Saturday, April 09, 2005

Beware of Anachronistic Snark

Cristian Guzman deserves the hailfire of crud right now, but watch out!

So Guzman has gotten off to the worst start since the Rebel Alliance above Yavin IV. (Chronologically, last night's 0-fer-4 would be piggy Porkins steadfastly refusing to "eject" and quickly going boom.)

Not undeservingly, Guzman has been torn-a-new-one in the Nats blogosphere (which would be located somewhere near the ice planet of Hoth; I always wanted one of those Tauntauns.) The following is no doubt an unexhaustive survey:


SO, HAS CRISTIAN GUZMAN HIT ANYTHING OUT OF THE INFIELD YET?I am including foul balls in this question, because I do not think it has happened yet. Has he seen four pitches in an plate appearance? . . . What gives? Brian Schneider is supposed to be great at throwing out runners, but to date, he has thrown more balls in the outfield than Guzman has hit there.

---Oleanders and Morning Glories:

Whatever benefits Robinson thinks the team gains by having a better baserunner at the top of the order, are going to be superceded by having Wilkerson’s doubles and home runs drive in 1 run rather than 2 or more, and having Wilkerson stranded by FreeSwingy McGee (otherwise known as Christian

"FreeSwingy McGee." I could go for that one.

---Nats Blog:

In contrast, Guzman has cost the Nats 3.36 runs with his anemic bat, essentially nullifying Wilkerson's success. [ . . . ] You have heard the three of us that run this blog complain ad nauseum about Jim Bowden's complete lack of GM skills, and pre-acquisitions, we posted that the worst thing he could do was sign guys like Vinny Castilla as well as Christian Guzman. I'm not sure I ever thought they'd be quite this bad though. As of a couple of days ago, Guzman was hitting a single to break an 0-for-3 million slump [rest snipped for sake of Castilla's self-respect].

By the way, I like the ERV scoring data, guys.

---National Cheese:

I love workday afternoon games. Either the game is in town and I can play hooky, or the game is on the road and I can stick the sports ticker on my screen and get 'alerted' every time Chris Guzman picks his nose. He must have been pretty busy today, since his third game hitting second yielded 0-4 with a K. Wilkerson got another 4 hits today (5 total bases) and scored only once again.

---Distinguished Senators:

It continues to be insane that Cristian Guzman, the worst non-pitcher hitter in the lineup, hits second. I don't expect it to continue much longer - we'd be in real trouble if he rapped out a couple of doubles from that slot. [plus . . . ] Guzman, SS, dammit [ . . . ] Boswell thinks Chavez should have been able to take his on-base percentage from his customary .300-ish monstrosity to something in the .360 range and that it would have been easy. Well, it's not easy, Boswell. If it were, everyone would add 60 points to
his OBP, and Cristian Guzman would be a good player.

---And, finally, I offer you the past week's body of work for both Capitol Punishment and Ballwonk. Here an illustrative quote from both, respectively:

Cristian Guzman must be forcibly removed from the second hole. He has zero patience, and until his popup, he had hit 7 straight groundballs right at infielders. (And strangely, got 2 hits out of it!)He has ZERO patience. And when you watch him, it really looks like he has no clue what he's doing. Compare it to a Nick Johnson AB -- the difference is startling. Nick seems in command, even when the results don't pan out. Guzman just looks out of control.

Breakfast plus lunch equals brunch. And so with the Man of La Guzma, whose unique combination of hapless and crappy makes him happy. A truly happy shortstop he is. Nationals fans forced to watch him take up at-bats are not so happy. Rather, we are frustrated and angry, or frangry. And Guzzy gave us much to be frangry about today, going 0-4 with a strikeout to lower his average to .143. Guzman grounded to short, popped to shallow right, grounded to third, grounded to the pitcher, and then struck out. The grounder to third was scored as a sacrifice, but an out's an out and let's face it, if the best thing
your number-two batter does all day is ground out to third less disastrously than he otherwise might, you've got problems at the top of your lineup. Trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with G and that stands for Guzman.

[Also, I'll note that at National Pastime's "Inning-Endy-O-Meter post, reader---and fellow blogger---Backward K proposes that a companion rate stat could be known as the "Guz-egg rate."]

Well, what's the point of lining up quotes from other bloggers concerning Guzman's suckcosity? (And where are mine? Hell, even I don't remember what I write.) The point is that the talk is tough---exceedingly tough. It's deserved, but it's tough. Even "man on the street" posters on Nats forums are piling on. Typical exchange---Q: "When does Robinson move Guzman out of the two-hole?" A: "Last week."

On the one hand, all of this talk is entertaining, and most of it is witty, and---in a few cases---groin-grabbingly transcendent.

On the other hand, though, I recall the Garret Anderson Experience.


Do you remember when Anderson came up with the (CALIFORNIA) Angels in 1995? He was a pretty good offensive leftfielder during his rookie season, coming up in June and hitting for enough average and power to compensate for a not-terribly-picky batting approach. The next six seasons thereafter, however, were a struggle to maintain even a 100 OPS+, and this for (mostly) a corner outfielder! Guh!

