About a year ago at this time, fresh off his unlikely all-star appearance, Cristian Guzman got a two-year, $16 million contract extension from Jim Bowden. At the time, it was arguably a good move, if nothing else because the team had no other remotely replacement level options anywhere in the organization.
There were reasons to worry, however, that like Dmitri Young, Austin Kearns and Ron Belliard, Bowden was giving Guzman an overpriced contract at the peak of his value, and that the Nationals would be stuck with a relatively high-priced, declining player.
Those worries are proving well-founded. Because he had such a hot start, a lot of people haven't noticed that for the last two months, Cristian Guzman has been one of the worst offensive players in baseball. Shoot, he even got an indefensible spot on the final round all-star ballot.
On May 9, his OBP sat at .392, and his SLG was .519. Since May 9, his on-base percentage is .290, and his slugging percentage is .363.
He's always been a relentless hacker, but this season his BB-rate has fallen from a career 4.7% to a nearly unwalkable 2.2%. Even more worrisome, his strikeout rate has risen from 9.8% last season to 14.6% this year. When your game is to put the ball in play and pray to the BABIP gods for good luck, that can be the difference between sustainably adequate and sub-replacement.
And guess what, as bad as he's been, he's been incredibly lucky. Despite the two month-long slump, he's still floating on the second-highest BABIP of his career at .345. But he's also 0.2 percentage points away from the lowest line-drive rate of his career at 16.7%. Guess which of these numbers isn't going to stay the same. Last year, he had a career-best line-drive rate of 22.5%, and all that got him was a BABIP of .339.
Meanwhile, his defense is regressing fast, not a shocking development for a 31-year-old shortstop who was never a fielding ace to begin with. On the year, he's on pace to allow 6.7 runs more than the average shortstop, according to UZR.
Taken together, even with his fast start, he's been just a half win better than replacement for the season, not nearly enough to justify his $8 million salary. Of 19 batting title-qualified shortstops, he ranks 16th in overall value, even staring up at our old friend Brendan Harris.
Guzman has had streaky tendencies, and it's possible he'll have a hot month to work his way back near average. But it's more likely that he's going to get even worse. In that case, we could end up paying $16 million to watch the worst starting shortstop in baseball for two seasons.