Friday, June 4, 2010

What to do with Guzman?

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Cristian Guzman is hitting .313 but he's also killing the Nats in the field.
It's not fair to blame the Nationals' crushing loss in Houston yesterday entirely on Cristian Guzman, because plenty of other things played a role in the outc... oh, who are we kidding, it was entirely Guzman's fault. Lost in the lights or not, if he catches that line drive with two outs in the ninth inning, the Nats win the game and come home feeling good about themselves. Instead, they limp home on a three-game losing streak, having lost seven of 10 on the road trip, now having to face a very good Reds club over the weekend.

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.


Unknown said...

Here is the question for Riggleman, if you are pulling Hammer & Dunn then what good is keeping Guz in the field if you have no intention of going to or winning in extra innings; thus - which is the bigger drop off, from Harris to Willingham in LF or from Harris to Guzman (or even Morse) in RF?

Hammer should have stayed at LF and Harris should have stayed in RF. I think Rizzo is paying Riggleman by the move...

Anonymous said...

Agreed. Last night was the first time I felt 100% confident in saying Riggleman cost the Nats a game with a terrible decision. It's hard to argue with the first switch, since Harris hit the game tying triple. It's also hard to argue with leaving Guzman in the game since he gave the Nats a lead. But moving Harris to left and Guzman to right makes no sense at all. Even if you could argue you wanted Desmond at short, fine. Put Desmond at short and keep Willingham in left.

TBC said...

Guzman should not be playing right field. Ever. Period.

Riggleman needs to get over his desires to experiment with guys, doing things that make absolutely no sense. Desmond in RF last September. Guzman in right field. If Rizzo does manage to swing a trade for Roy Oswalt, what are the chances that Riggleman would put him in right field? Non-zero, and that's the problem. Could be there's a reason Riggleman's only working on a one year deal.

Anonymous said...

This is definitely a Riggleman problem, NOT a Guz problem. Guz is one of the few consistent hitters that could play every day and he should, we play dunn everyday even though he is a complete liability, we play Morgan everyday and he is a defensive liability, we play Desmond everyday and he is a defensive liability..I am sick and tired of the Guz haters who have hated him since day one and continue to hate even when he is one of the offensive leaders of this team...enough...MARK please cast the blame where it should be the manager!!!! Don't hate the playa hate the game!!

Ken said...

Rizzo hired Riggleman, a manager with a lifetime .444 winning percentage at the time of his hiring. That's an average of 72 wins per season and not remotely close to good. To expect anything from Riggleman is putting hopes on the wrong person. Riggleman has and will continue to lose more games with his moves than he wins.

Double switches are good thing under certain conditions, but overuse, in effect, shortens your bench and gives the manager fewer options later in the game. By not having a strong bench, the one thing the Nats (and Riggleman) cant afford to do, is make ill thought out moves that shortened it. Riggleman keeps shooting himself (and as a result, the Nats) in the foot with his double switching.

Hopefully the next manager can do a better job of bench management, and hopefully, Rizzo can give him a better bench to work with. Maybe by then Rizzo will have found a good right fielder instead of the hole in the lineup the Nats have now.

N. Cognito said...

Anonymous said...
"I am sick and tired of the Guz haters who have hated him since day one and continue to hate even when he is one of the offensive leaders of this team...enough..."

I gotta respond to this nonsense.

Most logical thinking baseball people know Guzman doesn't have power, can't steal bases and is a liability in the field. What does that leave him that could make him "good?" On Base Percentage.

Guzman has had a very good month of May at the plate, but have you even looked at his career stats? He has a career OBP of a LOWLY, OUT-PRODUCING .308!! Wow! That's bad.

How many good OBP seasons has he had in 10+ years (missed all of 2006)? Two, plus
.337 in 2001, where a bad May and September kept him from having a real good year
.345 in 2008, where a bad July torched him
.380 in 2007, in an injury-shortened season (only 174 AB)

2-1/2 out of 10? That sucks.

bumsfan4 said...

I agree with the others. I cannot understand why Riggleman did the other switch. He had an outfield after the first switch of Willingham, Morgan and Harris. Why didn't he just have Clippard in Storen's spot and then pinch hit Desmond in the ninth, leaving Harris in right? Am I missing something here?

N. Cognito said...

Earl Weaver made a statement once something to the affect of a good manager knows how to use the 25th man on his roster.
I don't believe Riggs falls into that category.

Anonymous said...

This is just another example of what a mess the right field situation is. Further, that's at least two games Riggleman blew on this road trip by his dumb managing.

Avar said...

Overall, I really like Riggleman but there have been a couple of losses now where it's really hard to put the blame anywhere else than on his late game moves.

