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Cristian Guzman, the Nationals' No. 2 hitter

Cristian Guzman can hit for a high average, and last season's numbers show he hits best when he bats second. But batting average is a narrow appraisal of a hitter, especially one who hits high in a lineup. Guzman's general inability to draw walks and his proclivity to swing at anything that might resemble a baseball makes him a less-than-ideal hitter at the top of lineup.

Those are the factors Manager Jim Riggleman will have to weigh as the season moves along. For now, he plans to bat Guzman, not Adam Kennedy, second in the lineup.

"I think that Guzman will be the most likely guy to hit second," Riggleman said. "For whatever reason, some guys perform better in certain spots. It gets in their head or whatever. Guzie's a good hitter. Different person last year when you hit him second as opposed to other places. The likelihood is that's where he will be."

You could make a compelling argument for Kennedy to bat second.

Kennedy was a better offensive player than Guzman by any standard objective measure last year. Kennedy went .289/.348/.410 (average, on-base, slugging) with a 101 OPS+. Guzman went .284/.306/.390 with an 83 OPS+.

Maybe it is best for Guzman to bat second. Last year, Guzman's on-base percentage as a No. 2 hitter was .310. (That ranked 31st among No. 2 hitters with at least 150 plate appearances.) His overall on-base percentage was .306. He also had a slightly higher slugging percentage as a No. 2 hitter, .393 as opposed to .390 overall. Guzman was pretty good when he led off, but he was miserable when he moved down in the order. For example, as the sixth batter in the lineup, he went .138/.133/.172.

Is the increase in Guzman's productivity worth using the second spot in the lineup on a free-swinging hitter who doesn't get on base all that much? Among all active players with at least 3,000 plate appearances, just four players have walked with less frequency than Guzman, who averages one walk every 22 plate appearances.

And there's this: In his career, Guzman has a .303 on-base percentage in 2,819 plate appearances as a No. 2 hitter. His total career OBP is .307, meaning he actually has a better on-base percentage in his 2,570 plate appearances somewhere else in the lineup.

Last year, Guzman saw 3.25 pitches per plate appearance, second-lowest in the majors behind Bengie Molina. Kennedy, who has a .330 on-base percentage in his career, saw 3.90 pitches per plate appearance, which tied for 66th among the 155 players who qualified.

By Adam Kilgore  |  March 8, 2010; 11:51 AM ET
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Next: Updates: Nationals vs. Marlins


Wait, there are only 155 players that hit more than 150 PAs? or only 5 per team? Or is that last set of numbers qualified on a different standard? (500?)

Posted by: swang30 | March 8, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

Guzman is a sub-standard batter (and fielder) regardless of the metric and the Nats will be better off when his contract is over at the end of the season so we don't have to debate this anymore.

free Desmond!

Posted by: bottomfeeders10 | March 8, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Evidence points to Guzman not being able to get on base consistently no matter where he bats in the lineup. Not only that, but at the rate Guzman swings at pitches, it is going to hurt one of Nyger Morgan's best weapons, his ability to steal bases. Hard to steal second when the No. 2 hitter is consistently swinging and hitting the first couple of pitches in an at bat.

I would rather see Kennedy bat second, Desmond bat 7th, and Guzman either play a back-up role or get dumped in a trade, hopefully for something of value, even if the Nats have to eat a good chunk of his contract.

Posted by: Ghost7 | March 8, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

I'm more and more convinced that Desmond is going to get a lot of playing time at short, and that Guzman's shoulder will be the excuse. I don't see how "100% healthy" and "not ready to make a throw from the hole" are compatible. If Desmond takes advantage, Guzman will either accept his diminished role or they will drop him, $8 million or not.

Posted by: jcj5y | March 8, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

@bottomfeeders10: "Free Desmond"

We should get T-shirts made up...

@Ghost7: If Guzman gets dumped in a trade, it will be JUST that. Getting anything beyond a bag of balls may be asking too much.

Posted by: TimDz | March 8, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

How many more debilitating contracts would Bowdon have signed players to if he had a larger budget? Reflecting, I am happy the Nats pinched their pennies over the past 5 years. I just hope they spend when it is needed. So far I haven't seen anything that says otherwise. See Zimmerman, R., Strasburg, S.

