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Cristian Guzman, everyday player?

At the end of spring training, it seemed as though Cristian Guzman would have difficulty finding playing time. Ian Desmond had claimed the starting shortstop spot, Adam Kennedy had signed to play second base, Guzman was the odd man out.

His performance through slightly more than a quarter of the season has made it impossible for Manager Jim Riggleman to keep him out of the lineup. Guzman is hitting .345, second in the National League. He's appeared in all of the past nine Nationals games, starting eight of them. Once relegated to reserve status, Guzman has virtually become an everyday player.

Kennedy, then is becoming an odd-man out, having started five of the past 11 games. The three-way middle infield set-up so far has been a success because Kennedy, Guzman and Desmond have handled themselves so well. Their acceptance of the situation has contributed to the team's harmony -- if they don't complain, it's hard for others to.

Let's take a quick look at each's stats this season.

39 games, 32 starts, 151 PA, .345 AVG, .373 OBP, .437 SLG, 0 HR, 1 SB

42 games, 31 starts, 133 PA, .252 AVG, .326 OBP, .365 SLG, 2 HR, 5 SB

44 games, 36 starts, 152 PA, .261 AVG, .309 OBP, .406 SLG, 3 HR, 3 SB

First, Desmond has only cemented himself as the everyday shortstop with his outstanding defense -- his 14.4 UZR/150 is fourth best among major league shortstops.

In regards to second base, the easy answer is to make Guzman the everyday second baseman and let Kennedy serve as an infield backup and late-inning first base replacement. But that might not be the right answer.

Guzman has a .402 batting average on balls put in play, highest in the National League and 104 points above the league average. He deserves a high BABIP because he's hitting lots of drives (24 percent of balls in play, tying a career best) and hitting basically no infield flies (2 percent of fly balls). But inevitably it will come down and his batting average will drop with it, which is doubly troubling because Guzman rarely walks and is so reliant on hits to boost his on-base percentage.

Kennedy, meanwhile, is encountering buzzard's luck. He has a .265 BABIP, which ranks 147th in the majors, despite hitting line drives on 21 percent of his balls in play (above league average) and popping up 10 percent of his fly balls to the infield (below league average).

The point is not to take away from Guzman's tremendous season. While learning two new positions after accepting what he assumed would be lesser playing time without complaint, Guzman is putting up one of his best offensive years. Whatever his value as an offensive player, he's an incredibly skilled hitter.

The upshot from all the density above is this: Guzman is not going to keep hitting this well, and Kennedy is going to start hitting better. It's hard to take Guzman's bat out of the lineup, and you can't blame Riggleman for putting the hot bat in there. To win in the long run, Riggleman and the Nationals will need both Guzman and Kennedy, and that means both need to keep playing.

I'm amazed that I researched and wrote this entire post on an airplane. No matter how often I use WiFi in the sky, it will never cease to seem incredible.

By Adam Kilgore  |  May 25, 2010; 2:28 PM ET
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Next: Nationals overlooked in All-Star voting


The problem is the airplane used to be your respite. You could sleep, pleasure read, just stare straight ahead.
Now you're going to be expected to work!

Posted by: NFBLooser | May 25, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

I smell a Guzzie trade sometime soon.

Posted by: Juan-John1 | May 25, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

The problem is the airplane used to be your respite. You could sleep, pleasure read, just stare straight ahead.
Now you're going to be expected to work!

Posted by: NFBLooser | May 25, 2010 2:40 PM | Report abuse

I'm surprised the Post can afford to pay for the wi-fi!

Posted by: ramgut | May 25, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Guzman's OPS = .810?
Desmond's OPS = .715?

Wow... who woulda thought?

Posted by: gilbertbp | May 25, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

ODog who?

Posted by: dovelevine | May 25, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

You go Adam! Way to feed the beast. And a very well argued piece too. You really can't argue with success here, and when Guzzie starts coming back down to earth, hopefully AK (how nice it is to write those initials without referring to Austin you know who) will be on an upswing. He's a slightly better defensive player, and a smart baserunner who can help us win games. I'm very glad Riggleman has found a way to get all three of them involved on a regular basis.

Desmond on defense has been a real revelation. He plays like he owns the position, it's amazing to watch. Now what the heck are we going to do with Espinosa in a few years?

Posted by: Section222 | May 25, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

WRT the airplane as refuge: We're dinosaurs. One of the things I used to like about the car was that no one could call you there.

