Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Recycling A Thirty-Five Year Old Bad Idea

Good morning Fackers. This is Herb Washington. More specifically, this is Herb Washington's 1975 Topps baseball card, to which our black and white policy here does absolutely no justice (check the color photo here). You may notice that Washington's position on the card is listed as "pinch runner". He is the only man in the 59 year history of Topps baseball cards to have such a position listed on his card.

Washington was a track and field star at Michigan State University in the late sixties and early seventies. He hadn't played baseball since high school, but that didn't deter colorful Oakland A's owner Charlie Finley from signing him to be his "designated runner" in 1974. The A's used six different players as a pinch running specialists during the mid-70s, but Washington was the most famous amongst the six, and was the only one of them to never register a plate appearance nor appear in the field defensively.

In 1974 and 1975, Washington appeared in 105 games for the A's, scored thirty three runs, stole thirty one bases and was caught stealing seventeen times (64.6% SB). He appeared in five post-season games in 1974 without scoring a single run or stealing a base, getting caught stealing in both his ALCS appearances and getting picked off first as the tying run in the ninth inning of Game Two of the World Series.

So why do I bring up one of Charlie Finley's several unorthodox innovations some thirty-five years later? Well, because as I mentioned in yesterday's game preview, the Yankees added Freddy Guzman to the 40 man roster and recalled him from Scranton. Ostensibly, Guzman is an outfielder, but according to Joe Girardi's pre-game comments yesterday, he is now in the mix for the post-season roster as a pinch running specialist.

I'm trying to remain level-headed about this for the moment. With less than three weeks left in the season and relatively comfortable leads in both AL East and homefield races, there isn't any major harm in giving some lesser known quantities a look - even if that quantity is 28 years old and not really a prospect. And while in principal I don't like DFA'ing young unproven commodities (not to mention the PTBNL the Yankees still owe the Orioles from the initial deal) for guys that haven't appeared in the Big Leagues in two years and have washed out of five different organizations since then, losing Anthony Claggett shouldn't be that big of a deal - I just hope he gets an opportunity elsewhere to get his career ERA under 30.00.

However, unless Freddy Guzman proves to be baseball's version of The Flash, can cut the bag perfectly, read every pitcher flawlessly, and get incredible jumps off the pitcher and off the bat each time, I have no interest in him being on the post-season roster.

Giving a guy a look when you have a 40 man roster and essentially are playing with house money is one thing. Carrying a guy as one of twenty-five when each game pushes you closer to the ultimate goal or going home is quite another. Each of one of those post-season roster spots is precious, and they should be filled in such a manner as to optimize a team's chances of winning. Despite Freddy Guzman's considerable speed, he is not a good baseball player and his shortcomings in the other aspects of the game are not made up for by his ability to run from base to base really fast.

I understand that the Yankees have an excellent line up from top to bottom, and that the center field spot will likely be the only one to ever need a pinch hitter. I realize that resident speedster Brett Gardner may occupy that CF spot from time to time and that pinch hitting for him would remove his considerable speed from the game. I realize that Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui are likely to require a pinch runner from time to time. As Brett Gardner reminded us last night, I realize all too well that despite its inherent risks, there are certain points in the game where a stolen base can be exceedingly valuable. I realize that if the Yankees finish with the best record in the league and choose the "A" schedule for the ALDS that they'll only need three starting pitchers and can likely afford to carry an extra position player. But none of that means Freddy Guzman should make the post-season roster.

Freddy Guzman has appeared in 37 MLB games since 2004. He has stolen five bases and has been caught three times. In 95 plate appearances he has hit .213/.263/.281. He has an astounding 25.1 UZR/150 as a center fielder, but given that he's played the equivalent of 18 games there, sample size is a huge issue.

In 2,174 AAA plate appearances since 2003, Guzman has hit an unimpressive .266/.337/.356 and has stolen an impressive 250 bases in 296 attempts (84.5%). In four (four!) AAA stops this year he's swiped 45 in 54 attempts (83.3%) and has hit .223/.272/.294 in 381 PA. Without adjusting for park, that triple slash line has a Major League equivalent of about .194/.236/.251 with 38 SB in 48 attempts. For comparison's sake, Braves pitcher and former Yankee Javier Vazquez is hitting .194/.231/.242 this year and he's only about the fifteenth best hitting pitcher in the NL. In other words, save for on the bases, Freddy Guzman has no discernible value, and given the importance of offense and defense relative to base running, his excellence in this one facet of the game does not justify his presence on the roster.

I imagine the Yankees will carry 11 pitchers in the post-season, potentially even 10 in the ALDS . That would leave them with a five or six man bench. Gardbrera, Jose Molina, Eric Hinske, and Jerry Hairston Jr are mortal locks for four of those spots. Candidates for the remaining spot(s) include Ramiro Pena, Shelley Duncan, potentially even Francisco Cervelli, Juan Miranda, or any number of players at Scranton not currently on the 40 man (Austin Jackson, Kevin Russo) who are superior to Freddy Guzman.

While the remaining options certainly don't offer the speed Guzman does, several of them are not slow and offer value that Guzman does not. Pena is a sure handed fielder, provides another middle infield option for substitutions in blowouts, can play the outfield in a pinch, and is no slouch on the bases. Duncan could be a weapon off the bench against a left handed relief specialist and can the play OF corners or first. Miranda could be a dangerous bat against right handed pitching.

Guzman would be a waste of a roster spot. The Yankees will have sufficient pinch runners in the back-up center fielder, Hairston, and (hopefully) Pena. All of them offer value beyond speed on the bases. If the Yankees insist upon carrying someone strictly as a pinch runner, maybe they should consider Edwar Ramirez - at the very least he could eat up a few innings too if a game were to get out of hand.


  1. His hitting and fielding stats have little relevance. He's going to be exclusively a pinch runner, and the 2nd one chosen at that.

  2. I understand that would be his main purpose, which is exactly why he would be a waste of a roster spot. He'd be on the roster for a specialty purpose but yet he wouldn't even be the top choice for that role. Then, once he's in the game they'll have to burn another player as a PH or defensive replacement.

    He offers no other value. The Yankees could easily carry any number of other players who could perform the secondary pinch running role nearly as well and offer other value to the team.

    Besides, with Girardi's and Jeter's love for the bunt the Yankees are already likely to be giving an out or two away at some point - which makes it all the more critical to not risk giving them away on the bases.

    October isn't the time to be getting creative with this stuff.

  3. Can't argue about the roster spot.