May 21, 2009

Plate patience is supposed to be a virtue among major league hitters. But at what point do you separate plate impatience from aggressiveness? Either adjective could be used to describe Cristian Guzman (SS, WSH) in 2009.

If you thought it wasn't possible for a player to take just one walk in 124 plate appearances and still maintain a .385 batting average, well, don't place money down that it couldn't happen -- it already has. That's Guzman's basic hitting line -- through May 18 -- and it's a most unusual one.

Vladimir Guerrero (OF, LAA) is revered and sometimes glorified by broadcasters for his ability to hit any type of pitch outside the strike zone. Alfonso Soriano (OF, CHC) is another high-profile hitter who seems to enjoy the challenge of chasing the cheese beyond the zone's parameters. But does Guzman have the ability to remain this impatient/aggressive and maintain a high hitting average? That's why Deconstructing is here.

All statistics through May 18.

2008 stats: .316 AVG, .785 OPS, 77 runs, 9 home runs, 55 RBIs, 6 steals2009 stats: .385 AVG, .890 OPS, 24 runs, 1 home run, 10 RBIs, 1 steal

One look at Guzman's BABIP makes it seem as though every day is his birthday. There's almost no other explanation for the rash of good luck he's experienced. How high is that BABIP? Try .442. (You can sound a lot cooler around your friends if you call it 'babe-ip', although you're already in nerd territory if you use it in the first place.)

Just for a frame of reference, Guzman's career BABIP mark is .309 and he held a .339 mark just to hit .316 last year. That, my Deconstructing friends, indicates he will not keep his .385 average for much longer. Shocker, I know.

Now, the next level to hit in the Guzman Batting Average Investigation is to see if his plate impatience this year is consistent with his past season. (From here, I'm calling it impatience, not aggressiveness.)

It's difficult to match his impatience in any other season since his walk percentage is at 0.8, but by and large, Guzman's batting style has never been confused for Derek Jeter's (SS, NYY). His career-high figure is 7.9 percent from a 2007 season in which he batted a career-high .328. Uhh, coincidence, I think not.

Of course, patience won't suddenly become a trait of Guzman. According to a May 5 story, Nats manager Manny Acta claimed patience isn't an on-off switch. "It's very difficult to turn Cristian into a patient guy," Acta said. "He has been doing it for too long. You can't just have him turn on the switch and be patient. He is going to be an aggressive hitter who is going to be jumping on first, second and third pitches the rest of his career." The line about old dogs learning new tricks apparently doesn't apply to the 31-year-old.

It's good that Acta mentioned the 'jumping on first, second and third pitches' bit. Guzman has faced a 3-0 count just once this year (that preceded his lone walk). He's been in a 2-0 count only four times, a 3-1 count three times and a 2-1 count all of nine times. After knocking 14 hits in 24 at-bats (.583) on the first pitch, though, it's hard to argue with Guzman's impatience for right now. It's just what is going to happen later this year that might want to make fantasy owners sell high on the shortstop as soon as possible.

Aside from his sky-high BABIP (remember, 'babe-ip'), there are other indications that his batting average is flukey. He holds just a 11.4 line drive percentage, down 11 percent from last year, and a 62.9 ground ball percentage, up 10 percent. When a hitter improves his batting average despite hitting more ground balls and fewer line drives, that's a time when you hope a player in your fantasy league looks at surface stats like batting average without delving into more telling stats.

His swing percentage at balls outside the strike zone has increased, from 27.9 percent last year to 34.6 percent, but his contact percentage on those swings has actually decreased, from 71.2 to 68.8. His overall contact percentage has decreased as well, from 88.3 to 85.5. If you're asking yourself how it's possible for a player's batting average to increase despite his contact percentage decreasing, well, you might want to re-read the first few paragraphs of this story.

A decreased walk rate, improved luck on batted balls, increased ground ball percentage, lowered line drive percentage and decreased contact percentage have all contributed to raise his batting average immeasurably.

If you have Guzman, you want to sell high as soon as possible. Don't be unreasonable in trading him for Nick Punto (SS, MIN) and two coupons to Blockbuster, but don't try to squeeze every ounce you can out of his value. Be happy at trading him for 75 cents on the dollar -- if an owner is willing to overlook his incredibly lucky statistics -- since the small victories are what help solidify your fantasy squad. After all, it takes patience to build a championship-caliber team.

Kyle has little patience for a few things in life, like cell phones that don't work...and cell phones that don't work. Kyle likes to show his aggressiveness by throwing non-working phones at the wall. There's the difference between impatience and aggressiveness. If you have any questions, comments or suggestion for future players to Deconstruct, send him an e-mail at

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