Posted by: zimbar | May 25, 2010 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Adam's right; Guzman will probably regress toward the mean, but those are pretty good numbers from the three-headed monster so far.

Posted by: BinM | May 25, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

That's the kind of problem you like to have.
Now what the heck are we going to do with Espinosa in a few years?
Posted by: Section222

Posted by: BinM | May 25, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Trade bait?

Posted by: Tom8 | May 25, 2010 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Start him at 2B when Guzzie and AK are gone.

Now what the heck are we going to do with Espinosa in a few years?
Posted by: Section222

Posted by: WebberDC | May 25, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

I wish we could trade Guzman and eat some of his salary right now for a prospect. He has been fun to watch, but he does not figure in the plans beyond this season, I am sure.


Posted by: kevincostello | May 25, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Kevincostello: I could respond with venom about your suggestion to trade the leading hitter on this team and one of the top three hitters in the NL,but that would be too easy instead, i will say that this franchise has seen enough losing in it's brief history and any player on a hitting tear like Guzman helps this team win that is what's important not prospect's who may or may not contribute.

Posted by: dargregmag | May 25, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

"he does not figure in the plans beyond this season, I am sure."

I'm not so sure about that. Guzman could be creating a very good case for being resigned as a FA by the Nats next winter.

Posted by: nunof1 | May 25, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse


Thanks for taking the time to research and craft this post while en route. I'm another dinosaur who remembers being on a trans-Atlantic flight many years ago, reading and blissfully aware that nobody could interrupt my quiet time with an urgent work-related call.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | May 25, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

This team is in a very good position with Guzzie. That is, if they don't trade him, they can reap the benefits of his veteran savvy and versatility for a team that is over .500. On the other hand, if they trade him for prospects, it does help the rebuilding mode.

That said, this team can afford to hold onto Guzzie for the right deal. If said offer never comes along, then the team could seemingly still use him, even at the risk of losing him for nothing after '10...

Posted by: -CN- | May 25, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

guzman hits line drives like a champ the problem is that is really all he does well, that and he still does the the meathook double celebration, so two good things about guzzie and I guess his attitude is solid although initially he seemed to bristle at the idea of moving from short

Posted by: bford1kb | May 25, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Guz has taken way to much crap in his time with this franchise. The guy just produces and he has proven this year that he's a great team player, going wherever Riggs puts him, with no complaint.

I think he could help this team for a couple more years. You can always find a spot on a roster for a switch hitter that plays multiple positions.

Posted by: Section505203 | May 25, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Guzman is an extremely streaky player. When he's been hot, he's one of the best hitters on the team. When he's not, he's one of the worst in the majors. His streaks are amazingly good and bad. As long as he's hitting, he's gotta be in. But when he's not, you're looking at a .600 OPS

Posted by: CharlieF | May 25, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Excellent article. Nice problem to have. I'm surprised that there is so little difference between Desmond and Kennedy offensively. For now, of course.

Posted by: markfromark | May 25, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

my biggest beef with guzzie is the fact that despite his ability to shower the outfield with these line drives he's still not good enough, or more likely, disciplined enough at the plate to do the little things like hit a fly ball or a grounder when the situation calls for it, he'll hit .300 but he's gonna oscillate between maddening and cloud 9

Posted by: bford1kb | May 25, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Guzmans problem is he can't please everybody, amazing. What does he have to do, perhaps play short and 2nd at the same time might do it, and of course finish the season at .400+....yeah, that might work.

Posted by: cokedispatch | May 25, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse

Right on cokedispatch no matter what Guzman does it's never good enough, never mind that Zimm will come up and hit into a rally killing DP or Dunn will do his usual called strike three looking routine with RISP Guz has been as Riggleman has said a pro's pro and great clubhouse teamate so let's give credit where credit is due, way to go Guz!!

Posted by: dargregmag | May 25, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse

Guz fan here too. I disagree with the assertion that he has to "regress to the mean." He's hitting .309 over the last 4 seasons as a Nat (I've blocked out the gawdawful 2005 season). He's obviously a great clubhouse guy and has taken to his new role of filling in wherever needed. I'd love for the Nats to re-sign him.

Posted by: g3jr | May 25, 2010 6:54 PM | Report abuse

This Guzzie love is amazing.

Are we talking about the same guy, who in 2005, barely hit .200?

Posted by: urbanbunnies | May 25, 2010 7:00 PM | Report abuse

Yeah urban. Same guy who hit .219 for one season five years ago and has hit .309 since then...

Posted by: g3jr | May 25, 2010 7:07 PM | Report abuse

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