August 16, 2004

The Off-Day Blues

I never quite realize how obsessed with the Twins I am until there's an off-day on the schedule. I suppose it's the same way for people who are addicted to stuff like alcohol or cigarettes. They don't realize how bad off they are until the pack of smokes is empty or the bottle is dry.

So, while the Twins prepared for their beating from the Yankees, I watched the Indians/Rangers game on MLB Extra Innings (Cleveland lost), played a whole bunch of poker at (I won back-to-back "Sit & Go" tourneys), and caught up on my Twins reading.

A couple notes from the local papers here caught my attention ...

From Friday's St. Paul Pioneer Press, in a column by Charley Walters:

Cristian Guzman (.278 batting average) is playing so well that he might force the Twins to pick up his $5.25 million option for next season. Guzman is making $3.725 million this season.

This brings up a subject that I touched on earlier this month, which is the misguided notion that Cristian Guzman is having a good season. I'm not sure where this seed was planted in the heads of Twins fans, but it really needs to stop.

And while it is a silly thought coming from the average fan, it is really amazing when I see a comment like that from the "mainstream" media. I know I'm a lot more into the statistics of baseball than most people, but it still shocks the hell out of me when I see someone paid to write about sports use "logic" that's as faulty as that.

First off, why in the world would you use batting average as your one stat to show how good a player is in the year 2004? Well, I know why Charley Walters used it, which is that a) it makes Guzman look good and b) he's probably one of those guys who thinks people who embrace stats that have become widely used in the last 30 years are just nerds.

The problem, of course, is that Cristian Guzman stinks. First of all, a .278 batting average isn't even good -- the average AL shortstop is hitting .277. If you look beyond batting average, which, by itself, is bordering on meaningless, Guzman's value drops like a rock, because he doesn't do anything offensively aside from hit singles. He doesn't take walks, he doesn't hit homers, he doesn't hit doubles, he doesn't steal bases. Hell, he doesn't even hit triples anymore.

For the year, Guzman is hitting .270 (his average has dipped since Walters wrote that) with a .299 on-base percentage and a .372 slugging percentage. That is beyond bad; among the 78 American League hitters who qualify for the batting title ...

- Guzman's batting average ranks 53rd.

- Guzman's on-base percentage ranks 75th.

- Guzman's slugging percentage ranks 73rd.

- Guzman's OPS ranks 76th.

And not only has he been awful offensively this year, his numbers are no better than what he's done in past seasons.

YEAR      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS      GPA

2002 .273 .292 .385 .677 .228
2003 .268 .311 .365 .676 .231
2004 .270 .299 .372 .671 .228

Why is it that Guzman is suddenly "playing so well" this year, as opposed to when he put up almost the exact same, awful numbers offensively in the previous two seasons? And why in the world would a team with a payroll in the $50-million range ever possibly consider paying someone who hits like that $5.25 million next season?

Guzman currently ranks 12th among AL shortstops in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), right behind Chris Gomez, who was the Twins' utility infielder last year, and right ahead of Angel Berroa, who was doing so poorly that the Royals demoted him to the minor leagues one year after he was the AL Rookie of the Year. If Win Shares are more your thing (and they might be, since they take defense into account too) Guzman ranks 17th among AL shortstops in Win Shares Above Average (WSAA).

There are all kinds of levels of insane in the world of the Minnesota Twins, from little stuff like starting Jacque Jones against lefties to bigger stuff like playing Luis Rivas at second base for 4-5 years in a row. Giving Guzman in excess of $5 million is about a 47.8 on an insanity scale of 1-10.

Meanwhile, while everyone in the state of Minnesota appears to be drinking the Kool-Aid when it comes to Cristian Guzman, it looks as though those with the power to make the actual decisions might be starting to come around to an idea I've had for about three years. The idea? That Luis Rivas stinks.

Here's a little bit from yesterday's Sid Hartman column in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire on why he is not playing second baseman Luis Rivas on a regular basis:

"The thing that is a little disappointing is that the guys go down and do their early work every day [in the batting cage] and Luis has been up in the clubhouse playing cards and all those things, and when you're not swinging good you should get down in the cages and do your work with [hitting coach] Scotty [Ullger].

We're getting a little frustrated. We talk to him about it, and he'll go down there for a day, and then miss two or three days. You earn your at-bats around here and that's what we're trying to talk this kid into."

In other words, not only does Rivas stink, he doesn't work hard and he doesn't listen to the coaching staff. What a wonderful player to have had as your starting second baseman for going on four seasons and what a wonderful player to have given 1,687 at-bats to.

UPDATE: I wrote the little anti-Guzman rant you just read late last night and then woke up this morning to find this on the front page of my sports section ...


Among the gems found in the article, written by Jim Souhan ...

- A comparison to Derek Jeter, both in a graphic on the front page (which you can see on the bottom left of that picture) and within the actual article. The comparison shows that Jeter, in the midst of perhaps his worst year in the major leagues, has an 11% advantage in on-base percentage and a 19% edge in slugging percentage, along with twice as many stolen bases and a better batting average.

- The introduction to the table comparing their numbers on the front page reads: "Cristian Guzman, who came to the Twins in a trade with the Yankees in 1998, has been a bargain this season."

- A caption under the gigantic front page picture that reads: "Speedy shortstop Cristian Guzman has been fairly steady this season for the Twins, who have to decide whether to pick up $5.25 million on his contract for next year."

- Regarding the big option on his contract for next year, Souhan writes, "Today, because Guzman has made the transition from spectacular to disappointing to steady, he might be perfectly positioned to return."

- The following quote about Guzman from Twins third-base coach Al Newman: "This year I'm definitely seeing that All-Star caliber player that's been a force on offense and defense."

All of which makes me wonder exactly what these people are smoking and exactly where I can get some of it.

The comparison to Jeter, even in his worst year, is laughable at best. And the timing of the entire article, along with the comparison to Jeter, is so transparent it makes the entire thing silly. "Gee, the Yankees are coming to town and we got our shortstop from them ... let's compare him to their current shortstop!"

I think Derek Jeter is a vastly overrated player, but he's so far beyond Guzman in terms of the value he brings to a team that it's not even funny. It's like comparing me to Bill Simmons and saying, "Well, Simmons is way better in every possible way, but Gleeman probably isn't the worst writer of all-time."

Again, Guzman has been one of the least productive and least valuable players in baseball this year (and in 2002 and 2003) and he's making nearly $4 million this season, yet people are throwing around words like "bargain" and "steady" and "force on offense and defense" about him? Puh-leeze.

Don't drink the Kool-Aid, people.

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