Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Guzman, Quentin, and the outfield

"I came up playing Right Field." - Carlos Quentin, Darren Smith show, December 2011

When the Padres traded for Quentin this winter they filled a glaring need for a power bat in the lineup. Carlos' power is legit, and his specific pull power to left will translate well at Petco National Park. With this deal the team also further exacerbated their organizational depth problem at two positions.

It's not a lack of depth; it's too much depth. Because Petco is so big it was immediately assumed Quentin would man left field. Left was already a toss-up between Kyle Blanks, Jesus Guzman, and possibly Mark Kotsay; adding Quentin ended that discussion but now what do you do with Blanks and Guzman?

Both men can also play first. The log-jam there was almost worse than in left. They as well as Kotsay can play first, but it is much more likely Yonder Alonso (acquired in the Latos trade) will be the everyday first baseman in 2012, which returns us to the original problem of where to play Guzman and Banks.

Now normally this would not be an issue. Blanks is 24 and still trying to recover his stroke from 2011 elbow surgery. He also struggles to hit a pitch at the knees on the outside corner. Guzman is a journeyman in the classic sense of the word, so if he got kicked to the bench no big deal, right?

Except Jesus Guzman was the Padres best power hitter in 2011 (by OPS+).

Over the last couple of years the Padres offense has struggled to say the least. Can you imagine a scenario where one of the team's best hitters is consigned to a bench role? Has that ever happened before? Closest I could come up with was Rod Carew being let go by the Angels the winter after he got his 3000th hit.

Is there a way to get Guzman into the everyday lineup? Yeah. Refer to the quote at the top of the article. The Padres could start Guzman in left and Quentin in right. That would guarantee their best lineup gets the most playing time.

Win, right? We ride off into the sunset and make the playoffs? Well, um, no. It is pretty clear the team would score more runs. Some combination of Guzman/Quentin/Alonso/Cameron Maybin/Nick Hundley in the middle of the order would make the Padres dangerous. However they might give up as many runs as they put up.

First Guzman has virtually no experience in the outfield at the Major League level. In his career he has 51 innings anywhere in the OF, 47 of those innings coming in left; all that experience happened last season. One can't responsibly draw any conclusions on his defensive prowess based on 51 innings. He at least looked competent last year - he didn't have a ball bounce off his head and go for a Home Run, so that's something - but in those 47 innings in LF Dewan plus/minus ranked him as a -1 defensively.

Quentin's defensive metrics are all over the map. In LF he was downright awful, ranking 25th in 2010 (1147 innings in LF and his defense allowed more runs to score than would have normally), and 33rd in 2011 (753 innings, 11 runs allowed). In right he's alternated between middle of the road (2009, AZ, 577 innings, 2 runs saved, ranked 15th), to downright awful (2010, CWS, 897 innings, 14 runs allowed, ranked 35th), to pretty darn good (2011, CWS, 854 2/3 innings, 6 runs saved, ranked 6th).

Could he competently cover RF? Probably. The hesitancy is due to not only his recent arthroscopic surgery to his right knee/meniscus, but because of how large Petco Right Field is. A guy on 2 good knees is challenged to cover all that real estate.

Then what does the team do with Will Venable? Venable is an elite defender in right. He's been a top 6 defender out there in 2 of his three years with the Padres, and middle of the road the lone year he wasn't. Venable has been spectacularly average at the plate (103 career OPS+), however, which is why making him a late-inning defensive replacement has some allure.

Venable has torn it up this spring (.372/.440/.512 through yesterday's games), which would support reports he has really connected with new hitting coach Phil Plantier and become the hitter all hoped he would be. It also further complicates the defensive picture in the OF.

For the first 2 weeks of this season this question is moot. Quentin won't return to the active roster until mid- to late-May as he recovers from his surgery, so Venable will be the starter in right and Guzman should get the majority of the starts in left. Once Quentin returns, the problem resurfaces. How do you get Guzman's bat into the lineup everyday?

San Diego might be alone among NL teams wishing the DH was already in force for the senior circuit.

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