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A Look Back At Pedro Guerrero

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MLB Network is showing a slew of old All-Star games and highlights this Thanksgiving weekend, and I stumbled across the 1981 All-Star Game on Friday. This game was on August 9, later than any other midsummer classic, because of the nearly two-month long strike.  This game, from Cleveland's Municipal Stadium, was the kickoff to the "second half" of the season.

I tuned in during the bottom of the seventh inning, and noticed Dusty Baker in left field, incidentally during the only season besides Matt Kemp's 2009 in which a Dodger outfielder captured Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards.  It turns out that I missed the pitching performances of Dodgers Fernando Valenzuela and Burt Hooton, but I also missed the All-Star debut of one Pedro Guerrero.

Guerrero will always hold a special place in my heart, as he was the best hitter on those mid-eighties Dodger teams when I first started watching regularly.  My first full season as a fan was 1985, and Guerrero put on a show that season.  He caught fire in June, tying a record for the month by hitting 15 home runs, then amazingly was even better in July, hitting .460/.563/.794. 

I remember looking at the back of his baseball cards, and noticing Guerrero had good seasons in 1982 & 1983 -- he finished third and fourth, respectively, in the NL MVP voting in those years -- but I was surprised to notice him in the 1981 All-Star Game.  In 1982 & 1983, Guerrero hit the magical 30 & 100 numbers, the only time a Dodger had 30 home runs and 100 RBI in between Steve Garvey in 1977 and Mike Piazza in 1993.  But in 1981, he only played in 98 games, so I had always dismissed that season as a partial one for "Pete."  I knew he ended up as one of the tri-MVPs of the World Series that year, but the low counting numbers always stuck in my mind.  I forgot about the strike, of course.  Guerrero was in fact a regular player that season, as the season was limited to 110 games.  Guerrero started 93 of those games, including 51 of 57 in the "first half" (before the strike).

He was hitting .325/.375/.550 at the break in 1981, one of the best marks in the league.  That got me to thinking, just how good was Guerrero?  He missed most of 1986 after injuring his leg sliding into third base during spring training, so I will concentrate on 1981-1985, when Guerrero played regularly.

1981 98 46 12 48 .300 .365 .464 .829 138
1982 150 87 32 100 .304 .378 .536 .914 156
1983 160 87 32 103 .298 .373 .531 .904 150
1984 144 85 16 72 .303 .358 .462 .819 131
1985 137 99 33 87 .320 .422 .577 .999 181
Totals 689 404 125 410 .305 .380 .517 .897 152

Guerrero's 1981-1985 was one of the greatest five-year stretches in Dodger history:

Highest 5-Year OPS+ in Dodger History
Player Years BA/OBP/SLG OPS OPS+
Mike Piazza 1993-1997 .337/.401/.583 .984 164
Duke Snider 1953-1957 .311/.407/.618 1.025 161
Reggie Smith 1976-1980 .299/.389/.532 .921 153
Pedro Guerrero 1981-1985 .305/.380/.517 .897 152

How did Guerrero compare to the rest of baseball during that stretch?  Very, very well.  There were 137 players in MLB who had 2,000 plate appearances, and here is where Guerrero stood:

Pedro Guerrero 1981-1985
Stat Guerrero MLB Rank
AVG .305 5th
OBP .380 12th
SLG .517 4th
OPS .897 4th
OPS+    152 3rd
HR 125 10th
Runs 404 16th
RBI 410 t-15th

I always felt bad for Guerrero in that he was traded in August 1988 and didn't get a chance to get another ring with the Dodgers, but he did have a great run in Dodger blue.