The Curious Case of Alex Guerrero

June is here and summer has been kicked into full swing. And of course you can’t have summer without baseball and with about a third of the season gone, we now have an idea of how the year is shaping up. There have been some surprises — at the beginning of the year many were wondering if Bryce Harper would regress even more, and of course they’re not talking about that now. Many had A-Rod not producing at all but so far this year, he’s returned to A-Rod form. We have rookie sensations who are delivering right away in Joc Pederson and Kris Bryant but there’s another rookie who has put up great numbers but hasn’t seen the same hype or support from analyst and in ways, even his team, that the others have. I’m talking about Alex Guerrero of the Los Angeles Dodgers of course. Technically a rookie with clause in his contract that keeps him from being sent to the minors, at the beginning of the year some thought it would hurt the Dodgers to have Guerrero on the roster but so far he’s been an offensive surprise (and for not playing third base or the outfield much, defensively he’s done better then let’s say former Dodger, Hanley Ramirez.) So what I want to know is, where’s the love for Alex Guerrero?

After filling in at third for an injured Juan Uribe, Guerrero quickly impressed with his bat going 4-10 with one homer and six RBI. Once Uribe came back however, Guerrero was relocated to do what some consider to be one of the hardest things to do it in sports, pinch-hit. It didn’t seem to stop Guerrero who continued to hit, going 3-5 in a five-game stretch, hitting two homers with five RBI. It was easy to understand everyone’s apprehension when Guerrero came out hitting this way. He was operating at a Superman-like pace and the logical thought would be he’d eventually come back down to earth, so neither analysts nor even the Dodgers themselves fully committed to Guerrero. The Dodgers also had a clubhouse favorite and adequate third baseman in Uribe, a full outfield and a deep bench; it seemed like there was no place for Guerrero in the starting lineup. So as April turned to May, Guerrero would find himself jumping all around the left side of the field, playing third, left field, and of course, pinch-hitting. It still didn’t seem to stop Guerrero. From April 23-May 13, when Carl Crawford went on the DL, he hit .310 with three homers. He did have, as many predicted, a drop-off in production, but still put up numbers that warranted playing time and with the injury to Crawford, it seemed like he would have just that.

Guerrero is a swinger. It’s hard to say he’s a free swinger because he seems to have a pretty good understanding of the strike zone. He doesn’t walk much or steal bases and in the baseball world that generally doesn’t result in runs scored. But I’d look at where he’s batting in the Dodgers lineup to explain some of his less appealing numbers. In 2015 he’s batted fifth six times with Ethier, Heisley, Grandal and Van Slyke batting behind him. He’s batted sixth eight times, seventh eight times, eighth six times, and pinch-hit nine times. He’s never started in the top part of the order.

That seems odd for a guy who has put up the offensive numbers Guerrero has. Joe Maddon has made waves this season batting his pitchers eighth. One of his reasons is to get the nine-hole hitter better pitches to see in order to get on base and turn the lineup over to their best hitters. I’m not suggested the Dodgers bat their pitchers eighth but I do think Guerrero would benefit from having the production of someone like Adrian Gonzalez behind him. Forcing pitchers to challenge Guerrero in the strike zone in order to hopefully keep him off base and minimize any damage Gonzalez may inflict. Guerrero is definitely susceptible to the slider off the plate but I wonder if he would see less of those if he were batting third?

And although Guerrero swings a lot, 60.3% of the time to be exact, he’s also got a contact percentage of 77.9% better then Josh Donaldson, Paul Goldschmidt and Joc Pederson. And when Guerrero does make contact, he is generally hitting the ball hard, with an ISO of .371, second only to Bryce Harper. Guerrero is averaging a home run every 10.8 at bats. The Dodgers lead the majors with 23.7 at bats per home run but they’re also second in the league with 21 solo home runs — Guerrero has hit three of them. It’s obvious the Dodgers have a good offense but I wonder if it’s as productive as it could be and I wonder if Guerrero can play a bigger role?

Another reason for apprehension with Guerrero is the sample size we have. Guerrero didn’t put up these numbers in the minors and many didn’t expect him to contribute the way that he has in the show. All that leads to doubt from the outside. Guerrero has about 100 fewer at bats that the top hitters in the league. That being said however, it’s interesting to note how similar they are anyway. When added to the top hitters in the league, Guerrero is fifth in wOBA, third in SLG and as I mentioned before second in ISO.

With the rate that Guerrero is on, if he gets another 300 at bats would be 37 HR/ 59 R/ 93 RBI. If he got another 400 at bats it would be, 46 HR/ 74 R/ 116 RBI. As realistic or unrealistic as the projections may be, Guerrero even with a regression can put up solid major-league numbers. Would anyone say no to 25 homers and 80 RBI? I think the answer to the season-ending stats lie in how the Dodgers choose to handle the situation. They’ve already dealt Uribe to free up third base and with Crawford being moved to the 60-day DL, it looks like left field is Guerrero’s for the summer. But Yasiel Puig is coming back soon and Ethier has been playing better then expected this year, so is Mattingly going to platoon Ethier and Guerrero in left?

In many ways this is a great problem to have for the Dodgers — they’re a veteran team that wants to win now and having a versatile bench helps shift people around and keep everyone healthy. That being said, this is baseball and with the trade deadline less then two months away and the Dodgers with a beat-up starting rotation, who’s to say some of that offensive depth can’t be flipped for some pitching help? The question then becomes, who gets traded? But that’s a topic for another day. Until then we’ll just have to hope Mattingly and the Dodgers give Guerrero a chance in the top part of the order.

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Matt R
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Matt R

I think at this point it’s safe to say they won’t. Even when Guerrero was hitting lights-out and both Puig and Crawford were sidelined, Mattingly still rotated him with Ethier, Uribe and Turner.

Now Guerrero has predictably cooled off and Hector Olivera is soon on his way, which you fail to mention, so I don’t foresee there being a dramatic increase in Guerrero’s PAs.