January 10, 2011

Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #26 Eddie Guardado

Edward Adrian Guardado | RP/SP | 1993-2003, 2008 | Career Stats

Taken by the Twins in the 21st round of the 1990 draft, Eddie Guardado made his pro debut in 1991 and had a 1.86 ERA in 14 rookie-ball starts, throwing a no-hitter in his final outing. He moved to low Single-A in 1992 and struggled with a 5-10 record and 4.37 ERA in 101 innings, but still received a late-season promotion to high Single-A and was nearly unhittable there by winning all seven of his starts while posting a 1.64 ERA in 49 innings.

Guardado began 1993 at Double-A and went 4-0 with a 1.24 ERA in 10 starts, posting a nifty 57-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 65 innings. Combined with his great work at high Single-A the previous season, Guardado was an astounding 11-0 with a 1.41 ERA and 96/20 K/BB ratio in the span of 17 minor-league starts. That was enough to convince the Twins he was ready for the majors and Guarardo made his MLB debut on June 13, 1993.

Starting against the last-place A's at the Metrodome his first pitch was to Rickey Henderson, the best leadoff man of all time, and Guardado got the Hall of Famer to ground out to second baseman Chuck Knoblauch. His second batter was native Minnesotan and former University of Minnesota star Terry Steinbach, who welcomed him to the big leagues by homering. Brent Gates, another former Gophers star, stepped to the plate after Steinbach and flied out.

After facing Oakland's assortment of Hall of Famers, ex-Gophers, and future Twins he quickly learned there's a huge difference between Double-A and the big leagues. Oakland knocked him out of the game in the middle of the fourth inning, having scored three runs with two more runners on base. Mike Hartley came in and got Henderson to hit into an inning-ending double play to get Guardado off the hook for additional runs, and he ended up with a no-decision.

Guardado went on to appear in a total of 19 games for the Twins in 1993, including 16 starts, and went 3-8 with a 6.18 ERA in 95 innings. That earned him a trip back to the minors in 1994, and Guardado was 12-7 with a 4.84 ERA in 24 starts at Triple-A before the Twins called him up again in early July. He wasn't any better, going 0-2 with an 8.47 ERA in four starts before the players' strike ended the season in mid-August.

Guardado began the strike-shortened 1995 season in the Twins' bullpen as a long reliever, but was moved back into the starting rotation in late May. He again struggled as a starter, going 0-5 with a ghastly 9.28 ERA in five starts, which combined with his numbers from 1993 and 1994 gave Guardado the following career numbers as a major-league starting pitcher: 25 starts, 125.2 innings, 3-15 record, 6.95 ERA, 169 hits, 60 strikeouts, 50 walks.

It would be difficult to pitch any worse than that, although a few years later LaTroy Hawkins gave it a valiant effort. As a starting pitcher Guardado's so-so stuff barely missed any bats and because of that he gave up hits in bunches. However, lost in the pathetic numbers as a starter and the sub par 5.12 ERA overall in 1995 is that Guardado put up the following numbers as a reliever: 46 appearances, 70 innings, 3.86 ERA, 65 hits, 61 strikeouts, 31 walks.

His lack of velocity didn't matter as much out of the bullpen, as he struck out 65 batters in 70 innings. The attempt to turn him into a starter had failed horribly, but in the process the Twins found one of the most durable relievers in team history. During the next eight years "Everyday Eddie" appeared in at least 60 games per season, including a league-high 83 games in 1996, and his ERAs were better than league-average each year from 1997-2003.

Guardado was initially used as a left-handed specialist, logging 233 innings in 294 games from 1996-1999 for an average of just 0.8 innings per appearance. Then in 2000 the Twins started using him as a more typical one-inning setup man and that's when Guardado really began to thrive. He went 7-4 with nine saves and a 3.94 ERA in 62 innings, posting a 52/25 K/BB ratio while holding opponents to a .238 batting average.

The Twins began the 2001 season with Hawkins as their closer and Guardado as his primary setup man, and it worked well for a while. The team shocked the baseball world by leading the division at the All-Star break and Hawkins had 23 saves with a 3.48 ERA. However, as the entire team fell apart in the second half so did Hawkins. In 18 post-break innings he gave up 21 earned runs on his way to a 0-3 record and 10.70 ERA.

It was a complete implosion and very painful to watch, and while it didn't occur until it was too late the Twins eventually took away Hawkins' closer job and handed it to Guardado. Guardado converted nine of the 10 save chances he was given down the stretch to finish the year 7-1 with 12 saves and a 3.51 ERA in 67 innings, and never looked back. He entered 2002 as the full-time closer and the Twins began a string of three straight division titles.

