Brandon Guyer Looks Back

Brandon Guyer announced his retirement last week, ending a career that was undeniably unique. A platoon outfielder for the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cleveland Indians from 2011-2018, the 34-year-old University of Virginia product has the highest hit by pitch rate in big-league history. All told, Guyer was plunked 85 times in just 1,487 plate appearances.

Getting drilled wasn’t his lone skill. A creditable defender with a reliable right-handed bat, Guyer slashed .274/.376/.449 against lefties, and his consummate-gamer personae made him an asset in the clubhouse. Overall, he logged a .727 OPS with 32 home runs (the first of which his wife heard on the radio in a stadium parking lot). A fifth-round pick by the Chicago Cubs in 2007, Guyer went on to have some especially-memorable moments with Cleveland in the 2016 World Series.

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David Laurila: How would you describe your career?

Brandon Guyer: “First of all, I feel very fortunate to have played seven seasons in the big leagues. When I was thinking about retirement, that brought me back to where it all started, Little League and then the whole journey. If someone would have told me what would happen with my baseball career, I wouldn’t have believed them. All of the ups and downs, the injuries… obviously, my goal would have been 20 seasons and being an All-Star every year, but I’m proud of the career I had. My main goal all along was to make the absolute most of my potential, and I did everything in my power to do that. I left it all on the field.”

Laurila: How do you think most fans will remember you?

Guyer: “Probably as la piñata. And I don’t know if they will, but I hope fans remember me as a guy that played hard, played the game the right way, and carried himself the right way off the field. Those are all things I prided myself on.”

Laurila: When I asked you about it four years ago, you told me there wasn’t an art to getting hit by pitches. Now that you’re no longer playing, is your answer any different?

Guyer: “Now that I’m done, I’m more willing to talk about it because I’m not as superstitious. During my career, I felt that if I talked about it something was going to happen; I was going to get hit in the head or break a bone. Another thing I’m proud of is 80-something hit-by-pitches and I never missed a game because of that. And that was without wearing any protective gear.

“So yeah, the art… I know I’ve told you that I’ve always been wired to freeze, to not really move, but there is kind of an art to it — not to going up there looking to get hit, but rather how to get hit. For instance, upper body you kind of roll with it. There are ways to get hit so that it doesn’t hurt as much, that your body absorbs it better.

“Lefties would pitch me inside a lot, and I would stride towards the plate with my foot ending up on the chalk… but did I ever think I’d end up the all-time leader in getting hit by pitches per plate appearance? Usually you get those kind of stats if you’re working hard for something, like trying to be the hitter with the highest average. But I was never working hard to have that record. It just happened, and I think it happened because of that combination of things.”

Laurila: Pitchers weren’t always happy with you on the hit-by-pitches.

Guyer: “Definitely not, and there are some funny stories. Towards the end of the 2015 season, Mark Buehrle hit me three times in a game. I saw him in the parking lot afterwards and he was like, ‘Dude, come on, man. Can you just move, please?’ He was just having fun with it, though. I said, ‘Hey, man, I’m sorry. I literally freeze if it’s right there.’

“I also remember a time against David Price, in Boston, when I got hit by a pitch that was close to the strike zone. I think John Farrell was the manager. There were definitely times where managers would say to the umpires, ‘Come on, he didn’t even try to move.’ Stuff like that. So yeah, some pitchers got pissed, but to me it was, ‘Hey, you can’t get pissed if you’re throwing inside, it’s off the plate, and you hit me.’ I mean, you can’t just expect a hitter to be like, ‘Oh, I’m going to jump out of the way.’ If it’s a strike, then it’s not going to hit me. If it’s off the plate and it hits me, that’s on you.’”

Laurila: I once asked Tim Wakefield about hitters making no attempt to get out of the way of knuckleballs. That wasn’t an uncommon occurrence for him.

Guyer: “You know, I faced R.A. Dickey a good amount, because of his reverse splits, and I don’t think he ever hit me with a knuckleball, believe it or not. But yeah, if you’re going to get hit, you’re rather get hit by that as opposed to Aroldis Chapman.”

Laurila: Changing direction, what were your expectations when the Cubs drafted you?

