saying when Guzzie hit into the triple play? Riiiiiighht dude! Or when Dunn hits yet another home run with no men on? Ask yourself would Nick Johnson be on base if he were batting second?

Grandstander said...

Nick Johnson would be injured, actually...

Souldrummer said...

@Anonymous 12:54
Are you publishing the Gonzalez stats in comparison to Guzman's? Gonzalez got an extended look last year and wasn't but so great. He's not a good enough defender at short historically to justify taking at bats away from Desmond and he's not a good enough hitter that he's justified in taking away at bats from the Guzman/Kennedy platoon. I'm pleased he's contributing as a bench player but I'm still not going to say his decent offense is much more than small sample size. Glad he's been better than Bruntlett or Orr was going to be but AGonz isn't a regular major leaguer in my book.

@The Guzman lobby
I've been anti-Guzman for the past year and a half. He's a streaky mostly singles hitter who I could live with in the bottom of the order but he frustrates beyond belief in the top of the order with his inability to work counts. Even when he hits he's capable of brain locks like the key moment of Monday's game where his run on the double play ball would have radically changed the shape and possibly the outcome of the game. That's a play I expect a rookie like Desmond to make, not an experienced veteranlike Guzman. We're giving him credit on all the hits he got during that game in quoting his recent offense, but that brain lock, like Nyjer Morgan's caught stealings, undoes most of those hits for me. I like a team that has solid fundamental play more than guys that undo their hitting with bad defense or bad decisions. If all these singles aren't translating into runs, it doesn't mean a hill of beans. Likewise, Guzman goes through these streaks when the grounders and low line drives go at people and other streaks where they miss people. Right now they're missing people. He's got a .385 Batting Average on Balls In Play, which is significantly higher than the .330 he's shown over the past two years (I'm throwing out his early godawful seasons as a Nat when his eyes were bad) and suggests that there's some luck in his higher than career OPS.

To me, what Mark has argued for is that Christian Guzman is worth platooning with Adam Kennedy and being one of the first guys off the bench when we start Kennedy and they come in with a lefty to start turning our bats around. But if he's got 45 at bats against lefties, that means he has 83 at bats against righties and I wouldn't be surprised if some of those at bats against righties are days when he wants to play both Kennedy and Guzman and give Desmond "a necessary day off". Guzman at shortstop over a whole season last year cost us 4.7 runs projected over 150 games. Ian Desmond at shortstop is on pace to earn us 14.4 runs over a season. That difference is almost 19.1 runs or almost two games a season over 150 games (admittedly Desmond's defense is over a small sample size but we've go to admit it certainly passes the eye test).

Christian Guzman has shown that he has some value and handled himself like a professional. I'm scared though that some of his hot streaks like this will fool us into trying to make him more than he his best role is, which as Mark's post suggests, may be a platoon player at 2B with a pinch hitting role ahead of guys like Morse and Willie Harris who have disappointed us in some late game situations. If we're playing him everyday, I hope that it means we're trying to inflate his value and show willingness to eat some salary to try to address more glaring weaknesses, such as the lack of a platoon partner for Bernadina in LF.

Some helpful info here in this post, but not enough to convince a Guzman skeptic until I see his numbers at the all-star break. And even were he to continue this production, I'd hope they'd move him and continue the faith they've shown in Desmond and hope that A Gonz. would be acceptable with some more at bats at 2B.

N. Cognito said...

Michael J. Hayde said...
"Guzzie and Livo won that game for us last night. I was there. And when Guz got that triple, I stood up and yelled, "All you Guzman-haters, JUST SHUT UP!" It goes for here, too."

Guzman has a career OBP of .308. Who should JUST SHUT UP?

Souldrummer said...

@N. Cognito and @Hayde
Like I tried to say in my post and I think Mark is helping us realize in his article, I think that Guz has a role on this team where he can succeed if we let him fill it and don't get too emotionally swayed by his hot streaks. As interesting to me about that inning was how the small ball stuff that we've been trying was not employed, and that helped us to get a run. Didn't Desmond fail to get down a bunt and hit the ball to the right side instead? Didn't Kennedy miss on that foolish squeeze and still give us a professional at bat where he managed a sac fly? And didn't we not try to steal with Nyjer Morgan and risk a caught stealing and manage to get two more runs by trusting our hitters to be able to string together some hits against the weaker parts of the Mets bullpen? My issue is that we often don't take enough pitches to get to the weaker parts of team's bullpens and the difference between Nick Johnson and Guzman in the 2 spot is part of that difference. Don't miss Glass Nick at all, but that kind of OBP machine mean in the 2 spot, might be a more affordable option for RF than throwing a truck of money at Jason Werth in the offseason.

Anonymous said...

And Mark there is one significant difference between Manny Ramirez and Cristan Guzman even when batting right-handed against lefties:

Ramirez has 17 WALKS against 10 strikeouts.
Guzman has 5 WALKS against 20 strikeouts.

nattaboy said...

Guzman: .328/.351/.430
Desmond: .272/.324/.432
Kennedy: .255/.328/.377
(2010 season, from

And still all the hate on my man Guzy. There really is a lot of anger at the guy, and I can't understand it for the life of me.


Anonymous said...

So Anon you think Manny is better that Guzman because he has more walks and fewer strikeouts? Wow, how observant.

Good thing Mark did not compare Guzman to Ruth because Ruth is much better than Guzy, even though Ruth is DEAD!

markfd said...

I think Guzzie should be the one getting the most playing time at 2B with Gonzo and Kennedy filling in the infield positions occassionally off the bench!

Souldrummer said...

Ignore Guz's defense at your peril. That's all I have to say.

Post a Comment