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.
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.