Dodger Thoughts: Matt Guerrier


Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireMatt Guerrier (33)
The setup: We set the stage pretty clearly when Guerrier signed a three-year, $12 million contract with the Dodgers in December ...
... Guerrier, who came up with the Minnesota Twins in 2004, has had a pretty fine career as a reliever, with a career ERA of 3.38. He has averaged 75.5 appearances the past four years. But the 32-year-old righty's strikeout rate has dropped below six per nine innings over the past two seasons, and as Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. points out, his fielding independent ERA was over 4.00 last season, indicating he's benefited from some luck. Add to that a batting average on balls in play over the past two seasons of .224, which is exceedingly lucky — and a warning sign considering that, as David Pinto of Baseball Musings writes, he'll have a poorer defense behind him in Los Angeles.

So you know, there's some stuff that's good with Guerrier, and there's some stuff that's less good. With the exception of 2008, when his ERA soared above 5.00, the results have been there. The main concern might be asking him to continue being this productive from ages 32-35.

Since the Dodgers' last won a World Series, according to Baseball-Reference.com, the following pitchers have had an ERA below 4.00 with a K/9 rate below 7.00 for three consecutive seasons after turning 32, pitching a minimum of 50 innings: David Weathers, Steve Reed, Paul Quantrill, Terry Leach, Chris Hammond, Ryan Franklin and Jeff Reardon. I realize that ERA isn't a very good way to measure the quality of relief pitching, but I'm just exploring the possibility of someone being good, not making any definitive statement.

So you have that. He might be good, maybe for a long time.

Against that, though, I would still offer that relievers are simply, unavoidably, notoriously inconsistent. We've detailed this frequently in the past, but to sum up, it's exceedingly rare that relievers don't go through bad spells, and when you try to jump on the bandwagon of one that's been successful for a while, the odds grow against you.

There have been 66 pitchers for the Dodgers in the Ned Colletti era, from Jonathan Broxton to Mark Loretta. The highlights in the bullpen have been the low-risk investments, coming up through the farm system or coming in as cheap free agents, who have paid dividends. Perhaps, based on the failures of the 2010 bullpen, Colletti has decided he can't play that game anymore, though you'd think George Sherrill might dissuade him from placing such a big bet on Guerrier. ...

The closeup: At the start of the year, with the rest of the Dodger bullpen largely crumbling around him, Guerrier was mostly superlative. He had a terrible outing April 23 in Chicago, the game in which the Dodgers rallied from a 5-1 deficit to take an 8-5 lead, only for Guerrier to allow five runs in his second inning of work to take a 10-8 loss. They were the first runs Guerrier had allowed after 11 2/3 scoreless innings to start the season. One week later, Guerrier allowed three runs (two earned) in the bottom of the eighth inning against San Diego, turning a 2-2 tie into a 5-2 defeat. Nonetheless, through June 4 Guerrier had recovered to the point that he had a 3.04 ERA and had stranded 10 of 13 inherited runners. He allowed no runs or inherited runs in 22 of 29 appearances, and if it weren't for those Chicago and San Diego games, Guerrier's ERA through June 4 would have been 1.00 in 27 innings.

From that point on, however, Guerrier became less reliable, not only with a 4.91 ERA for the remainder of the season but by allowing 57 percent (16 of 28) of inherited runners to score – far too high a figure for any major-league reliever. Guerrier finished 2011 with a 4.07 ERA and 46 percent (19 of 41) inherited runners scoring. The average National League reliever allowed a 4.16 ERA and 30 percent of inherited runners to score.

If a rookie like Javy Guerra or Josh Lindblom had pitched the way Guerrier did, you would shrug and say "that's about what you expect" or "you get what you pay for." But for a multiyear contract man, it was disappointing – and yet, not completely surprising. I admit that I had lost track of how Guerrier was more effective in the first two months of the season – at a time when much of the team was injured or underperforming – but the total year was unfortunately inconsistent.

Coming attractions: Guerrier has two more years left on his unevenly structured contract: He was paid $1.5 million in 2011 but is owed $4.75 million in each of 2012 and 2013, with $1 million deferred until 2014. He will likely be the Dodgers' highest-paid reliever in 2012. Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness offers more on Guerrier and his contract.
Kim Klement/US PresswireIn the past three seasons, Lance Cormier has allowed a sub-.700 OPS against left-handed batters, including 26 extra-base hits in 486 plate appearances.
Outside of the left-field conundrum, the Dodgers' biggest question mark for Spring Training might be how they will address the task of getting left-handed batters out with their almost completely right-handed bullpen. No one wants to see Hong-Chih Kuo relegated to facing only lefties, and the only other left-handed thrower on the 40-man roster is the uncertain Scott Elbert.

Three non-roster invitees to major-league camp are left-handed: 39-year-old Ron Mahay, achy-hamstringed Dana Eveland (whose career 5.74 ERA will apparently be sidelined for weeks after Thursday's injury) and Wilkin De La Rosa, who has never pitched about Double-A. After that, you start dipping down into the minors for developing players like James Adkins.

With Ronald Belisario's absence seemingly opening up a roster spot, Mahay would seem to be the default candidate. He had a .520 OPS allowed against lefties last season. But the previous two seasons, his OPS allowed against lefties was above .700 — which isn't terrible, but isn't exactly the kind of authoritative performance you're looking for when you really want someone to come in and get that guy out.

