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Cristian Guzman, leadoff hitter

Nyjer Morgan may return to the first spot before the year ends, but for the immediate future his place in the Nationals lineup is second, behind new leadoff hitter Cristian Guzman.

"If he had a bad ballgame, he's hitting second tomorrow," Manager Jim Riggleman said yesterday, after Guzman and Morgan wreaked havoc and set up a season-best offensive day. "If he had a good ballgame, he's hitting second tomorrow. We're looking for results. The results were good, so we'll stay there."

With their places settled for now, it's worth wondering how effective Guzman can be at the top of the lineup. Guzman, without question, is an extraordinarily skilled batsman. But there is more to being a productive offensive player than hitting, particularly at the top of the lineup, where reaching base matters most. The question is, as a leadoff man, will Guzman get on base enough?

"That's what we don't know," Riggleman said. "He's not your prototypical leadoff hitter. But Nyjer's on-base percentage is lower than Guzman's at this time. We're just trying to do it the best way we can and get everybody situated."

Last year, the median on-base percentage for a team's leadoff hitters was .350.* Guzman's on-base percentage last year was .306, lower than his career .308 OBP. In 2008, he put up a respectable .345.

Currently, Guzman has a very good .353 on-base percentage. It's been built almost wholly on his hits -- he leads the NL with a .327 batting average. He has just six walks in 174 plate appearances. He also faces 3.32 pitches per plate appearance, second lowest in the NL to Pedro Feliz, who sees 3.27.

*I could stress how important a leadoff man's on-base percentage is by pointing out that the Yankees led baseball with a .402 on-base percentage from their top spot -- but the National League champion Phillies got a .294 on-base percentage from their leadoff men. Go figure.

Because he walks so rarely, Guzman's on-base percentage is going to closely resemble his batting average. That's perfectly fine when Guzman is on a tear, like he is right now. Again, he's a really talented hitter.

Here's the problem: Guzman's batting average on balls in play is .383, second highest in the league behind David Freese. (The league average is .299, and Guzman's lifetime BABIP is .310.) Now, Guzman deserves a high BABIP. He runs reasonably well, he's hitting lots of line drives (23 percent of balls he puts in play) and rarely popping up to the infield (two percent of fly balls).

Even still, a .386 BABIP is rarely sustainable; only David Wright, with a .394 BABIP compiled in a cavernous home park, had one higher last year. It is practically inevitable Guzman's batting average will drop, and when it does there will be few walks to prop up his on-base percentage.

If and when that happens, the Nationals will have recourse. As much as Morgan struggled in May, they'll at least have a player who hit leadoff 93 times for them in the past two season who owns a .355 career on-base percentage. If Morgan regains his form hitting second, he can simply move back up.

"If Guzie has got to hit leadoff for a while, then that's where it will be," Riggleman said. "You see the Cardinals made the switch with Albert Pujols 3 to 4. Now they've switched him back. That's what we'd like to eventually do, too."

By Adam Kilgore  |  June 1, 2010; 2:57 PM ET
 
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Comments

it's not just the OBP that's important (and as you have acknowledged, this is not a forte of guzman's), it's seeing more pitches. especially in that first at bat (which you touched on lightly).

in that first at bat, it's very helpful for the first couple of hitters to see more pitches. not just for themselves, but for the guys behind them to watch and learn from (and sometimes to time them).

pitches per AB is useful in a lot of ways, particularly in working a starting pitcher hard enough that he pitches less innings. but also in being able to be better prepared for the next at bat, either yours or for the guy hitting behind you. and the higher in the lineup you're hitting, the more important it is.

it's noted that the yankees leadoff guy has a 402 OBP, but if you look at the rest of their numbers, you'll see that, for years, the yankees have ranked near the top in # of pitches per AB. this is a significant part of why they're able to grind down opposing pitching.

Posted by: sec231 | June 1, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

"You see the Cardinals made the switch with Albert Pujols 3 to 4. Now they've switched him back. That's what we'd like to eventually do, too."

We're getting Albert Pujols? Let's start a rumor. Maybe he'll play June 4 or 8!!

Posted by: poncedeleroy | June 1, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

One good thing about getting on base with singles instead of walks--almost nobody scores from second on a walk.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | June 1, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

I think the bravado is how Nyjer makes things happpen but it doesn't always play well when when the going gets tough. He maintains he's playing pretty well and isn't happy with batting second. I thought he would show some contrition after the glove tossing meltdown but he kept up the brave front. Also didn't like his steal of third yesterday during the big inning with Willingham up. He barely made it and could have tamped down the rally. Maybe he always has the green light but there was no great advantage in getting to third. Yes, he got in position to score on a flyball but with the Hammer up there better to just stay on second. I want to see him succeed but I hope he's not revealing himself as someone hungry for the spotlight.

Posted by: Natmeister | June 1, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

and then again, to paraphrase Manny, "It's not like Rickey Henderson is coming out of that dugout."

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | June 1, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Has anyone heard anything about Wang? Seems like he's fallen off the planet. Is he done for the year? Anything?

Posted by: skins_fan_22 | June 1, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Ummmmmm.... Natmeister? How to say this? That horse left the barn a long time ago.

********
I hope he's not revealing himself as someone hungry for the spotlight.
Posted by: Natmeister | June 1, 2010 4:14 PM

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | June 1, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

>>Also didn't like his steal of third yesterday during the big inning with Willingham up.

Agreed. That was a real bad decision. Coulda wiped that rally right out. The risk was not worth the reward. There was no purpose to it. Terrible decision. And he was lucky. Cause he was out. That was dumb.

Posted by: skins_fan_22 | June 1, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

I don't think it really matters who is hitting 1st or 2nd between Guzzie and Nyjer. They both bat in the first inning so Zim and the boys see the same amount of pitches regardless. The only benefit to this move is mental and since that seems to be Nyjer's problem, it's worth a shot.

Nyjer's got to pick it up if this team is going to make a run, so if this minor move is what it takes to jump-start him, then why not? It's not like Jim is moving him to the 8-hole (which is the only other option).

Much ado about nothing, in my opinion. Jim's playing head games and I support it.

Posted by: sec307 | June 1, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

>Much ado about nothing, in my opinion. Jim's playing head games and I support it.

Posted by: sec307

Yeah, he's just trying to get his attention without showing him up. The best move would be to put Desmond hitting second, he'd get a lot more fastballs to hit, and he likes to swing early in the count anyway. Problem is, the bottom of the order is so weak that they'd just continually walk Willingham. Riggs obviously knows this. He's been making lemonade out of lemons all year.

Posted by: Brue | June 1, 2010 4:52 PM | Report abuse

At this point they should bat Willingham second. He walks ... a lot.
Then Dunn, then Zimmerman, and then Guzman. He wants to hit and not walk? Fine. Let him drive in runs. Then follow with Pudge, Bernadina and Desmond.

Posted by: periculum | June 1, 2010 5:28 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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