Unlike Hawkins the year before, Guardado was fantastic from April to September. He converted 14 consecutive save opportunities to begin the year and ended up saving a league-leading 45 games with a 2.93 ERA while making his first All-Star team and finishing 15th in the MVP voting. Trusted with ninth-inning duties again in 2003, he put together another great and remarkably similar season:

YEAR      G       IP      ERA     SV    OAVG
2002     68     67.2     2.93     45    .215
2003     66     65.1     2.89     41    .207

He was somewhat shaky at times, often wriggling out of jams rather than abruptly slamming the door in the ninth inning, but in two-plus seasons as closer he converted 95 saves in 106 chances for a success rate of 90 percent. Even in the playoffs, where his ERA was 9.00 in three series, Guardado converted all three save chances he was given and found a way to escape from a potentially disastrous ninth inning against the A's in Game 5 of the 2002 ALDS.

Following 14 years in the Twins organization, including 11 seasons in the big leagues and two great years as closer, Guardado became a free agent in the winter of 2003. Both Guardado and the team spoke of wanting him to return, but the Twins used the money they would have needed to re-sign him (and Hawkins, who also left) to bring back Shannon Stewart, and then brilliantly found Guardado's replacement in Joe Nathan.

Guardado signed a three-year, $13 million deal with the Mariners and the Twins used one of the draft picks they received as compensation to select Glen Perkins. Guardado pitched well in his first two seasons in Seattle, but struggled through injuries on two last-place teams. He lost the closer job in early 2006 and was later traded to Cincinnati, where he converted eight of 10 saves with a 1.29 ERA before blowing out his elbow in August.

After undergoing Tommy John surgery Guardado made his comeback with the Rangers in 2008, emerging as Texas' primary setup man at age 37 and even briefly taking ninth-inning duties from then-closer C.J. Wilson. He had a nice-looking 3.65 ERA in 49 innings, but a poor 28/17 K/BB ratio hinted that Guardado was running out of gas and sure enough he struggled after a mid-August trade to the Twins, finishing his second go-around in Minnesota with a 7.71 ERA.

He returned to the Rangers in 2009 as a lefty specialist and then got cut by the Nationals last spring to end his 17-year career ranked 21st all time with 908 appearances. He's the Twins' leader with 648 appearances, out-pacing second place Rick Aguilera by 32 percent, is third in team history in saves behind Aguilera and Nathan, and after moving to the bullpen Guardado was one of the league's most consistent, durable, and valuable relievers for nine years.

Plus, those chants of "Eddie! Eddie! Eddie!" were sure a lot of fun.

Appearances           648     1st
Saves                 116     3rd
Games Finished        258     3rd
Strikeout Rate       7.79     8th
Strikeouts            610    13th
K/BB Ratio           2.26    21st
Opponents' AVG       .253    22nd
Innings               705    24th
Batters Faced        3009    24th
  • Karst

    AG- you’re inspiring me that you’re actually finishing your top 50 list. I think I might clean my basement tomorrow now.

  • Mike in SD

    It is time for baseball season to start. I read “leader in appearances” in your tweet and was pondering who was the sharpest dressed Twin.

  • tjw

    One of my favorites Twins memories, from back in the day when the speakers were still in play, came when a batter popped one up and off of a speaker. Eddie (all 260 pounds of him) bolted from the mound, laid out, and made a spectacular diving catch in foul territory. Those Eddie chants were always great.

  • David

    My favorite thing about Eddie was how he absolutely owned Jim Thome. Thome in his career against Guardado:

    35 PA
    0 HR
    20 K
    2 BB

  • JoeK

    I never realized for how long and how many times Eddie pitched for the Twins.

  • ML

    As irrational as it may have been, Eddie never inspired much confidence, even though he was a cool character on the mound. I contrast that with Nathan, who if you watch him, would seem to inspire the kind of “hold your breath” with every appearance that Eddie was known for.

  • What an overachiever. I pulled for him beginning with his first start at Oakland. I think he was from the region and he had a lot of fans at the game. Beating the A’s in ’02 is the only series win of the Gardy years and that shaky 9th is a great memory.

  • Pat

    #1 in appearances? can that be true?

  • Marshall Garvey

    Great recap Aaron. Aside from uncorking some brutal memories of Hawkins (2001 was my first season as a fan, interestingly enough), I felt nostalgic reading this, as Guardado was a favorite growing up. That epic 9th in Oakland in the ALDS is still one of my best sports memories. Too bad the Twins haven’t done anything in October since then.

  • h2oface

    i hated eddie. i cringed every time he came in the game. he would give up at least one hit and one walk just about every appearance. for him to be rated even in the top 50 twins of all time…….. well……. you were just a kid, perhaps, and formed your opinion with a child’s eyes, regardless of how you try to make a statistical case for him. eddie was a travesty, and never should have been a closer.