Distinguished Senators, the Washington Nationals Blog That Is Great

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Onward, Cristian Soldier

Nothing's going on, so let's revisit the MLB.com piece about the Nationals' middle infield.
Guzman, who was the starting shortstop for the American League Central Division champion Twins, hit .274 with eight home runs and 48 RBIs in 2004.

Known as one of the American League's best defensive shortstops, Guzman, 26, finished second in the AL with a .983 fielding percentage.

Bowden considers Guzman to be one of the cornerstones of the franchise and believes he will become a better hitter in the future.

Based on this passage, there are three reasons to be glad to have Cristian Guzman: 1) he's a proven winner 2) he's a great defensive shortstop and 3) he has yet to tap his potential, and the best is yet to come. The first idea is, of course, damn silly. Tony Womack has a World Series ring and Barry Bonds does not. Teams can win championships in spite of mediocre players, and Guzman's Twins haven't even done that. The other Guzman justifications are more worthy of scrutiny.

As for his defense, we really don't know. Every defensive metric I've looked at says that he was godawful for his entire career until 2004, when he got good - real good. The reasons for this have been discussed at Capitol Punishment and around here, with one theory being that the Metrodome's old artificial turf made him look worse than he was. Perhaps his fielding in 2004 reflects his actual ability, or maybe it was a fluke. I guess we'll find out.

Cristian allegedly has potential. He's had this potential for a long time, and it's possible that he always will. That's not quite fair, actually - he was actually good once. In 2001, Guzman made Twins' fans swoon with a 302/337/477 line. He still couldn't take a walk, you'll notice, but a shortstop who slugs .477 can be on my team anytime. Then came three years of suck; slugging average under .400, on-base percentage high of .311, no more than 30 walks or 18 stolen bases in a year. His OPS+, which takes on-base plus slugging and adjusts it for league and ballpark with 100 being average, stayed between 80 and 78, so he was consistently bad. It's also worth nothing that Guzman has enjoyed a huge advantage at home over the years. His career OPS is 100 points higher at the Dome than on the road, and he's been better in literally every offensive statistic at home. But he has this one good season and his youth. Jim Bowden thinks he'll break through and become an elite shortstop again. I doubt that he will.

I tend to roll my eyes when the issue of a player's "character" comes up. I haven't met any of these guys, and I don't trust sportswriters to tell me who's a good dude and who's not. Sportswriters count "talking to sportswriters" as an integral part of character, and they've spent years trying to convince us that Rickey Henderson is a bad guy and a bad teammate, which is pretty well disproved by the affection his teammates seem to have for him. Furthermore, I believe that a man can be a good teammate with some severe character flaws (Ken Caminiti, for instance) and vice versa (Mark Grace, maybe?). However, when you hand out a four-year contract to a bad player based on his potential, it pays to take his character into account, and Twins fans think Guzman is lazy. He doesn't keep himself in good shape, and the complete lack of improvement in the last three years would seem to lend some credence to the idea that he's been coasting. I'm not the type to fetishize "tough," "gritty" players, but if so much of Guzman's value is in his potential, it would be nice if he were the kind of guy to take advantage of it. It appears that he is not.


Anonymous said...

I always enjoy a blog that employs the use of the word "fetishize"

Ryan said...

The turf idea is original to Chris at CP as far as I know (Chris, want to comment?). I did the most cursory checking, looking at the Baseball Prospectus defensive stats of some other Twins middle infielders, and it seemed that playing in the Dome at least made a guy's RAA and Rate2 look worse, but I don't want to fetishize those stats (fetishize - the word of the day).

I wonder if any Twins bloggers have looked into this. I don't remember anything from Aaron Gleeman, but I wasn't on the lookout for Guzman info until November.

Chris Needham said...

Nah, I don't feel like commenting! :)

Anyway, I'd hesitate to call what I did analysis. I just looked at the stats and looked at some numbers and formed a theory.

Guzman and Rivas were always near dead-last in the league in range factor and zone ratings for the last number of years. Last year, they both shot way up in the rankings, far above anything they had done before. That coincided with the installation of the new turf, which is engineered to play much more like grass, instead of painted concrete. Scouts have always approved of Guzman's defense, so it's entirely possible, it was just a function of the turf?

I'll have to check to see what Diamond-Mind's ratings are when I get home. There results usually jibe with MGL and his UZR stat.

I'm willing to at least give Guzman the benefit of the doubt this year--until I can see him play consistently.