Guyer: “To be honest, I didn’t think I was going to be drafted. Two days prior, I dislocated my shoulder in our regional game. A lot of scouts were there because we had Sean Doolittle on the team, and he was going to be a first-round pick. Luckily the Cubs were willing to take a chance on me. They were the only ones. Basically, every other team said that my shoulder was too big a red flag. I’d dislocated it really badly.”

Laurila: Did you dislocate it running into a wall?

Guyer: “No. We were playing Oregon State, who ended up beating us and winning the national championship, and a squeeze bunt was on with me on third. I slid headfirst into home, and the catcher put his shin guard down. Fortunately it was my non-throwing arm, but it was still horrific. So yeah, I wasn’t expecting to be drafted.

“As to your question, I’m not sure exactly what my expectations were. I always thought I’d be a big-leaguer, but I didn’t know what it was going to be like going through the minor leagues. I got there and it was like, ‘Wow.’ It was all new. The environment had changed. There were talented players from all over the world. And, of course, I had this bad shoulder. The first couple seasons in the minors were rough.

“In 2009, they skipped me from Low-A to Double-A and I was hitting .190 after 190 at bats. I honestly thought that was it. I thought I’d hit rock bottom and my career was over. It took them sending me down to High-A, where I finished strong, and that lifted me up to where I was like, ‘OK, I can do this.’ The next year I was the Cubs Minor League Player of the Year.”

Laurila: You thought your career might be over when you struggled in Double-A?

Guyer: “There were a couple of times where I thought I was done. My freshman year of college I thought, ‘It’s not for me.’ So when I think back at the journey… in high school, at each level there were struggles. That’s why I say I’m very proud, and fortunate, to have played seven years in the big-leagues.”

Laurila: What was your reaction to getting traded to the Rays (in January 2011)?

Guyer: “I thought, ‘Wow, this is awesome.’ I figured I could go there and start in the big leagues. The Cubs had Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd… the outfield was pretty stacked, so I didn’t see myself moving up quickly unless there were a ton of injuries. I thought the Rays would be a really good opportunity for me. I didn’t start out the year there, but I did get called up after about a month.”

Laurila: How would you describe your big-league debut?

Guyer: “The first thing that comes to mind is that my wife didn’t make it there for the start of the game. She was a sports anchor for Fox 5, in DC, and had a six o’clock show. She had to drive from DC to Camden Yards, in all that traffic, and
when I hit the home run off Zack Britton in my first at-bat, she was still in the car. She had just pulled into the parking lot.

“I remember running the bases so fast, thinking I was literally in a dream, that there was no way it had just happened. I’d done it at a stadium I grew up going to with all my family and friends, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better than that. Then I struck out my next two at-bats and got sent back down the next day.”

Laurila: You said your wife was still in the car. Did she hear your home run on the radio?

Guyer: “Yes, she said she was going crazy in the parking lot, telling the attendant, ‘My husband just hit a home run!’ I thought she was there. The stands were full, so I couldn’t see her when I looked up, but I assumed she was. After the game she told me. I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ She’d always talked about how she was going to fly to wherever when I make my debut, and then it worked out that she could just drive, and she didn’t make it in time. I like to give her a hard time about that.”

Laurila: She missed the home run but saw the two strikeouts. Presumably you allowed her to come to games after that?

Guyer: “Yeah, that probably wasn’t smart. I might have had a much better career if she just didn’t go at all.”

Laurila: What stands out from your time in Tampa?

Guyer: “I’d say the Game 162 [in 2011] when Longo hit the walk-off minutes after the Red Sox lost to the Orioles, and we went to the playoffs. That stands out, but it was also the people. There were guys like Chris Archer and [Kevin] Kiermaier and [Steven Souza. It was cool that I got to play with talented guys like that, and develop friendships with them. That’s the kind of stuff that stands out from Tampa.”

Laurila: What was it like to go from the Rays to the Indians [in 2016]?

Guyer: “That was about an hour before the trade deadline. I hadn’t heard my name in rumors, and I was actually in a slump at the time, so I wasn’t expecting anything. Tom Foley, our third base coach, tapped me on the shoulder as I was eating in the cafeteria. He said to come to the office, and I was like, ‘Oh, wow, did I get traded, or am I getting released because I’m not playing well?’ So I went in and was told. I was kind of shocked. I think we were in last place at the time, so to go to team like the Indians, who were right in the heart of a pennant race… man, there were so many emotions going on.