No excuse for ever having Guzie in RF late in a close game.

Speaking of Guzie, he is a good glove at 2nd but I feel strongly he is a badly flawed hitter. I know his BA is high but that is one of the least meaningful hitting stats. His OBP is horrible, he has just about zero power and doesn't steal bases. I'll take OBP over BA every time.

Anonymous said...

"I know his BA is high but that is one of the least meaningful hitting stats."

I may be being a bit contrarian with this but "Least meaningful?" While sabermetrics has shown the importance of OBP, the largest components of OBP are generally hits and at bats, to say BA is least meaningful is a bit dramatic and flawed. Not to say OBP is not important, but let's keep perspective.

Anonymous said...

Riggleman should have apologized to the team yesterday for costing them the game. He should have apologized to Guzman for making him look bad. Yesterday was on Riggleman!

Anonymous said...

Wow bunch of haters on here today, funny how some are so quick to hate but yet didn't hear much praises when we were #2 in the standings, just sayin. Lose some win some, let's look for todays win and leave yesterday where it is, in the past. There aren't enough fingers on two hands to start pointing to when it comes to why games are lost so let's just get over it.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be a lack of balance, reflection and perspective my a great many of the commenters here. Two weeks ago, Riggleman was a universally well-respected baseball guy who was pushing all the right buttons with the Nationals. Now he's a moron because of some double switches that didn't work out. A lot of things in baseball don't work out. Ask Armando Gallaraga and Jim Joyce. Hopefully, this is not a reflection on the attitudes of the majority of Nats fans, but is rather a creation of a non-stop world of internet chatter that encourages strong opinions and partisan debate, whether or not anything warrants them.

Anonymous said...

anon 1:37, a pretty bone-headed and stubborn move by the manager after his team fought back to score the tying and winning runs against the other teams closer. Its bad when you let them return the favor? Moving Guzman to right instead of removing him from the game and leaving Willingham and Harris would have made more sense particularly given the problems Capps recently has. That was a game that Riggleman lost.

A DC Wonk said...

I agree with the contrarians here.

First off, just because Riggs has had a losing record before doesn't mean he's a bad manager. If I recall, Joe Torre also had a lifetime losing record before the Yankees signed him. Just last year, Riggs took over a team that was on it's way to a record breaking losing season, and got the Nats to play approx .500 after that.

As for Guzy, he's consistenly hit over .300 since his eye operation. Yesterday showed exactly why BA is important -- there was a guy on third with two out -- a walk would not have gotten the go-ahead run in. When you have a team that's average in hitting, and below average in team ERA, you need .300+ players to play. And if he's only a slap-hitter with no speed -- how does he have more triples (except for Nyjer) than anyone on the team, and tied for fourth in doubles?

Yeah -- so maybe he's in a slump, but did anyone else on the Nats get a two out RISP hit yesterday?

It seems like folks just haven't forgiven Guz for his awful years with the Nats. But that's past.

(I'm not saying he's a great hitter -- but he's certainly better than average)

That said, I don't understand why Harris didn't move to RF yesterday. But that mistake doesn't make Riggs an idiot (Umpire Joyce is still a good ump, despite blowing a perfect game).

N. Cognito said...

How was the eye surgery last year?
.284 BA
.306 OBP

A Career .308 OBP doesn't mean Guzman never gets a hit with a runner in scoring position. .308 is still making an out 7 out of 10 times at the plate.
Of course BA is important. All other things being equal, I'd rather have a guy with a .320/.360 than a .260/.360.

Grandstander said...

I think Riggs is a great manager as I'm personally a fan of Whitey Herzog and really enjoy that approach to baseball.

But I'm absolutely flummoxed as to why Riggs would choose to put in Harris over Willingham but leave Guzman in Right. I mean, it makes zero sense, none. The only reason I can think of is that it's been a long and brutal road trip and he just forgot to take him out.

Has anyone asked Riggs what he was thinking there? The only thing I've heard so far is that he said Guzman "lost the ball in the lights" but nothing on why he left him there in first place.

Anonymous said...

I feel like I'm reading Orioles Insider.

Interesting road trip that we played in 2 of the best parks in baseball and one of the worst parks in baseball (if not the worst). Minute Maid field is an abomination and should be condemned.

You know we had bad karma when we lost because a fielder could not find a ball in the lights DURING A DAY GAME.

Joe said...

