2012 Dodgers in Review #47: RP Javy Guerra

January 3, 2013 at 6:29 am | Posted in 2012 in Review, Javy Guerra | Leave a comment

2.60 ERA 3.34 FIP 45.0 IP 7.40 K/9 4.60 BB/9 0.4 fWAR D

2012 in brief: Disastrous year featured two stints on the disabled list, a line drive off the face, the loss of his closing job, and a late-season demotion to the minors.

2013 status: Under team control, but will need to show something to earn a big-league job in camp.

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Now that I’m looking at it, I suppose it’s hard to say that a guy with a 2.60 ERA – or even a 3.34 FIP, for that matter – had a lousy year. But it’s difficult to look at the ups and downs of Javy Guerra this year and think that it went in any way how he hoped it would.

You’ll probably remember that we spent most of the winter saying “when” Guerra lost his closing role to Kenley Jansen, not “if”, so clearly we didn’t have the highest of hopes for him. Surprisingly, he got off to a very good start and actually saved five out of the first seven Dodger games, earning a post full of praise from me on April 13.

Two days later, Guerra finished off the Padres thanks to one of the most bizarre plays of the season:

But while that may have been the luckiest double play the Padres will get all year, it hardly compares to whatever the hell happened in the top of the 9th. Javy Guerra came in and promptly allowed the first two men to reach. Jesus Guzman attempted to bunt – because why wouldn’t you want your cleanup hitter to bunt with two on in a tie game? – which proved difficult when Guerra’s pitch nearly hit him in the face. Guzman, maybe more out of self-preservation than anything else, got the thinnest part of his bat on the ball, which seemingly landed behind the plate. Though umpire Scott seemed to clearly wave the ball foul, A.J. Ellis alertly jumped on it and threw it around the horn for the triple play. San Diego manager Bud Black argued vociferously – and correctly, to my eyes – but was ejected for his troubles.

Judge for yourself…

Unfortunately for Guerra, it was mostly downhill from there. He blew a save in Milwaukee on April 17, and five days later — while I was sitting close enough to hear the sickening crack — he allowed five runs in one-third of an inning against Atlanta, thanks in no small part to the line drive off the face he took from Brian McCann.

Guerra, to his credit, shook off the incident and returned three days later against Washington in Bryce Harper‘s debut. While the Dodgers won on a Matt Kemp walkoff, Guerra’s performance in a non-save situation showed that we were already losing confidence:

Of course, this wouldn’t be the 2012 Dodgers if the game didn’t stay close into the late innings and… well, look. Sooner or later we’re going to have to acknowledge that Javy Guerra is just a mess right now, right? You can argue that he got spooked by taking a Brian McCann liner off the face the other night, but that was hardly the start of his troubles; he’s blown something like 37 games over the last two weeks. Entering in the 9th after Scott Elbert allowed a LaRoche single and induced Rick Ankiel to eliminate LaRoche via sacrifice bunt – and for the record, I have absolutely no idea why Don Mattingly yanked Elbert after just five pitches – Guerra allowed a single, a sacrifice fly, and another single, pushing two runs across and putting the Dodgers down 3-1. You can argue that Guerra is getting BABIP’d to death with all the singles if you want, but if you plan on being a late innings reliever in the bigs, you need to miss some bats, and Guerra simply has not been doing that lately. (Is that… Shawn Tolleson‘s music I hear? No, of course not.)

The next day, it was Jansen who was called upon to get the save. Guerra bounced back to pick up his eighth (and as it turned out, final) save of the season on May 1 in Colorado, but blew another on May 6 in Chicago – the day Jerry Hairston got hurt – and so the next day, we were forced to acknowledge that this just wasn’t working out, in a post titled “The Continuing Heartburn Over Javy Guerra“. As you’ll see, we were mostly confused because his peripherals were actually quite good:

After a dominant run to start the season, Guerra’s had an ugly two weeks, and that doesn’t even count the poorly-called triple play that allowed him to escape a tough situation in San Diego. It’s bad, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Sunday’s debacle in Chicago was Guerra’s fifth “meltdown” of the season; that’s tied with Heath Bell for the third most in the majors, and it’s already one more than the four he had in all of 2011. For whatever reason, the Guerra we’re seeing in early May is not the same one that we saw in early April, and he absolutely doesn’t have enough of a track record to be allowed to keep on doing this for too much longer.

Yet while I said all winter that Guerra wasn’t as good as casual fans thought and that he was almost certainly going to suffer regression this year, I have to admit that this isn’t exactly the way I envisioned it. I saw a guy who was never that impressive in the minors and was only in the bigs due to a string of injuries to other pitchers, and while he was good-but-not-great in 2011, his reputation was grossly inflated by the always-overrated “save” statistic and the simple comparison to the ineffective closers who had been used before him. While he’s certainly thrown away a large part of that goodwill with fans, it’s rare that you strike out more & walk fewer than you did the year before but see less success, and it’s hard not to see the big, ugly .485 BABIP on his card.

Guerra lost his job to Jansen after that game and then turned it around, reeled off 12 straight scoreless outings before allowing a run in Colorado on June 2 — though somehow managing just a 4/5 K/BB over that time. He was placed on the disabled list following the game and had knee surgery three days later, an injury that had reportedly originally occurred when he attempted to twist out of the way of the McCann line drive back in April. He missed about a month, then returned to take Dee Gordon‘s spot on the roster in early July.

The peaks and valleys continued. July was tough, with several days missed to tend to his ailing father and a 8/7 K/BB in 11.1 innings pitched; August was better, with seven scoreless outings and a 10/4 K/BB in 8.2 innings, a streak of relative success that only served to make the news that he was being demoted to Triple-A on August 21 to make room for Rubby De La Rosa all the more surprising:

If there’s a surprise here, it’s that Guerra had been pitching relatively well, not having been charged with an earned run of his own since July 26 and having a 13/4 K/BB over those 11.1 innings, so I’ll admit I don’t entirely see why the Dodgers didn’t just give de la Rosa another week and call him up when rosters expand on September 1. On the other hand, I’m hardly going to lose a wink of sleep over Guerra getting a week-long vacation in New Mexico until he returns a week from Saturday; mostly I’m just impressed that the team chose not to send down Shawn Tolleson simply because he’s the most junior member of the bullpen.

Since de la Rosa was traded to Boston days later, there may have been a bit more to it, if the Dodgers did want to show that RDLR was ready to return to the bigs. Guerra did indeed come back to the Dodgers, but pitched in only one more game before going on the disabled list again with a strained left oblique, an injury which ended his season.

So what is Guerra? Despite the early talk about his improved peripherals, his final line was very similar to what it had been in 2011, only without the saves. If he’s healthy, I think he can still be a usable member of a bullpen, though seeing everything that happened this year does make me wish the Dodgers had chosen to sell high when they had the chance. We’ll almost certainly see a fair amount of him in 2013; whether he makes the Opening Day roster depends as much on any additional bullpen additions the team may make as it does on Guerra’s performance.

******

Next up! Good lord, only three more pitchers left! It’s Kenley Jansen!

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