BTW bat Guzman 8th and let him work for next years contract (with another team of course).

Posted by: smirkman | March 8, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

"But batting average is a narrow appraisal of a hitter, especially one who hits high in a lineup."

I mean, that sentence, plus a discussion of OPS+, makes me delighted Kilgore's the beat writer...

Posted by: Section220 | March 8, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Move Guzman down to 6th spot NOW! Tell him that is where he is going to be from where he must produce. He can adjust in spring and be prepared for April.

Desmond's presence will force Guz to step up or get out of the way. He's horrible for the team in the 1st or 2nd spot and only defensible as an every day SS if he's healthy and duplicates his '09 numbers from the 6th spot.

Riggleman has options this year and since Guzman was told to prepare to play 2nd base at the end of last season, he knows his situation and will adapt. He's probably thrilled about Kennedy's arrival and he should be ready for a shift.

Posted by: DCSec112 | March 8, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

I'm sort of in favor of using Kennedy against righthanders, but Gusman has advantages. He is a switch hitter and though he does not have a good OBP, he does move runners along nicely. He drives the ball and given that Morgan does not hit lefties well, having a switchhitter behind him may reduce the number times they bring in a lefty to face Morgan.

My real concern with Guzman continues to be defense. If he regains his range then ok, but if he falls under league average in range (statistically I believe he was league average last year), then his best position might be on the bench. He's still relatively young though. If his injury is recovered, there is no reason why he can't be league average or slightly above. He's always been pretty accurate if not spectacular with his throws. Accurate may be important with Dunn still learning to play first.

Posted by: natbiscuits | March 8, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

@Ghost7: If Guzman gets dumped in a trade, it will be JUST that. Getting anything beyond a bag of balls may be asking too much.:

Agreed... I can always hope, though, that a contender has a devastating injury at SS or 2B during Spring Training... has a minor league system overflowing with talent... and can afford to cough up a young pitcher the Nats system could use. That is my dream... but, even if that came true, I am not foolish enough to expect a young, MLB ready starter... just somebody to add to the stockpile of young talent in the Nats system.

And besides, the dream is mostly about not having to watch Guzman play SS everyday behind our ground ball pitchers, and posting a .300 OBP infront of Zimm and Dunn... leading to a lot empty extra base hits for those guys.

Now, go out and win a Gold Glove and a batting title, Guzman! And earn your 8 million...

Posted by: Ghost7 | March 8, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Thanks AK that fist paragraph had me chuckling.
Hopefully Desmond continues to play well, even if he does not win the starting job they will have to play him more, putting Guz on the bench, I dont mind Guz as a pinch hitter. Also I wouldnt see him as being set in stone at the two spot even if he is deemed the full time starter. Kennedy with similar stats and a more measured approach would challenge for this spot, regardless of the opening day order.
If Guz is the full time starter it will hurt Nyjers best ability his base stealing. But it would set up hit and run opportunities when Nyjer gets on, that could be good. Anyways go IAN! Go NATS!

Posted by: Stu27 | March 8, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

bottomfeeders is right. Guzie will hurt us no matter where he hits. Just have to live w/ that this year. The good news is leadoff looks to be strong, the 3 and 4 holes are great and the 5 hole is solid with Willingham.

Oh yeah, at $8m, they will NOT release Guzie. Everyone who plays every day is always hurt somehow. So if he struggles, they will take whatever hurts and use it to put him on the DL and put Desmond at short. Just like AK last year.

Posted by: Avar | March 8, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

uh, I was in the wrong post:

Yay - Charlie and Dave time! (instead of bo-ring bureaucrats - apologies to any of same on this blog, but, dang).

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 8, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

fwiw, MASN has a chat going.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 8, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

The Nats brass is definitely aware of the situation. Hopefully they're not too sentimental and don't re-up his contract when the year is up. The #2 spot is definitely a big hole in our current line-up.

Posted by: futbolclif | March 8, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

The comparison of 2009 numbers to Kennedy is a bit strained as last year Adam led off more often than not for a club in the other league – apples and oranges. The role of a 2 hitter is not just to get on base it is as much or more-so to advance the runner. And the critique of Guz as a free swinger is certainly accurate, but it makes people think that he K’s a lot, and he is not whiffing like mad by any stretch. The guy puts the ball in play.