Anderson continued to hit for a decent average and maintained pretty decent fundamental play, so his reputation was unaccountability solid in those pre-"Moneyball" days. Well, Baseball Prospectus wasn't going to fall for it, and---even as Anderson changed his profile to "decent average slugger" in 2000---the criticism escalated year-by-year, to its snark-ical apex in the 2001 edition.

I seem to have all my previous BP copies in the sabermetric safe deposit box, except for '99, '01 and '04. (This year's copy has run off somewhere, too.) So we'll do what we can.

Here's the Anderson comment from '99, for instance:

I've said enough bad things about Anderson to last the rest of the millenium, so I'll point out here that he did change his approach in 1998, driving the ball more, resulting in more power. But that was the only change in his game. He's a .300 hitter who doesn't put enough runs on the board, and doesn't have the defense to carry his production. I think he'll have his best year in 1998, hitting around .330 with 20 or so homers, which should make him a bit above average.

Unless that projection was for some sort of sim league, then it's a bit curious, because as the beginning of the comment pointed out, 1998 had already passed. Anyway, assuming it was a typo, Anderson came up 30 points short of the '99 expectation (though he had a marginally better year than in '98). He changed his approach radically in 2000, swinging for the fences at the expense of some batting average. Anderson smacked 35 homers, had his best RBI year by far, and his reputation increased---though, in terms of OPS+, he improved not a bit.

At this point, BP reached a point similar to the present crescendo of Guzman criticism, paying Anderson the ultimate insult in the 2001 edition:

The home runs were the only thing to go up; his already-low OBP fell and even his batting average dropped. Because of this, his nominal career year wasn't much better than his typical one. Garret Anderson will be able to hit like this for as long as he get regular playing time. Look for about
the same performance every year until, as with Full House, someone mercifully pulls the plug while no one is watching.

Full House??!!! Ouch.

So, you'll never guess what happened . . .

Anderson fell backward somewhat in 2001 (I forget what the '02 comment said, but it could have continued the Bob Saget theme, for all I know), dipping slightly in slugging percentage. But then he consolidated his pre-2000 bat control with his New Millenium Power and hoisted up a pretty neat little two-season peak in '02-03, leaving BP '04 no choice but to throw in a "Oh, what the hell?" comment:

Anderson is one of those anomalies who makes being an analyst frustrating and makes being a fan exhilirating. Always a free swinger, Anderson has had his two best seasons in 2002 and 2003 while seeing the fewest pitches per plate appearancein his career. The undisciplined hitter became less
disciplined and got better. Go figure. . . .

So, what's this got to do with Cristian Guzman? It's just a contrarian reminder to "be careful." I believe that there could be powerful baseball forces at play here, just as with Anderson.

Of course, Guzman does deserve heaps of criticism now, as Anderson did back then---though a Full House reference was a bit over-the-top, we could all agree.

Then again, in retrospect at least, it's apparent that Anderson was adding new skills in mid-career. He was adapting, changing his approach, concentrating on those qualities that had sustained his status as a big-league regular. Then he busted out. (Granted, his rate stats never, ever suggested "superstar"---much less "MVP talk"---and I still think he's an overrated player.) And his reputation just continued to grow, rendering the Full House blast, in retrospect at least, both silly and spiteful.

We stand at a similar precipice with Guzman, my friends. Of course, unlike Anderson, as an offensive player Guzman has almost no profile. He has only hit for average once, .302 in 2001; otherwise, he's been a .270-hitter, basically the American League average. He hasn't been a basestealer of any particular stripe in the past few seasons (not enough "dangerous, but deadly" as he was earlier in his career). He used to hit triples, but I think it can be argued that his three-bagger proclivity was in large part a Culpepper-to-Moss fast track.

But he still has a very good reputation among baseball insiders and, I warn you, those guys can be dangerous---even if they seem like they stink. Just look at Garret Anderson.

There's another factor, too: As Nationals Review pointed out, Guzman is in his age-27 season this year. Now, statheads and performance analysts still cite "27" as this magical number two decades after Bill James conducted the research concluding that a strong plurality of position players have their best years earlier, at ages 26-28, than conventionally accepted. I lot of stuff has happened since then, including "weight training" and the like, and older players seem to hang on better and longer than in past baseball generations. Still, I've seen no research refuting or altering James's findings (though I could be negligent in looking), and it seems that---assuming he didn't bust out fully in 2001---Guzman has a reasonable shot at posting a career year of some merit this year or next.

And so . . . all I am saying is "Watch out." A .320 batting average is JUST DYING to be unleashed! We don't want to fall prey to the Garret Anderson Experience.

In the meantime, though, I'll join in:

You suck, Guzman! Bench 'im or kill 'im, Robinson!

My dream scenario?

Paul DePodesta gets fired about two weeks before we get real owners.

Said real owners, when they come on, fire Bowden and hire DePo.

While all this is going on, Guzman manages to hit .320-ish.

DePo trades him to somebody -- St. Louis maybe? For actual good players.
Wow, that's at least a decade of stored-up karma there!
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