Comps for Jesus Guzman

People have been asking me about Jesus Guzman, and for good reason. Since his recall from Triple-A in mid-June, Guzman has done nothing but hit, which makes him an anomalous figure on the 2011 Padres.

This is exciting, of course, because who doesn’t love the occasional run? At the same time, Guzman is 27 years old and just getting his first taste of the big leagues, which means he isn’t likely to become much more than a role player at this level.

One problem is that Guzman doesn’t have a real position. He played a lot of third base in the minors (504 games), albeit not particularly well (.908 FPct). Since coming up with the Padres, most of his action has been at first base, accompanied by a few scattered innings of corner outfield work.

What kind of defender is Guzman? The Giants, who are starved for offense and who at one point had noted glovemen Pat Burrell, Aubrey Huff, and Miguel Tejada on the field at the same time, couldn’t find a use for him.

But Guzman can hit. He impressed me when I saw him at Tucson in May, and he continues to do so in San Diego.

At the time of his recall, I compared Guzman to Olmedo Saenz, who is sort of my prototype for this skill set. Corner guy, oldish, line drive power, never got much of a chance because his employers focused more on what he couldn’t do than on what he could do. These types litter the minor leagues, although most don’t get the break they need.

Saenz did, and Guzman could follow in his footsteps. If there is a more ideal situation for a ‘tweener to establish himself at the big-league level than with the 2011 San Diego Padres, I can’t imagine what it might be.

To get a better idea of what type of player Guzman could become, I decided to look for comps. There are as many ways to compare players as there are comps themselves, but here is the method I chose.

Based on Guzman’s usage and performance thus far, he should log 200-300 PA and an OPS+ of at least 100 (he’s currently at 102 and 172, respectively). So I used Baseball-Reference’s Play Index tool to find hitter seasons that met the following criteria, going back to 1901:

  • First or second year of career
  • Age 27 or older
  • 200-300 PA
  • 100 OPS+ or higher

We can debate the particulars, but this should give us a good starting point. In fact, 52 players meet our criteria, from Baltimore first baseman Burt Hart in 1901 to Detroit’s Will Rhymes and St. Louis’ David Freese last year. For fun, here are the top five such performances (as measured by OPS+) in MLB history:

Player         Year Age  PA   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
Luke Scott     2006  28 249 .336 .426 .621 165
Johnny Schulte 1927  30 208 .288 .456 .538 160
Bill Salkeld   1946  29 200 .294 .432 .400 134
Eddie Eayrs    1920  29 284 .328 .410 .377 132
Chief Meyers   1909  28 252 .277 .359 .382 128

Scott becomes the answer to a trivia question no one will ever ask. The others on this list played the game so long ago that very few (if any) people currently alive have seen them play. (I always like remembering such players, which is why I wrote about Meyers a couple years ago.)

I’m not sure how instructive looking at, say, Schulte’s 1927 campaign will be in trying to figure out what type of player Guzman might become. The environments are so radically different that there probably isn’t much value in comparing the two players.

I therefore narrowed my search to players of the past 50 years, which returned 21 names. From this list, I looked for guys who played corner infield/outfield spots and who had some semblance of power (thus removing the likes of slap-hitting second baseman Jeff Frye from consideration). I also focused more on players of the past 15-20 years, figuring that we might actually remember some of them


Player         Year Age  PA   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
Olmedo Saenz   1999  28 295 .275 .363 .475 118
Brian Buchanan 2001  27 219 .274 .342 .487 114
Ron Coomer     1996  29 253 .296 .340 .511 111
David Freese   2010  27 270 .296 .361 .404 109
Lyle Mouton    1996  27 241 .294 .361 .439 106

I can’t tell you how pleased I am to see Saenz’s name at the top. There is a certain geeky validation in having one’s intuition confirmed by numbers. Former Padres Buchanan and Freese also show up here. Nobody on this list surprises me in the least.

Not all minor leagues are created equal, of course, but I thought it might be fun to see how these hitters fared in their formative years. I’ve added Guzman’s to this one for reference:

Player           PA   BA  OBP  SLG
Olmedo Saenz   3242 .280 .358 .449
Brian Buchanan 4332 .279 .341 .450
Ron Coomer     3533 .296 .349 .469
David Freese   1675 .307 .384 .531
Lyle Mouton    3762 .289 .356 .489
Jesus Guzman   3818 .305 .373 .480

Freese skews the curve a bit with his low PA total and high slash line, but this works. Guzman absolutely belongs with these guys. How about their big-league career numbers:

Player           PA   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
Olmedo Saenz   1891 .263 .340 .465 109
Brian Buchanan  857 .258 .328 .439 102
Ron Coomer     3238 .274 .313 .421  87
David Freese    514 .308 .363 .438 121
Lyle Mouton     890 .280 .339 .420  98

Freese’s career is still in progress, but this gives you some idea of what Guzman might become. He won’t be a star, and despite his strong start this year, he shouldn’t take too much time away from the youngsters who could help lead the Padres in a few years.

That said, Guzman is a potentially useful support player whose skills have been overlooked. Sometimes a shot with a bad team is all a kid needs. When you think of the Padres’ poor showing in 2011, remember Jesus Guzman, whose career might not have happened without it.