Sunday, March 06, 2005

(Bad Risky Business/Joel Goodson Pun Omitted)

Joel Guzman has been generated an awful lot of Miguel Cabrera comparisons. Are these comparisons accurate?

Cabrera's development saw a rapid spike in 2003. Before then, he was clearly talented and young enough to develop, but he hadn't put up impressive numbers. Playing as a teenager in rookie league, low A, and high A, Cabrera held his own in each league but never excelled. At each level he put up offense just above league average. Every component of his performance in rookie ball at age 17 was just about average. His age 18 season in low-A saw his K rate become substantially better than average, but that was offset by smaller declines in his walk and hit rates. Promoted to high-A at age 19, he kept his solid K rate but saw his BB rate sink a bit further back. This was more than offset by a sharp increase in doubles power.

At age 20, starting the season in AA, Cabrera broke out. The doubles power he'd shown the previous year remained, but it was augmented by a huge improvement in his home run power. On top of that, Cabrera maintained his good K rate while putting up an excellent walk rate. He also saw a sharp increase in his singles rate. Cabrera's dominance of the Southern League prompted the Marlins to skip him past triple-A, and you know the rest of the story from here.

Guzman debuted in 2002 at age 17. Playing briefly in the Pioneer League and then even more briefly in the GCL, Guzman held his own against older competition but put up subpar numbers overall. He demonstrated patience at the plate, putting up an above average walk rate and a terrible strikeout rate. He hit the ball very hard, generating very good power numbers per balls in play. However, the K rate was way too high for Guzman to be productive.

At age 18, Guzman debuted in Sally ball at South Georgia. Once again, Guzman's power relative to the league was outstanding. It was tough to notice, though, in part because the Sally League is tough on hitters and in part because his K rate - while improved since rookie ball - was still very bad. On top of that, Guzman's hit rate on balls in play lagged below average and his walk rate was microscopic. Promoted to high-A Vero Beach at mid-season, Guzman's power dropped off but was still well above league average. His singles rate, K rate, and BB rate all improved slightly after the promotion.

At age 19, Guzman saw his breakout. Starting the season at Vero Beach, Guzman put up tremendous power numbers and a much improved BABIP. His K and BB rates again showed incremental improvement, but both remained well below average. After being promoted in July to Double-A, Guzman's power numbers relative to the league fell off a bit but remained outstanding. Meanwhile, his K and BB rates both improved.

In all, I don't think the Cabrera comparison is very apt. Cabrera's issue wasn't really conquering the strike zone, as he managed to do a fine if subpar job of that at each level. Guzman, on the other hand, has neither drawn walks consistently nor avoided striking out, although he's shown significant improvement in that area the past two seasons. Unlike Guzman, Cabrera did not consistently display solid power as a teenager and his challenge was adding home runs and doubles to his attack.

To give you an idea of what I mean, here's a comparison of a few metrics that I think tell this story well. I might get around to introducing these numbers and their respective scales in a little more detail later, so I'll give you the short version here. Each one is like "OPS+" in that it's expressed as a percentage of the league average. lwr+ measures a player's overall offensive value using a formula based on Tangotiger's linear weights ratio. wx+ measures the value of a player's extra base hits per batted ball. b+ measures the value of a player's batted balls. t+ measures the value of a player's plate appearances that don't result in a batted ball - HBP, BB, and K.


Joel Guzman Miguel Cabrera
Age League lwr+ wx+ b+ t+ Age League lwr+ wx+ b+ t+
17 Pioneer 95 137 126 60 17 GCL 103 96 105 91
17 GCL 87 87 84 102
18 SAL 92 156 120 27 18 Midwest 103 96 102 94
18 FSL 92 130 115 33
19 FSL 134 200 163 55 19 FSL 109 131 111 96
19 Southern 117 164 132 66
20 Southern 172 197 182 129


To me, Cabrera just is not a very good comparison.

The issue for Guzman is not whether he can cut down on his strikeouts but rather how he'll cut down on his strikeouts. If he can start hitting more pitches but continue to hit them hard, he'll have no problem - in other words, if he can keep mashing while becoming less selective, there's no question that he's an outstanding prospect. Conversely, if his current selectivity is necessary for his power, he'll need to develop a better feel for the strike zone and turn a lot of those strikeouts into walks. So far, he's mainly done the latter, as his batted balls per plate appearance hasn't fluctuated much but his K and BB rates have improved. If he continues to do that - and continues to smack the balls he does hit - he'll be just fine. If Guzman can't cut down on his strikeouts without compromising his ability to pound the ball, then his future is in jeopardy.

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