Today we look at one of the more polarizing figures on the Dodgers roster, Cuban infielder Alex Guerrero.
Ok I lied. He’s not polarizing. For someone to be polarizing there have to be both people who like him and hate him. As far as I can tell, I’m the only person on the planet who actually likes the guy. Lets take a look at why some people might be underrating the 29-year-old Cuban defector.
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Guerrero started the 2015 season as a lock to make the 25-man roster. This was partly due to a clause in his contract that stated that he could not be sent to the minors after his first year with the team, but it was also partly because he had a really good year in 2014.
Ok, he did get part of his ear bitten off by a teammate. That wasn’t great. So maybe we can call it a so-so year for Guerrero.
What he did do right was to put up some pretty impressive offensive numbers. In 77 minor league games, Guerrero slashed .333/.373/.621 with 17 home runs and 57 RBI. Those are top prospect type numbers. But as an experienced professional, it was expected that Guerrero’s bat would be more or less ready. And early in the 2015 season, it certainly was.
Guerrero had a fast start in 2015, hitting nine home runs through the first two months of the season while mostly coming off the bench. But after the hot start to the season, Don Mattingly inexplicably stopped giving him virtually any starts at all, preferring to bring him on almost exclusively as a pinch-hitter. It seems like his confidence might have taken a hit as a result of this, considering he ended the season with a .233/.261/.434 triple-slash line and 11 home runs. The question is what made Mattingly decide to bench Guerrero in the first place? The obvious answer is defense.
When the Dodgers traded for Howie Kendrick, it signaled that the Alex Guerrero second base experiment was officially over. He would go on to play primarily at third base and left field, but he didn’t look great playing those positions either. Something about the way he runs, the lack of grace, just doesn’t pass the eye test. But in the words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, “your eyes can deceive you.”
Defensive metrics are usually only useful indicator of future performance when you have a large sample size, but they are fair criteria for how well a player fielded his position in the few games that he did play. His numbers in the outfield were legitimately bad, so for arguments sake let’s ignore those and focus on the infield, which is where Guerrero is most comfortable. In 22 games at third base, Guerrero had -1 Defensive Runs Saved, with 1 error, a UZR of 1.2, and a prorated UZR/150 of 12 runs. For comparison, Juan Uribe has a career UZR/150 of 16.2 at third base and defensive whiz Nolan Arenado has a career UZR/150 of 10.6. These numbers seem to indicate that Alex Guerrero was at least fairly decent in the games he played at third base.
2016 Role and Steamer Projections
Provided he’s still a Dodger, which isn’t a lock, Guerrero will likely fill a utility role for the team. Since he can’t be optioned to the minors without his permission, he will likely have to be traded in order to clear his roster spot. But with the injury to Andre Ethier, finding a spot for Guerrero has gotten a little bit easier. Provided Alex Guerrero is on the roster, the Dodgers will likely be forced to decide between carrying only six relievers and optioning a guy like Yimi Garcia, or carrying seven relievers and optioning a guy like Trayce Thompson. Either way, I would like to see Guerrero given a shot to play all four infield positions so we can finally see what he can and cannot handle defensively, but I expect he will spend at least half his time in a corner outfield spot.
Steamer projects Guerrero to slash .236/.269/.401 with 1 home run in just 20 plate appearances and 5 games played. I don’t know if Steamer has some kind of magic ball that can predict injuries, but 5 games seems a bit low. ZiPS, on the other hand, has Guerrero slashing .247/.296/.399 with 12 homers in a more reasonable 114 games. I expect that Guerrero will outperform these projections provided he gets regular playing time. At the very least, he should hit for more power than ZiPS or Steamer indicate.
What Could Go Wrong?
Guerrero could conceivably suffer the same fate in 2016 as he did in 2015. Assuming Dave Roberts has the same opinion of Guerrero’s potential as Don Mattingly did, he could be relegated primarily to the role of pinch-hitter. Without consistent at-bats, Guerrero will find it harder to adjust to pitchers who seemingly have him figured out after his 2015 season. If this happens, and he is unable to find an offensive groove, then it will surely signal the end of his Dodger career. One year of questionable defense and mediocre offense is one thing; two years in a row is a problem.
What Could Go Right?
For things to go right for Guerrero, it likely means that things have gone poorly for another Dodger. The only way that Guerrero will get consistent playing time is if someone ahead of him on the depth chart gets hurt or suffers from poor form. If this happens, it might prove to be a blessing in disguise with Guerrero finally living up to his big contract. I predict that if he gets a consistent run of starts in the infield, Dodger fans will see the Alex Guerrero that they expected to see after he came over from Cuba. If that proves to be the case, a versatile infielder with real power is not a bad player to have.
That concludes most bullish post regarding Guerrero on the internet. Feel free to express your displeasure in the comments.