I got to wondering if there were any righties among the Dodger relievers who were reliable against lefties. Here's a chart of the bullpen candidates' OPS allowed against lefties over the past three seasons in the majors:

2010 PA/2010 OPS 2009 PA/2009 OPS 2008 PA/2008 OPS
Belisario86.793 122.720   
Broxton123.626 148.414 126.800
Colon5.650 94.713   
Cormier162.718 180.671 144.667
Elbert42.000 40.699 141.000
Eveland59.802 60.999 170.646
Guerrier102.649 120.525 126.801
Hawksworth185.886 76.724   
Jansen51.586      
Kuo69.271 40.524 98.557
Link16.962      
MacDougal391.353 124.760 24.858
Mahay68.520 111.743 110.721
Monasterios188.709      
Padilla166.590 352.837 385.944
Redding   282.860 402.808
Schlichting39.465 9.905   
Troncoso99.823 157.751 84.707
Villarreal      68.862

Some observations:
  • The Dodgers have a few righties who seem consistently effective against their opposite numbers: Jonathan Broxton, Matt Guerrier and, based on a small sample size, Kenley Jansen.
  • Oh, and another guy who probably isn't on your radar ... late signee Lance Cormier.
  • Based on only his one season, Carlos Monasterios offers an intriguing first impression — though looking at the chart, you can see how much these numbers can fluctuate. Look at what happened to Ramon Troncoso, for example, or moving in the other direction, Vicente Padilla.
  • For extreme small-sample candidates, there's Roman Colon and Travis Schlichting. Consider at your own risk.

If the Dodgers decide that Kuo, Broxton, Guerrier, Jansen and Padilla are all effective against lefties, they could decide to go without a second left-handed pitcher — especially if they also think Cormier is worth a roster slot. It might still be Mahay's spot to lose or Scott Elbert's spot to win, but Cormier might be this year's guy you least expected.

Why Guerrier could lose the WAR

December, 15, 2010
12/15/10
2:33
PM PT
Just one more quick note on soon-to-be-newest Dodger reliever Matt Guerrier:

According to Baseball-Reference.com, Guerrier has had Wins Above Replacement values of 2.3 in 2009 (age 30 for most of the season) and 1.4 in 2010 (age 31). The Dodgers' expectation or hope in giving him a $12 million contract through 2013, presumably, is that he'll repeat that performance over the next three years.

But since 1990, again according to Baseball-Reference.com, only three relievers above age 30 have had as many as five seasons with WAR over 1.0 without striking out more than 7.0 batters per nine innings (Guerrier's career high). And none of those pitchers — David Weathers, Mike Timlin and Steve Reed — did so in more than three consecutive seasons.

In other words, what the Dodgers are asking Guerrier to do — be a productive reliever for a third, fourth and fifth season in a row after turning 30, without striking out many batters — has not been done by anyone in at least the past 20 years.

Update: To be precise, Jeff Reardon accomplished the feat from 1988-92. His first two seasons fell outside my original search. Dan Quisenberry (1983-87) and Kent Tekulve (1981-87) also succeeded. But that's it since at least 1970.

Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images
Matt Guerrier

The Dodgers are about to give a three-year, $12 million contract to Matt Guerrier, writes Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com. The deal was first reported by Newsday's Eric Boland in a tweet.

Guerrier, who came up with the Minnesota Twins in 2004, has had a pretty fine career as a reliever, with a career ERA of 3.38. He has averaged 75.5 appearances the past four years. But the 32-year-old righty's strikeout rate has dropped below six per nine innings over the past two seasons, and as Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. points out, his fielding independent ERA was over 4.00 last season, indicating he's benefited from some luck. Add to that a batting average on balls in play over the past two seasons of .224, which is exceedingly lucky — and a warning sign considering that, as David Pinto of Baseball Musings writes, he'll have a poorer defense behind him in Los Angeles.

So you know, there's some stuff that's good with Guerrier, and there's some stuff that's less good. With the exception of 2008, when his ERA soared above 5.00, the results have been there. The main concern might be asking him to continue being this productive from ages 32-35.

Since the Dodgers' last won a World Series, according to Baseball-Reference.com, the following pitchers have had an ERA below 4.00 with a K/9 rate below 7.00 for three consecutive seasons after turning 32, pitching a minimum of 50 innings: David Weathers, Steve Reed, Paul Quantrill, Terry Leach, Chris Hammond, Ryan Franklin and Jeff Reardon. I realize that ERA isn't a very good way to measure the quality of relief pitching, but I'm just exploring the possibility of someone being good, not making any definitive statement.

So you have that. He might be good, maybe for a long time.

Against that, though, I would still offer that relievers are simply, unavoidably, notoriously inconsistent. We've detailed this frequently in the past, but to sum up, it's exceedingly rare that relievers don't go through bad spells, and when you try to jump on the bandwagon of one that's been successful for a while, the odds grow against you.

There have been 66 pitchers for the Dodgers in the Ned Colletti era, from Jonathan Broxton to Mark Loretta. The highlights in the bullpen have been the low-risk investments, coming up through the farm system or coming in as cheap free agents, who have paid dividends. Perhaps, based on the failures of the 2010 bullpen, Colletti has decided he can't play that game anymore, though you'd think George Sherrill might dissuade him from placing such a big bet on Guerrier.

Guerrier joins a bullpen that, if the season were starting today, would include Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo, Kenley Jansen, Vicente Padilla, Blake Hawksworth and Ronald Belisario, with Ramon Troncoso, Carlos Monasterios, Travis Schlichting and Scott Elbert among those waiting in the wings. That's a deep bullpen, indicating at least one of three things — Colletti doesn't see any hope for additions to the Dodger offense, he doesn't intend to tolerate any weakness on the pitching staff, or someone's being lined up as trade bait.

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