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White Sox RP Javy Guerra Regains His Form On the Southside

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The White Sox may have found a gem in Javy Guerra when they claimed him off waivers from the Los Angeles Dodgers near the end of spring training this season. He posted an impressive 2.91 ERA in 42 appearances this year. He also seemed to become more comfortable as the season wore on, posting a 2.55 ERA over the second half, and slashing his walk rate by 28%. It’s been a while since Javy’s looked that comfortable.

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2012 and 2013 were trying times for White Sox reliever, then a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. His rookie season was quite impressive, as Guerra recorded 21 saves with a 2.31 ERA in 2011. However, he suffered through a knee injury and oblique injury during the 2012 season, and bursitis necessitated arthroscopic shoulder surgery in November the same year. 2013 saw Guerra sent down to Triple-A Albuquerque for the majority of the year where he worked his way back to full strength.

The White Sox were the benefactor of the Dodgers’ good fortune, when a talent-filled bullpen made Javy the odd man out in LA this spring. White Sox general manager, Rick Hahn, said Guerra was, “potentially another high-leverage arm,” according to Dan Hayes with CSNChicago. While a similar reclamation signing, Maikel Cleto, hasn’t panned out, Hahn looks to have been right about Guerra.

Turning It Around

Javy improved in every almost every measurable way during the 2014 season. Guerra also appears to have worked through the control issues that plagued him the past couple seasons. After posting walk rates (BB/9) of 4.6 and 5.1 in 2012 and 2013, respectively, Guerra cut his BB/9 to 3.9 this season. Even more encouraging was his 3.3 rate the second half of the year. His strikeout totals won’t blow anyone away, 38 K’s in 46.1 innings, but his four seam fastball regularly touched 97 MPH and gave the White Sox some much needed heat out of the ‘pen.

His fastball is his bread and butter, throwing it 53% of the time, according to Brooks Baseball. Below, Guerra strikes out four batters in only 1.2 innings, using his fastball to put away three of them.

As you can see, when Guerra’s on, he can spot his fastball all over the strike zone. If that’s not worrisome enough for opposing hitters, he can change speeds with a very capable slider or curveball, as he did on the last strikeout above.

One of the attributes that makes Guerra particularly effective in US Cellular field is his ability to keep the ball in the park. Guerra is not a ground ball pitcher. His ground ball rate is only 43.5%, which means the other 66.5% of balls in play are either line drives or fly balls. However, he keeps the ball in the park by only allowing a 3.0% HR/FB (Home Run to Fly Ball) ratio for his career. In 2014 his ratio ticked up to 4.0%, but that’s to be expected moving to “The Cell”, one of the league’s most homer-friendly environments.

Guerra does an excellent job utilizing the whole plate. Rarely can a batter anticipate the location of Javy’s next pitch. The chart below, from Brooks Baseball, illustrates Guerra’s fastball location in 2014.

Javy Guerra Zone Profile, courtesy of Brooks Baseball.

You can see the concentration of pitches varied significantly. Guerra hit the top, bottom, inside, and outside part of the strike zone almost equally. Many times you will hear announcers extol the virtues of changing speeds. Well, Guerra’s fastball illustrates the value of changing location.

I’m excited to see how Javy progresses in 2015. He seems to be on the right track, having worked himself back from injuries. A full offseason and spring training with the organization and pitching coach, Don Cooper, may be all he needs to kick it up a notch and insert himself into the closer conversation next season. 2012 and 2013 were difficult years for Javy Guerra, but his performance in 2014 suggests that he’s regained his form on the Southside.

*All advanced stats provided by baseball-reference.com, unless otherwise noted.

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