Let’s look at larger samples. Over the last three years Guz has hit .303 and the OBP is .333 SLG .425, the guy is a good hitter – Kennedy is no slouch but his three yr stats are .269/.324/.366. It is not as if Kennedy is some hitting/OBP machine or anything.

Besides, Kennedy certainly has more pop and that will be valuable in the bottom of the order as he will not be asked to move Pudge over to 2nd or third for the pitcher to bat, he’ll be swinging away.

I think that Riggleman has it right and I look for Guz to have a big year with the bat and an OK year with the glove.

Posted by: dfh21 | March 8, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Guz in the 2 hole? What a mess. He's a terrible choice - low OBP (only 16 walks in 2009) and no plate discipline. He swings at anything and everything - he doesn't take pitches so Dunn and Zimmerman won't get to see that day's opposing pitcher as much as they should and with Guz swinging at the first pitch - he'll be costing Morgan chances to swipe a bag.

- Guzman saw 3.26 pitchers per plate appearance - which ranked 75th out of 76 qualifying NL hitters. (Kennedy saw 3.90.)
- Guzman put the 1st pitch in play 92 out of 555 plate appearances, or 16.6% of the time. (Kennedy swung 56 out of 587, or 9.5%)

I know - he doesn't like to bat in the bottom of the order. But sit him down, tell him what time it is and if he cannot deal with it, bat Kennedy in the 2 hole and let Desmond play SS.

Posted by: comish4lif | March 8, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

"Guzman's general inability to draw walks and his proclivity to swing at anything that might resemble a baseball makes him a less-than-ideal hitter at the top of lineup. "


(I have nothing against Guzman personally and was very happy for his post-Lasik recovery and All Star appearance. But I believe it's time to give Desmond a chance to show what he can do over a season in the bigs.)

Posted by: cassander | March 8, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Guzman can't be traded because he isn't worth 8 million a year. Unless the owners agree to "eat" some of his salary. I suppose its a possibility that shouldn't be discounted if Rizzo makes a good enough case. Especially if someone is desperate for a shortstop fix, or its toward the end of the year.

Guzman is a switch hitter, while Kennedy is left-handed, following Morgan also left-handed.

Guess we have to wait until next year to find out about Desmond, Espinosa, Lombardozzi, and Kobernus.

Posted by: periculum | March 8, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Regardless of where he hits and what we think the role of a hitter in that slot is/should be, I think one of the primary goals of a hitter is to not make an out. Guzman is really good at making outs. Hitting him higher in the order means he'll have the opportunity to make more outs, and the offense will be less productive.

Posted by: Section220 | March 8, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Everyone says that Guz doesn't bat well away from the top of the lineup.

In the past 3 seasons (07-09), Guz has 1284 at bats, but only 100 not in the top 2 spots in the order.

That's 46 batting 3rd, 29 batting 6th and 17 batting 9th. None of those is really a large enough sample set to draw any concrete conclusions.

Posted by: comish4lif | March 8, 2010 1:19 PM | Report abuse

well add olsen to the list of potential starters that have been shellacked in their first appearance... only matt chico hasn't! and Livo, but that's because he hasn't appeared yet

Posted by: destewar | March 8, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse

I'm sticking with my prediction that the team will take the healthier of Chico/Olsen North next month...and they'll probably take Chico because Olsen's $1 mil isn't guaranteed.

Posted by: MBUSA | March 8, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Natsfan,
Now, only one more question. What is word verification. The site asked for that, but I don't know what it is. Trust me, I'm not as stupid as I sound but, apparently, I'm technologically challenged--Sorta like Guzman is in baseball. Ah c'mon, I couldn't resist.

Posted by: jcampbell1 | March 8, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

If your browser doesn't block out the captcha, you'll see a word that you'll need to type in for verification that you aren't a spammer or some such.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 8, 2010 1:57 PM | Report abuse

I like Guzman but it sounds like he could actually be productive at the 7 or 8 spot - swinging at anything close before the pitcher gets up to bat.

Posted by: AsstGM | March 8, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

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