What to do with Guzman? Given where the team is now, play him half-time at 2b, once a week at SS, pinch-hit him as often as possible and deal him in the summer if someone is looking for middle-infield insurance. Don't play him in the outfield – give his time to Morse for now, and Justin Maxwell when Maxwell returns to DC. More generally, it would help if the Nats didn't use five relievers to complete three innings. That would lessen the need to juggle positions in the field. I think Craig Stammen is a major leaguer, despite his recent problems – when SS arrives, use him out of the bullpen when the pitcher's spot will have to bat soon, because he can hit. Having an OF-IF type of player on the bench is a real asset - but trying to have 2 or 3 creates confusion, in addition to restricting further AG's playing time. What they lack on the bench, and could well use, is a left-handed home run threat.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Riggs is a good manager. But he didn't achieve "approx .500 record" last here. Three weeks of September were kinda awful, including the infamous Desmond in RF. The Nats were saved from more humiliation by a highly unlikely 7-0 finish. If the nats had finished 3-4 they'd have been 55-107 and the record under Riggs would've been mediocre. How many times is Maxwell going to hit a walk off homer?

Joe said...

edit for clarity - use Stammen out of the bullpen when SS arrives.

A DC Wonk said...

OK, it was not as close to .500 as I thought, but, still, he was 33-42, and this with a team that was dead last in team ERA for NL, *and* in errors (and FA), and with a team that was 26-61 (under .300!) when he took over.

I'm not saying he's a genius -- but I am saying one can't judge from record alone. Torre had a miserable record for the Mets -- his best year he finished fourth, and the following year he came in first with the Braves. Did Torre go from idiot to genius in one year? Doubtful.

cadeck13 said...

I don't hate Guzzie and I certainly don't think yesterday's loss can be pinned on him, I think this one's on Riggleman, frankly I am confused as to why he put Guzzie in RF at a critical time - the ball always finds you. I think I'm just really disappointed that we came away from Houston with 3 losses on games "we were supposed to win". I saw a comment yesterday that said something to the effect that it seems the Nats play to the level of their opponents and it sure looks that way to me too. Nothing like playing the Nats to heat up the other team's bats. But, I'll turn the page and look for a Curly W tonight. I think we were all just hoping for good season after what we've endured the last 2 years and some respectibility in the game, I'm tired of being referred to as the "lowly Nats".

Knoxville Nat said...

I did not have a problem with Riggleman trying Desmond in RF in September because last season was a disaster anyway (especially the first half)and September is a good time to try your rookie call ups either at SS or the OF if you think a potential switch could be in the works.

As for Riggs lifetime record, have some of you ever looked at the clubs he has had to work with in his career? The Padres in '93 and '94 were awful with many older and overpaid veterans, a team that was in firesale mode for quite sometime and very unstable ownership and front office leadership. The Cubs in the years 1995-1997 were nothing to brag about but then again, how often in the past 100 years have the Cubs ever been a team to shout out about? The fact that Riggleman managed to get them into the playoffs in 1998 is a testament to some pretty fine managing in my opinion, especially without benefit of having Kerry Wood down the stretch and a Kevin Tapani (a #3 starter at best)as your "ace".

Riggleman is a fine manager. The move to put Gussie in RF yesterday is puzzling and I don't give him a pass on it however I do wish that Mark or some other media person would question him on that one and hold him accountable for an explanation thereof.

Anonymous said...

Guz has played in 48 games, Kennedy in 52 and Desmond 53 so he has played in the LEAST number of games of the THREE main middle infielders! Here is where Guz ranks amongst everyday Nats THIS SEASON:

5th in runs scored
1st in hits
T 4th in doubles
2nd in triples
T 5th in RBI
5th Total Bases
6th in OBP
6th in SLG
2nd in BA
5th in OPS

Ken said...

A DC Wonk

Your comparison of Riggleman to Joe Torre doesn't wash, because his stats include his years with the Mets who were terrible during those years. Torre had a winning record during his years with the Cards and Braves before being hired by the Yankees.

As for your precious Riggleman last season, he managed the Nats to a .440 winning percentage, 6 points lower than his current lifetime average. I'll say it again, Riggleman is not a good manager.

Sam said...

Hey Mark, it's good to see you coming around to the dark side and using statistics like UZR. Be careful, though. After only 50 games, and splitting time between three positions, it is probably too small of a sample to be using UZR. Even a full year's worth is a little small. That being said, I completely agree with you. Guzman's bat is not good enough to hinder the team's defensive ability. He should never be playing right field.

Theo said...

The best position for Guzman is on somebody else's team. Fossilized thinkers in other front offices will find a .313 hitter an attractive option when their second baseman/shortstop breaks an ankle and give the Nats either a Ryan Church-caliber outfielder or a Class A pitching prospect for him.

Mark Zuckerman said...

Sam: When it comes to advanced stats/metrics, I have the same philosophy as Mike Rizzo: I like it when the numbers confirm what I'm seeing with my own eyes.

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