Those of you who read Baseball Time in Arlington as far back as the 2009 regular season -- or even earlier than that -- know that the focus and content of my daily writing has shifted radically away from full game recaps and towards meaningful game observations (e.g. Ron Washington's latest controversial move) and larger-scale issues. Not only is the latter more interesting to ponder, research and write, but it's also more interesting for you to digest. To put it in more concise terms, it's a win-win for everyone involved.
I'm not deviating from that script now, per se, but I did want to take a moment this morning to stop everything down and put into perspective what Vladimir Guerrero did last night in an 8-7 victory over the hapless Royals: he clubbed 820-plus feet of home run, hit one of the most ridiculous doubles you'll ever see -- a 95 mph sinker diving towards his back knee that he miraculously drove down the left field line to score the eventual winning run -- and amassed his third-highest single-game WPA (.352) since the end of the 2007 season, spanning nearly 300 total games.
Intrigued by exactly how well Guerrero's monstrous renassiance season -- to date, at least -- stacks up against those of other full-time designated hitters in baseball history, I used Baseball Reference's Play Index tool to find all 603 player seasons in baseball history where a player logged at least 50 percent of his playing time in a given season at designated hitter (no playing time cutoff), then sorted by wins above replacement and inserted Guerrero's extrapolated statistics to see where they would fit in the context of recent baseball history:
[Direct link to the table available here. My methodology consisted of (a) identifying the top DH seasons on Baseball Reference, then using FanGraphs' version of wOBA/WAR for the final sorting process.]
The concern surrounding Guerrero's early-season performance was rooted in (a) his career-worst walk rate and out-of-zone swing rate, both important indicators of overall plate discipline, and (b) his career-worst isolated power and homer-to-fly ball ratio. The former ratios have remained static for the most part (although you're not going to see anyone complaining about them at this point); the latter ratios have not, of course, owing to the fact that Guerrero has clobbered 10 home runs since April 19th and five home runs in the last 10 days. That is immense value generated in not very much time.
One of the fundamental problems with straight-up extrapolations is that they assume equivalent production over equivalent playing time through whatever remains of the season; this practice obviously becomes far dicier as the data pool you're extrapolating shrinks, which is one way of saying that, no, I don't think Guerrero is going to maintain a 675-plate appearance pace, or hold steady at a .414 wOBA clip. What does seem reasonably likely, however, is a four-win season as a DH at age 35, and I didn't foresee that. Guerrero, like many other Hall of Fame-caliber players, is clearly not abiding by the traditional aging curve, and perhaps I should be a touch more mindful of that next time.
I've taken my share of swipes this year for being too pessimistic and what not, but there's no two ways around it: at one year, $5.5 million, Guerrero presently stands out as one of baseball's best off-season signings -- the sort of signing that is an absolute necessity for cash-strapped teams with post-season aspirations.