It’s interesting how quickly optimism fades into reality, how quickly promise fades to normalcy, and how quickly a problem finding a position for an offensive powerhouse solves itself. Such is the case with the 2012 Padres and Jesus Guzman.
Guzman’s story has been told over and over again in Padres circles. I’ve written about him. You’ve read about him. Optimism for his potential production during a full season reached a fever pitch by Opening Day, and to their credit, the Padres made room for the former career minor leaguer. Unfortunately, Guzman has fallen back to earth quite a bit and finds himself relegated back to a utility role rather than an everyday starter.
The questions surrounding the team are mounting in an ever-increasing pile that the Padres may never be able to dig through. However, the questions surrounding Guzman may be a little more manageable. What happened? Who is the real Jesus Guzman? Can he find his swing this year?
To answer these question we must first look not at 2011, but before. In 2009, he had 20 plate appearances with the Giants. That’s certainly not a total with which we can draw any conclusions, but it provides a baseline. It allows us to combine those numbers with this season’s numbers so far for the purpose of comparing them with 2011. In 2009, Guzman hit .250/.250/.250. He had no walks and no extra-base hits. So far in 2012 with 72 plate appearances under his belt, he is hitting .209/.254/.269 with four walks and four extra base hits. Combined, he has seen the plate 92 times in 2009 and 2012. He’s been slightly better in 2012 than 2009, but is that indicative of his true talents?
The combined plate appearances for these two years are still less than half of the PA’s he Hardin 2011, so last season still provides the best information. If for no other reason, people should be encouraged by this fact. Yet something is different so far this year.
Guzman is striking out more. He’s on pace to strike out far more than he did in a similar number of at-bats in 2011. When Guzman does make contact, his contact is not equaling hits as much as it has in the past. His BAbip this season is sitting at .275. In 2011, it was .360. In his short time up in the Majors in 2009, his BAbip was .294. Inclusive of the minors, Guzman’s BAbip is .340. He’s shown that in the past when he makes contact, he can find holes. This year, that is not the case so far.
Generally speaking, numbers tend to revert toward the mean. Usually we talk about this for players who are having phenomenal early season success but their career numbers don’t indicate it can be sustained. The reverse is true of Guzman, and most people in San Diego hope his numbers revert to the mean. But that being said, can we pinpoint any area causing Guzman’s strikeouts to be on the rise and his BAbip to be on the decline?
Guzman was one of the rare players in 2011 who found success in the air. His flyball percentage was 36.1% while his ground ball percentage was 42%. This season, Guzman is hitting a lot more ground balls. His ground ball percentage is at 51% right now. This has led to a 2.4% reduction in line drives so far in 2012 verse 2011. Line drives are where players find success at Petco.
Speaking of Petco, let’s examine Guzman’s splits. Last year, Guzman hit better at home. He put up a .346/.412/.551 line in 35 games at home. On the road, he managed a .286/.336/.421 line in 41 games. This year has been the opposite. Guzman is hitting .195/.214/.244 at home. On the road, he is hitting .231/.310/.308.
A big reason for Guzman’s struggles is his plate discipline. He is swinging at 3.3% more pitches outside the zone this year compared with last. On those swings outside the zone, Guzman is making contact 7.1% less than he did in 2011.
There’s no easy solution to a lack of plate discipline. It requires a mindset on the player’s behalf. The hitting coaches can work with Guzman, they can preach discipline and watching pitches. However, it’s up to Guzman to make the adjustments. When he swings at pitches outside the zone, he entices pitchers to continue throwing there. As they do so Guzman continues to swing and loses his chance at making contact on solid pitches in the zone. In fact, he completely reduces his chances of seeing good pitches to hit.
It will take patience at the plate and drawing walks for Guzman to start to see pitches in the zone again. When he does, he will have to prove he can still punish pitchers who come into the zone. Until Guzman makes these adjustments though, he will see limited time as a starter and questions will continue to swirl like storm clouds on the horizon.