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Happy Birthday Juan Guzman

Toronto Blue Jays v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Juan Guzman turns 55 today.

Guzman was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The Dodgers signed as an amateur free agent in 1985. Pat Gillick traded Mike Sharperson to LA for him, giving Pat an easy win, not that Pat was short on wins in his career.

Though apparently, the Blue Jays thought they were getting Jose Offerman in the deal, there was a difference of opinion on the matter, and we got Juan. The Jays used him as a reliever in the minors, at first. Guzman points to pitching 1 or 2 innings as part of the reason he had control issues, that it was hard to work on his control in such short outings and he might have a point there.

The Jays called Juan up to the Majors in early June 1991; the rotation was a bit of a mess behind the top three of Stottlemyre, Key, and Wells. Dave Stieb was hurt, and Denis Boucher didn’t pan out and got traded to Cleveland with Glenallen Hill and Mark Whiten for Tom Candiotti and Turner Ward.

Juan made his first start on June 7th and stayed in the rotation for the rest of the season. He was great, going 10-3 with a 2.99 ERA. He had 123 strikeouts in 138.2 innings, gave up too many walks (66) but kept the hitting to a minimum (98). Guzman was equally great against left-handed batters (holding them to a .201 BA) as right-handed batters (.193 BA). He was second in the AL in Rookie of the Year voting to Chuck Knoblauch. Unfortunately, we lost out in the ALCS to the Twins that year in 5 games. Guzman had our only win in game two of the series.

He was in our starting rotation the following year, though he missed most of August with a strained back muscle. He was excellent once again, with a 16-5 record and a 2.64 ERA in 28 starts. He struck out 165 in 180.2 innings, still giving up too many walks (72) but held opponents to a .207 BA. He was selected to the All-Star team and pitched a shutout inning in the game.

More importantly, in the first of the Jays’ back-to-back World Series wins, Juan won each of his 2 starts in the ALCS win over Oakland. In the WS, he started game three but didn’t get the decision, giving up only 2 runs in 8 innings of a game that the Jays won at the bottom of the 9th.

In 1993 we won the World Series again, and again Juan was a big part of our success. He was 14-3 in 33 starts with his highest ERA in his career to that point, 3.99. Juan still walked way too many, 110 in 221 innings. He also gave up more hits than he had in the past, giving up a .252 BA, which is pretty good still but not near as good as he had been his first two seasons. The trouble was a drop in effectiveness against left-handed batters who hit .282 against him, while righties hit just .223. He was third in the league in strikeouts and received a Cy Young Award vote. Two other Jay pitchers finished ahead of him in the voting, Duane Ward and Pat Hentgen. Jack McDowell from the White Sox won the award that year. Unfortunately, the writing was on the wall for Guzman’s arm as he was allowed to throw 120 pitches or more in 12 starts. Cito Gaston was never gentle with young pitchers.

Once again, he won his two starts in the ALCS, this time against the White Sox, but Dave Stewart won the Series MVP for his two wins. Stewart gave up 3 runs in 12.1 innings, Guzman 3 runs in 12 innings. They each gave up 8 hits, Stewart walked 8, Guzman 9, Stewart struck out 8, Guzman 9. Juan also made two starts in the World Series, getting a no-decision in a game one win and losing game 5.

Juan was lousy the next two lockout/strike-shortened seasons with ERAs of 5.68 and 6.32 and a combined 16-25 record. He still walked more than a batter every other inning, but he gave up more than a hit an inning as well.

But then, in 1996, he found the touch again, leading the league in ERA at 2.93, winning 11 and losing 8. He cut down on his walks, walking less than a batter every 3 innings. He also pitched better against lefties (.224 BA).

1997 was an injury-filled season for Juan. He made 13 starts with a 4.95 ERA and a 3-6 record. In 1998 Guzman made 22 starts for the Jays before being traded to Baltimore on July 31st for Nerio Rodriguez and Shannon Carter. We didn’t get much for him, but he didn’t do much for the Orioles before moving him to the Reds on July 31st, 1999. Guzman made 12 good starts for the Reds, then signed with the Rays as a free agent before the 2000 season. He made one crappy start for the Rays and wrecked his shoulder. That was the end of his career.

Juan had a 10-year career finishing 91-79 and a 4.08 ERA. He struck out 7.5 per 9 innings. Juan was wild, walked way too many, and led the league in wild pitches in 1993 with 26 and 1994 with 13. He was slow and deliberate on the mound and was very poor at holding runners. Juan threw a sinking fastball, rising fastball, slider and curve. Bill Mazeroski said he had “Incredible stuff, and he’s just wild enough for hitters to have that in the back of their minds.

He also had the fabulous Jheri curl.

Guzman runs the Juan Guzman Foundation that “works to strengthen the skills and abilities of vulnerable youth, supporting their families through primary care centers” in Latin America. However, the web page doesn’t seem to have been updated in the last two or three years, but their Facebook page has had the occasional post.

Happy Birthday, Juan. I hope you have a good one.