The Alex Guerrero Problem Is A Great Problem To Have

So, I mean, you knew we had to talk about Alex Guerrero. I actually didn’t want to! I wanted to talk about Mike Bolsinger‘s slider. But no one other than Brim and I care about that, and Brooks’ hasn’t updated yet anyway, so let’s do that later and right now instead talk about the guy everyone’s talking about. I can’t even tell you the amount of comments and tweets I’ve heard from fans insisting that Don Mattingly is a fool for not immediately benching Juan Uribe to play Guerrero every day; it’s come with a furor I haven’t heard last summer… when people were insisting that Guerrero was a natural shortstop and should play every day.

And I get that, really. Six extra-base hits in 20 plate appearances is more than a little impressive, it’s spectacular. I want to see more of him too. But you probably already know where this is going. You know that it’s far, far too soon to just toss Uribe overboard, not after the two seasons he’s just had where he was considerably above average on both sides of the ball. You know that we’re talking about 20 plate appearances, and that 20 plate appearances ago, we were wondering if he could even stick on the bench or would have to be offloaded. Remember Hector Olivera? (No, seriously, do you remember Hector Olivera?) When reports came out that he’d agreed with the Dodgers just a month ago, one of the main reactions was “so Guerrero’s gone then, yes?” That was 20 plate appearances ago. 20 admittedly great plate appearances, but let’s try to keep perspective.

Remember, also, that in his limited major league career, he’s never drawn a walk and swings at everything. (I’m not kidding. He swings at 52.6% of pitches outside the zone. For comparison, noted free swinger Pablo Sandoval is only at 45.6% in his career.) That’s not about being a buzzkill. It’s about understanding sustainable hitting approaches. You know that Justin Turner has to get playing time, too. And you know — or you should know — that the four easy balls hit to Guerrero at third hardly dispel any questions about his defense.

Not that I’m trying to talk you out of liking Guerrero or wanting to see him — not at all. That bat! I want to see more of it. I get it. It’s exciting, even if some of the expectations being put upon him by some fans are just ludicrous. It’s just that there are real issues in place of “just start him,” because defense matters, the other players matter, and the fact that pitchers are clearly going to learn how to approach him matters.

Mattingly sounded a little frustrated in talking to ESPN’s Mark Saxon, and I don’t necessarily disagree with him:

“Where does [Turner] fit in your plan? Does he play,” Mattingly snapped. “I know people are chanting for Alex right now, but there are other guys that have probably swung the bat better. J.T. hit .340 last year, leads the league in hitting basically. But now, because he’s the flavor of the day, we start talking about somebody else.”

Which: yeah, right? No, Turner was never going to repeat last year’s offensive performance. But nor has he earned any less playing time, and his glove at third is all but certainly superior to Guerrero’s — and I don’t think any of us want Turner playing shortstop any more than necessary. I know it’s hard to think about defense when we’re seeing rockets like that, but, well, remember when Brett Anderson was complaining about seeing-eye grounders the other day? Part of that is bad luck. Part of it is that defense isn’t just measured in errors. I know a lot of people love to say “give him a chance to prove he can’t do it,” but that’s why scouts exist — and just about no one has said publicly that they think he can even be adequate. It’s maybe hard to imagine because you’re not seeing it; trust that it’s not being invented out of thin air.

Now, maybe Uribe, at 36, is cooked. I don’t know. He’s not off to a good start. But he certainly has earned the right to get more than 37 plate appearances to show it. Either way, in the end, I don’t think this is going to matter. No one expects Uribe to play every day. Turner can spot at first and second base as well. There’s more than enough room for some kind of job share here, with the opportunity for that to change as circumstances dictate. You don’t need to hand Guerrero anything. You let him earn it. He’s off to a fantastic start in that direction. More is needed.

Remember, also, that it’s April 24. The biggest problem in Dodger-land right now appears to be consternation that the team has too many good players and can’t find room for them all. Just think on that for a minute, won’t you? That’s a nice place to be in. Maybe Guerrero will keep hitting so well that he’ll just force the team to act. Until then, I’m not at all unhappy by the idea that Guerrero, Turner, Scott Van Slyke, Andre Ethier, and Yasmani Grandal/A.J. Ellis are available off the bench each night. I’m too freshly scarred by benches populated by Aaron Miles and Skip Schumaker and Drew Butera and Mark Sweeney. This… is better.

There’s good problems to have, and there’s good problems to have. “How in the world will we manage to get all that talent in the lineup” isn’t a problem. It’s an embarrassment of riches. Enjoy it. Please.

About Mike Petriello

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