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2020 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews #24: Junior Guerra

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If you do not want a major war, get yourself a junior guerra.

San Francisco Giants v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
  • Rating: 4.48
  • Age: 35
  • 2020 Stats: 25G, 23.2 IP, 3.04 ERA, 4.12 FIP, 1.352 WHIP, 2 H, 2 BS, 21:15 K/BB, 152 ERA+
  • 2020 Salary: $2,650,000 ($925,926 prorated) + $50,000 signing bonus + $100,000 buyout of 2021 option
  • 2021 Status: released despite 2021 option ($3,500,000) or arbitration eligible ($2,700,000-$3,300,000, per mlbtraderumors) and entered the market as unrestricted free agent

Introduction

We write 2001 and the Arizona Diamondbacks are on their way to win the World Series. In one of multiple and hardly noticed transactions, the Atlanta Braves sign 16-year old Junior Guerra as an international amateur free agent.

His first years of professional baseball are as a catcher, but apart from one year in the rookie leagues as a 20 year old, he barely gets on base.

The batting skills were far from good, perhaps his defensive work behind the plate neither, but the arm should have been intriguing enough, because the Braves decide to convert him into a reliever during the 2006 season. Nonetheless, in March 2007 the Atlanta Braves decide to cut him loose. Later that year he gets a second chance with the New York Mets, but this organization terminates his contract as well, in 2009.

The Venezuelan born Guerra starts life as a globetrotter:

  • In 2010 Guerra pitches in Spain for first division team Sant Boi.
  • In 2011 he plays for the Wichita Wingnuts in the Independent Leagues.
  • In 2012 he appears for the Yucatán Leones in the Mexican LMB (non-affiliated AAA).
  • In 2013 he returns to the Wichita Wingnuts in the Independent Leagues.
  • In 2014 Guerra heads back to Europe and pitches for Italian league side San Marino.
  • During all those years, he also pitches every year in the Venezuelan winter leagues for the Tiburones de la Guaira (Guaira Sharks).

After a stellar season in Italy in 2014, he earns a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox in 2015 and thanks to good results in AA and AAA the right-hander finally makes his MLB debut on June 12, 2015 in relief against the Tampa Bay Rays. The then 30-year old Guerra pitches two more games in relief in June, is optioned back to AAA and gets designated for assignment in October 2015, where he is claimed off waivers by the Milwaukee Brewers.

Because of his limited time in the majors, we might not know Junior Guerra, but in 4 years in the Brewers organization, he had great value. He had a combined 3.78 ERA and 113 ERA+, with a WHIP of 1.279. Perhaps not great, but definitely good value when you imagine that he made league minimum in 3 of 4 seasons. He was a starter in 3 of 4 seasons, had a terrific year in 2016 but he could not hold up the good results in 2017 and 2018. In 2019 the Brewers moved Guerra to the bullpen where he, again, became of more valuable help, although he had 8 blown saves in 11 save situations.

Nevertheless, despite coming off a good year in 2019, and with a reasonable arbitration salary expected to be around $3,500,000, the Milwaukee Brewers non-tendered Junior Guerra.

The D-Backs signed Guerra one week after being non-tendered by the Brewers on December 8, 2019. There is a really good article on Guerra’s profile out there on the internet, so I will not bother describing the pitcher much more other than that he was laureated for his splitter.

2020 review

Mid August 2020 Junior Guerra was on his way to become the most reliable reliever in this year’s bullpen. Over the first 9 games in this season, he kept batters to a 0.040/0.172/0.080 batting line albeit with a ridiculously low BABIP of 0.053. At that moment, his strikeout and walk ratios were more or less in line with his career average. He had pitched against the Padres, Dodgers, Astros, and at Coors, so we cannot say that the stats were deflated for whatever reason. He got his first hold of the season on August 14 when he came in to replace Merrill Kelly and got Jurrickson Profar to pop out.

The stats started to catch up on Junior Guerra on August 16. It was a game against the San Diego Padres and Robbie Ray had just walked Fernando Tatis Jr. in the 6th inning. It was the third pitch of the at bat, 1-1 count and Guerra pitched a sinker in the middle and at the knees of Eric Hosmer. The Padres first base man definitely saw that coming and the ball would bounce of some object near the pool for a two run homer.

That homer would doom the value of Guerra’s 2020 sinker thanks to small sample sizes, but in general it was not a very successful pitch: the WHIFF% was just 8.3% on it. That WHIFF% took a dip, but is not very far from previous seasons. It might not be a very effective pitch, but its strength lies probably in its similarity to his fastball: his fastball is pretty similar to the sinker in velocity and perhaps the combo of them might explain the effectivity and failure of one pitch and the other.

Guerra was very good at limiting hard contact. Despite the Hosmer homer, his hard hit % was top of the league: 95th percentile and thus top 30 of all pitchers in the MLB. Spin rates on his fastballs increased in 2020, so that was definitely reason for the good hard hit results and enough to compensate the loss in velocity.

Pitch tracking Junior Guerra 2020 (Statcast)

His curve and his splitter were, like in previous years, good swing and miss pitches, but the curveball was valued poorly this season because of the high hit rate, although it definitely does not help when you have a couple of unlucky bouncers for a base hit.

Just like in previous seasons, Guerra performs well against both right- and left-handed batters. In 2020 Guerra dominated them if he was pitching in the upper part of the strike zone, but only 10% of his pitches would find that area. Most pitches would end up lower, with the spot where Hosmer punished his sinker being the most fragile one.

Guerra pitching zones 2020 (Statcast)

It was however a bit more complicated than that, since Guerra had consistent troubles to find the strike zone.

His abysmal 5.7 BB9 was a career high and was amongst the worst in the league (5th percentile). Especially left-handed batters were granted a free pass. In half of the 11 games were he issued a (intentional) walk, at least one (inherited) runner would eventually score.

Guerra statcast statistics (Statcast)

What further stood out in 2020 were his good results with Carson Kelly behind the plate. Maybe Hazen should have just matched Guerra up more often with him.

By Catcher
Split G IP ER ERA PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO SO/W BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB ROE BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
Carson Kelly 12 11.1 2 1.59 47 34 8 2 0 0 0 0 0 10 10 1.00 .059 .283 .059 .341 2 2 1 1 1 0 1 .080 4 -4
Daulton Varsho 3 3.0 2 6.00 13 12 2 4 1 0 0 0 0 1 4 4.00 .333 .385 .417 .801 5 1 0 0 0 0 0 .500 153 124
Stephen Vogt 10 9.1 4 3.86 43 37 6 11 4 0 1 0 0 4 7 1.75 .297 .381 .486 .867 18 1 1 1 0 2 0 .345 175 116
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/11/2020.

2021 outlook

Eventually, in 2020, the statistics caught up with Guerra. While he issued (way) more walks than usual, BABIP also indicated that he was a bit more lucky than usual. So, next season you will probably get less walks and more hits from Guerra, but that means basically the same end result of an average reliever. The question is then: how much is he worth? Mike Hazen made his mind up pretty early, because on November 24 the Diamondbacks announced that they would release the Venezuelan.

That seems an acceptable decision by the front office in Phoenix, however you can hardly argue that the current bunch of relievers is much better than Guerra. They are more affordable though, so if Guerra is to be brought back, it would have to be on a cheap contract.

Guerra should be able to land a guaranteed contract somewhere. With the current prediction of the starter cast-offs filling up the D-Backs bullpen, it is hard to imagine that the Diamondbacks would offer him one and his age (36 in January 2021) and declining velocity do not help his case either.