Monday, August 25, 2008

The Breakdown of Eddie Guardado

After hurling just 13.7 innings in a forgettable season with Cincinnati in 2007, Eddie Guardado had found a home in the Lone Star State when General Manager Jon Daniels took a flier on the former closer to a 1-year, $2 million dollar contract. Instead of having Guardado chew meaningless innings or retiring a solitary left-handed batter per outing, the man that had amassed 183 saves between 1995 and 2006 with Minnesota, Seattle and Cincinnati was once again tasked with meatier roles.
Guardado sports a 1.31 leverage index, essentially the equivalent role as Dennys Reyes (1.42 pLI) or Matt Guerrier (1.33 pLI), but where those two failed to provide adequate performance (0.28 wpa and 0.33 wpa, respectively), Guardado's pitching has assisted his team towards victory (2.53 wpa). Guardado spent April and May being deployed in the seventh innings in 10 of 18 appearances. His 15.1 innings of work that produced a 2.93 era earned manager Ron Washington's trust. In June and July Guardado was the Rangers main set-up man for closer CJ Wilson, holding 18 games. He received a vote of confidence by the manager by working the eighth inning in 20 out of 28 appearances in that time. By August the Rangers had promoted him to closer in place of the injured Wilson. "I've been pitching this year like it was the ninth inning, like I was the last man standing," Guardado said. "That's given me an edge to get the job done. Pitching in the ninth, that's pressure, no doubt. In the eighth, you know there's someone behind you to pick you up if you fail. In the ninth, you've got to close the door." Guardado's set up success did not parley into a dominate closer though. In 8.1 innings of work in August under his new title, Guardado has allowed 11 hits and 5 walks leading to 5 runs - saving just two games.


Batters Face



































He readily admits that he is showing his age, but his ascending opponent numbers as the season grows support the hypothesis that Guardado may be breaking down. "I'm going to leave my arm on the mound one day," Guardado said with a laugh. "I'm going to turn around, pick it up and say, 'Let's go.' But that's what it's all about when you're playing for something special. You never know when you'll get to that spot again."
The 2008 Eddie Guardado is an anomaly of a pitcher. It is hard to isolate any particular statistic that reaffirms his success though a great number of them deserve a second look. The 37 year old lefty no longer possesses the ability to miss bats as he did in 2002 when he accumulated 45 saves while striking out 67 of 270 batters faced (24.8%) or the following season when he locked down 41 saves while whiffing 70 out of 270 (25.9%). This season, after being shut down by the Reds in 2006 and signing the short-term contract with the Rangers, Guardado has managed to strike out only 28 of 194 batters faced (14%). As cliche as it sounds, Guardado reinvented himself as a pitcher. Instead of batters making contact 76% of the time, as was the case in 2002, now batters are making contact in 86% of match-ups but rather than see his numbers skyrocket (especially given the conducive nature the Ballpark at Arlington is to offense) Guardado has remained consistent - opponents hit .215 off of hin 2002 and they have hit .220 in 2008. He now unleashes a subdued 85-mph fastball, down 2-mph hour from 2006. Yet in spite of that large contact difference, Guardado's 2008 results, a WHIP of 1.15, do not vary that much from his 2002 season when he produced a WHIP of 1.04. What is the differences between Eddies?
"I don't know, bro, I wish I had an answer for you," Guardado said. "The best I can tell you is I pound the strike zone, I keep the ball down and, for the most part, I stay ahead of hitters. I'm not afraid, I know what I've got and I trust it."
Guardado's self-analysis notwithstanding, his numbers would suggested that he is actually not within the strike zone as much as he would like you to believe. In 2002, 70% of his pitches were strikes, both swinging and called. By 2008 there was a 5% decrease in the amount of pitches within the strike zone. However the notable difference is that Guardado has experienced a growth in called strikes, going from 20% in 2002 to 36% in 2008, suggesting that Guardado is indeed better at locating his pitches therefore getting batters to swing at "his pitches". How has this effected his results?









Line Drive



One explanation for Guardado's resurgence could be partially credited to his defense, as difficult as it is to believe. It is no small secret that the Texas Rangers have shown the worst defense since Bonds claimed flax seed oil was responsible for his muscular build. The team has committed 108 errors and are the proud owner of a .668 defensive efficiency ratio (meaning that roughly 66% of all balls in play are converted to outs) both the worst in the American League. Even knowing that his team might covert less than 67% of balls in play into outs with a substantial odd that they might muff the play altogether, Guardado still boasts a .243 batting average on balls in play. This is marginally better than his .259 batting average on balls in play while with Minnesota in 2002 (a team that committed a league low 74 errors and converted nearly 70.3% of balls in play into outs) but at a time when 25% of his opponents were striking out. Normally one would argue luck as the reason behind Guardado's batting average on balls in play - particularly without any strikeouts to justify defensive swings - but his ability to show control within the strike zone as led to more flyballs (52% of the time) which typically obey Newton's Law and returns as an out as indicative of the opponents' .122/.118/.297 batting line on flyballs.
What does this study tell us about Eddie Guardado's potential in Minnesota? The Twins will provide better defense in the outfield (Span, Gomez and Young) over that of Texas (Boggs, Hamilton, Murphy) so if he continues to incite flyballs, Guardado stands a better chance of those being coverted to outs. On the other hand, the change in opponent average over the past two months could also indicate that Guardado's arm is tiring. If the trend is accurate, Guardado's .355/.444/.548 opponent line in August would only exacerbate the bullpen problems at the cost of a decent relief prospect. Nevertheless, the gamble on acquiring Guardado is worth taking as the bullpen appears to be in a freefall. In the event that Guardado cannot revert to his June-July performance, the Twins will certainly regret not bringing in either Chad Bradford (7 innings, 1.63 pLI, 0.63 wpa) or LaTroy Hawkins (7 innings, 0.83 pLI, 0.60 wpa) both of whom as thriving at their new homes in Tampa Bay and Houston.

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