Friday, June 17, 2011

Guerrero and the outfield

Here's The Baltimore Sun's Dan Connolly, wondering whether or not the Orioles should allow Vladimir Guerrero to play the outfield in their next few interleague play road games:
But for the next six games in Washington and Pittsburgh, there will be no DH. So what do you do with Guerrero?

He won’t be in Friday’s starting lineup and I doubt he’ll start any – maybe one – in left field. It’s not just that he is considered a liability out there. The Orioles don’t want him to risk injury – and last year his offensive production dipped when he played the field. (By the way, he still shags fly balls in warm-ups and would like to play outfield if the alternative is getting to hit just once. But he says it is completely up to Buck Showalter.)

While in the outfield in 2010, Guerrero batted .234 with four homers in 64 at-bats. As a DH last year, he hit .306 with 25 homers in 523 at-bats. He also saw a serious drop in power between his first and second halves of 2010 – which we assume means he wore down. Even if he isn’t part of the Orioles’ future, you want him as a potential trade chip in July, so keeping him somewhat fresh could be important.

The flip side is, even though his power numbers are down, he still can be a presence in the middle of the lineup and taking him out weakens a group that isn’t exactly playing pinball with the scoreboard.

My suggestion is start him twice in left and use him as a pinch-hitter in the other four games. I don’t’ think that’s what’s going to happen – I see him pinch-hitting in all six – but if I were in charge for a week, I’d let him play the outfield twice.
So do you agree with Connolly? Should the O's allow Vlad to play left field for a couple of games?

Short answer: No way.

Long(er) answer: The 64 at-bats from 2010 that Connolly mentions isn't much of a sample size to go on, but it's not a stretch to suggest that at this point in his career, Guerrero is better when he focuses most of his energy on his offensive production. At 36, he also doesn't run that well anymore. If Nick Markakis occassionally has trouble reaching fly balls in the gap, how exactly is Guerrero going to run them down? The O's may as well just play Adam Jones in left-center if Vlad is out there.

In terms of offense, even though Vlad is having a down year, he's still one of the O's more productive hitters (again, that's not saying much). He's not having a great power year and obviously he doesn't walk much, but out of O's batters with more than 100 plate appearances, Vlad is sixth in wOBA (.317). But because he's not hitting all that well, he's only been worth 0.1 WAR at DH. That's not what the O's expected when they shelled out $8 million for his services.

So say, for some reason this season, Guerrero possibly hits a little better when he's playing in left field. Is it really worth it to deal with his defense just to keep his (still) average bat in the lineup? Remember earlier this season, when the Giants tried to fool everyone into thinking that Aubrey Huff could still play the outfield? Not only was Huff embarrassed early and often, but it (obviously) hurt the team. So yeah, if Guerrero had amazing offensive numbers, then it might be worth it to have this discussion. But even though he's been decent compared to what other O's hitters have done this year, it's not really worth it to roll the dice on his outfield defense.

If Guerrero could play first base, where less running is required, then the move would make a little more sense -- even more so because of how horrible Derrek Lee (.271 wOBA) has been at the plate. However, I seriously doubt that will happen.

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