Vladimir Guerrero made a rare appearance in the outfield last night because the Rangers were playing under NL rules in San Francisco, but after multiple miscues defensively manager Ron Washington has decided to bench the nine-time All-Star and former MVP for Game 2 tonight.
David Murphy replaces Guerrero in the lineup and will start in left field, with Nelson Cruz moving from left field to right field. Cruz will also take over for Guerrero in the cleanup spot behind Josh Hamilton.
And it’s absolutely the right move.
Guerrero didn’t just look bad in right field last night, he looked horrendous. It was sad to watch. Plus, it’s not clear that Guerrero is even a better option than Murphy offensively at this point, at least against a right-handed pitcher like tonight’s Giants starter, Matt Cain.
In his prime Guerrero was a middle-of-the-order monster regardless of the handedness of the pitcher, but this season at age 35 he hit .287/.328/.482 versus righties. That production is right around average for a corner outfielder, which makes Guerrero solidly below average once his defense is factored in. He also struggled overall in the second half and has produced a measly .601 OPS in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the left-handed-hitting Murphy batted .298/.368/.479 versus righties this season, which is 37 points of OPS better than Guerrero. Murphy is also an above-average defender. Based purely on current ability rather than reputations and names my guess is that Ron Washington would have made this move for Game 1, but he at least deserves some credit for not making the same mistake twice.
And perhaps Guerrero will have a chance to make his presence felt with a big at-bat off the bench.
All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.
The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.
It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.
It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.
Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