“Looking back, I’m so grateful that I went there and got to experience not only the World Series that year, but also the playoffs the next couple of years. The Tampa Bay Rays are a great organization, but Cleveland is a great organization as well. I got to play for Joe Maddon, Kevin Cash, Terry Francona… man, what else can you ask for?”

Laurila: What was it like to play in a World Series Game 7?

Guyer: “Wow. I wasn’t starting that night, but we heard rumors that Jon Lester was probably going to come in at some point, and I knew that if he did, I might pinch hit. I think it was the fifth inning when they brought him in, and I did pinch hit [the following inning].

“Obviously, it was awesome getting to be a big part of the game, and getting that double [against Aroldis Chapman in the eighth inning]. But what stands out the most is being on second base when Rajai [Davis] hit that home run. I remember that when he hit it I thought it was going to go off the wall. Then I saw it go out, and I almost passed out. I was like, ‘Oh my god, we’re about to win this World Series! Chapman is at 30 pitches and we just tied it in the bottom of the eighth. We’re going to walk this thing off in the ninth inning.’ That’s what was going through my head.”

Laurila: I was there, and Progressive Field absolutely exploded when Rajai hit the home run..

Guyer: “Oh yeah; it was so loud. And as players we don’t realize it, but right outside the stadium… when you see the replay, there were so many people standing out there. Man, the whole city was going crazy for us.”

Laurila: You walked with two out in the bottom of the 10th inning. What you were thinking when you walked up to the plate, knowing you could be the last out of the World Series?

Guyer: “Honestly, David, I was so locked in that it never went through my mind that I could possibly be the last out of the World Series. My mindset was just right, and I ended up not really getting a pitch to hit from Carl Edwards Jr. Then Rajai got another hit to knock me in, and we had the winning run up to the plate.

“Obviously we didn’t win it, but to be that close in one of the best World Series ever… the history of the Cubs winning after all those years, playing at Wrigley Field, people outside walking goats. That whole atmosphere, man. It’s something I’ll never forget.”

Laurila: The Cubs were your first organization. Did you think about that during the Series?

Guyer: “I did. Everything had come full circle. I got to play against the team that drafted me, and Joe Maddon and Davey Martinez had managed me, and coached me [with the Rays]. It was pretty surreal.”

Laurila: Fast forward to the here and now. What went into your decision to retire?

Guyer: “I had elbow surgery last year and only played a month in Triple-A, so coming back this year there wasn’t a ton of opportunity because of my age and having missed most of last season. I had to take a minor-league invite to spring training [with the Giants]. I was doing well, but then COVID hit and they ended up letting me go once spring training got shut down.

“I decided that if there is a baseball season, it was going to take almost a guaranteed spot for me to want to play. For one thing, I was already set on what I wanted to do next. Plus, would I want to leave my family for three or four months and risk getting sick? There was some interest, but no on could guarantee anything, and that made my decision so much easier. And I was at peace with it.”

Laurila: To close, what can you tell me about your new endeavor?

Guyer: “It’s called Fully Equipped Athlete. It’s basically an online training platform to work with athletes of all ages, and all sports. I feel like there’s so much emphasis on the physical side, and I really want to work on the mental side — the lifestyle, the nutrition, the proper ways to train, the correct breathing techniques that helped me so much in my career… the list goes on and on. Basically there are 10 foundational tools, and I want to work with athletes to help them excel not just on the field, but off the field as well. I want them to get the most out of their talent, which is what I did throughout my career.”

We hoped you liked reading Brandon Guyer Looks Back by David Laurila!

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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emh1969
Member
emh1969

Great interview!

As a fan of the Cleveland TBDs, I’ll always remember Guyer for his contributions in that Game 7. Had two opportunities in key moments and came through both times.

As an aside, can we please retire the phrase “played the game the right way”? Easily the most overused, meaningless baseball cliche…

Dominikk85
Member
Dominikk85

It means “the white way”:). Don’t think anyone has ever said that about a Latin player and rarely about an African American player.