Baseball Toaster Just A Bit Outside
The Glass is Half-Full, Dammit
2006-02-24 06:45
by Erik Siegrist

An email exchange with legendary South American film star Bruno Puntz-Jones dredged up one of those stray thoughts I have every once in a while. You know the ones... they seem completely brilliant for about two seconds, and then a minute later you can't even remember what they were... insert THC joke here.

Anyway, Bruno asked about the chances of Cristian Guzman having a rebound season. The Washington Post paints a rosy picture of him early in the spring, even going so far as to trot out a Field of Dreams nod for him, and not of the "Guzman hits like a little girl choking on a piece of hot dog" variety. Laser eye surgery? Check. Reporting to camp trim and in great shape? Check. Motivated, with a steely glint in his eye? Check. Obligatory reference to the only decent few weeks he had in 2005, which just happened to come at the end of the year? Check.

Bruno's question reminded me of one of those tiny little epiphanies of mine. Why is it that baseball observers seem more inclined to give players the benefit of the doubt after a breakout season than they do after a breakdown season? If you're willing to look on the bright side of a positive career outlier, and think that maybe it's the start of a new plateau instead of just a spike, shouldn't you also be the kind of person who looks at a negative career outlier and sees just a valley, and not a chasm?

I realize it's not a question, really, of "optimism" vs. "pessimism" -- more of a "what have you done for me lately?" effect, combined with a bit of bandwagonitis -- but maybe it should be. Edgar Renteria went out and had a career year in 2003, and too many people (myself included) fell all over themselves declaring that he'd put it all together and joined the shortstopping elite. We're seeing some of the same thing this preseason, to an extent, with Felipe Lopez. But where's that kind of love and faith for the Guzmans of the world? Who's willing to stand out on that limb and say, "Hey, the kid just had a bad year. He'll be back!"

Of course in Guzman's case, "back" would be to a .270/.300/.380 line, less some park effect erosion, so maybe he isn't the best example to be using. Let's take a look instead at someone else who's been, if not quite written off, is at least being viewed with more-than-healthy skepticism. Just to reinforce my point in the cheapest way possible, I'll play the 'Player A' / 'Player B' game.

Player A

First big league season: .825 OPS
Second big league season: .823 OPS
Third big league season: .920 OPS
Fourth big league season: .713 OPS

Player B

First big league season: .676 OPS
Second big league season: .839 OPS
Third big league season: .773 OPS
Fourth big league season: .602 OPS

OK, so the two players really have nothing in common. It's a stupid game, I'm pulling the plug. Player A is Pat Burrell, and Player B is Corey Patterson. My point though, such as it is, is that both Burrell and (especially) Patterson had/are getting more than would seem to be their fair share of people declaring them to be bums, when "regression to the mean" in its rawest form suggests they'll come back just fine.

2006-02-24 08:02:55
1.   Ali Nagib
I think once you accept that Guzman wasn't all that good in the first place, there's no reason to think that he won't rebound to something close to his previous levels (after factoring in park effects, as you mentioned). In fact, his adjusted walk and power rates stayed about steady last year, with the difference being the number of singles he hit. Batting average alone can vary greatly from year to year, so some rebound is almost assured, and a complete rebound isn't that unlikely. We're still talking about a player that will hover around replacement level and is basically useless without a plus glove at short, but at least he won't be the laughing stock of the league.

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