Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Twas Blind, But Now He Sees

It seems that random and anonymous message board postings can be trusted, as Rocket Bill says that Cristian Guzman had laser eye surgery in the offseason. Not only that, but he focused on conditioining and dropped eight pounds, which can only help.

Guzman enters the season on the second year of a 4-year $16.2 million contract that was the crown jewel of Jim Bowden's coronation as General Manager.

Jim Bowden has brought in former decent player Royce Clayton to 'compete' with Guzman. But Clayton isn't really much of an improvement over a typical Guzman, and his $1 million salary, which would become guaranteed if he makes the team out of spring training, can't currently fit on the roster given all the contracts that Bowden has given it.

I've written before that Clayton is mostly cover. I'm sure there's an element of psychology involved, even if Guzman dismissed it to Ladson:
Asked if the Nationals were playing physiological [sic] games with him, Guzman said, "That doesn't work for me. They can bring in [Derek] Jeter. This is the new Guzie right now."

Guzman certainly has to feel under pressure regardless, assuming he has any professional pride. But part of my reasoning for saying that Clayton is a decoy is that Guzman almost has to play better next year. Last year was so far out of line with even his previous worst seasons that you almost have to chalk it down as a fluke.

Bad luck, bad vision, and a bad hitting coach formed a perfect storm of suckiness, which sank the SS Washington. I like projections as much as the next guy, but any projection system isn't going to account for those factors.

Cristian Guzman turns 28 this year. He's not old, even if his speed, which once was a major part of his game, had declined. From 2002-2004 Guzman was a consistent offensive performer, even if it was consistently mediocre. Even with his pathetic 2005, his career numbers are still .260/ .298/ .374. You can live with that from a shortstop, even if he's not going to be pushing you closer to first place.

Is there any reason that he can't push those totals again? RFK, of course, will dampen them, and I think much more was made of the artificial turf factor in Minnesota than should be, especially given the Twins shift from astroturf to fieldturf.

But let's aim high and suppose that he duplicates his next worst season. Disregarding his age-21 rookie year, his 2003 season was probably his worst: .268/ .311/ .365. Is that good? Nope. Would you take that this year from Guzman? Hell yeah!

Here's the strange thing (and this should put Guzman's suckiness into context). In that thoroughly mediocre 2003 season, created 60 runs. (If you're not familiar with Runs Created, it's a rough Bill James, which aims to sum up the player's batting line into a total of runs that that player produced. It's not perfect, but it's a good thumbnail.)

Last season, Guzman produced 37 runs. It's a general tenet that each ten runs of improvement yields around one win (assuming a normal distribution of runs, blah blah blah).

If Cristian Guzman produces stats equal to his next worst season, he'll be two wins better than last year.

And I'll sure as hell take that!

So c'mon Cristian! Go out there and be thoroughly mediocre! Nats fans are counting on you to suck, but just a little bit less than last year.