Saturday, January 22, 2005

Nat of the day, Jan. 22

Jose Guillen: Illin' or Villain?

Name: Jose Manuel Guillen
Position: Right field (probably)
Age: 29 in May
Height/weight: 5-10, 190
Bats/throws: Right/right
Relevant 2004 statistics: 148 games played (missed last eight due to team-imposed suspension); .294/.352/.497 batting line; 92/37 K/BB ratio; nine outfield assists (third among regular AL left fielders); now on his seventh team
Garden variety scouting report: Free-swinger with power to all fields; quick wrists; decent speed when in shape; cannon for an arm; poor man's Vlad Guerrero, except he's a hot-head with a sinister disposition and ass-like-qualities, prone to altercations but (hopefully) not Ron Artest-crazy.

The Inquirer wants to know:

1. Is Jose Guillen one of Those Guys?

You know the type of guy of whom I refer: a player who---either because he crosses the line from ultra-competitive over to near-sociopath, or else because he's a just-plain-jerk---is never happy, creates factions on the team, gets into it with management, etc. It's the great tradition of Dick Allen, Isaiah/J.R./Whatever Rider, Kyle Turley, Randy Moss, and about a hundred other guys.

This type of complex is sort of tolerable if the player is truly great; okay, it gets blown way out of proportion because the media latch onto the story (e.g., Randy Moss), but the player is still probably worth the fuss since he's a truly great player and incredibly hard to replace (e.g., Randy Moss).

Well, no one is saying that Jose Guillen is a truly great player, but a lot of people say he's a jerk. Just ask the Los Angeles Angeles de Anaheim---all of them, probably, including their manager.

If you follow the Nats, you likely know as much about Guillen's reputation as his record on the field. In fact, the two realms sometimes coalesce into one, like when he was lifted for a pinch-runner in a late season game in the heat of a pennant race and fired his helmet into the dugout---earning him a suspension for the rest of the season, including Anaheim's three-and-out versus the Sox of Destiny.

[Incidentally, Guillen expanded the record a bit concerning the incident in a recent San Francisco Chronicle article, including mentioning but perhaps not clarifying the not-insignificant detail of what his target exactly was.

As best the DC bloggers, including myself, can tell, Guillen threw the helmet: a) at manager Mike Scioscia (though Guillen denies this); b) at the batboy (though, as Chris from Capitol Punishment asks, why would he admit this?); or c) at no one in particular, sort of like Hal MacRae chuckin' a telephone. Anyway, on some level it does not really matter; as Ryan from Distinguished Senators points out, the broader point is that the incident reinforces that Guillen is a jerk.]

Does all this matter, though? It could---though not necessarily because baseball teams compete in a Manners Competition (by the way, anyone else heard that radio commercial for the product called "Good Manners Made Easy" that uses the marketing angle that teaching little kids manners is fun? FUN?). It could matter, instead, because of something Guillen said to the Chronicle reporter:

Washington will be the seventh team Guillen has played for, and his reputation for poor behavior has grown as he's bounced around -- he is often described as troubled.'' In person, though, he is intelligent and charming, and he insists that he only gets upset when he isn't playing. "I'm not like what people are saying," he said. "If I'm producing and you sit me, though, we're going to have a little problem. It would be different if I was making a lot of mistakes, but I know what I'm doing. If you just let me do my stuff, I'll be fine. "

Now, as noted in my Nat-of-the-day yesterday on Endy Chavez---as well as every other DC baseball blogger, from what I can tell---the Nats have something of a logjam in the general outfield-first base sector of the roster and lineup composition department. Presumably, Guillen will be the everyday right fielder, and I am fine with that.

But what if he doesn't produce (but still thinks he is)? Or what if Termel Sledge continues to develop and Nick Johnson stays healthy and hits up to his capabilities? Uh oh. The last thing this team will need (or we, as the fans, will need) is a jerk stumbling along at .240/.300/.415 grousing about not soaking up at-bats on a pace of 600 for the season?

At the very least, I imagine the guy will carry a serious complex with him to Washington. On a certain level, I guess it is understandable. Here is a guy who was rushed up by Pittsburgh at an insanely early stage of his career; he was not even 21 yet when handed the starting right field job out of spring training, and he had never played at any level above A-ball.

His team indulged in "Next X is Y" talk, calling him a next-generation Roberto Clemente, mainly---I guess---because he was a young Latin outfielder with an extremely strong throwing arm. He was plunked into something of an RBI spot on a team in something of a pennant race (the '97 Pirates were slightly more mediocre than the '97 Astros). He basically repeated his performance the next season and, amazingly enough, established something of a 3,000 hit pace given a 20-year career, which was at least possible given his early start.

Then, poof. He's in Nashville. Then Durham. Then back to the majors (sort of) in Tampa. Then Durham. Then Tampa. Then Durham. Then Tampa. (He must have been stalking Bobby Smith.) Then he went to Colorado Springs. Then Louisville.

Then he made it back to the majors in Arizona, just in time to join the World Champions---the year after they won it. Then he was traded to Cincinnati (actually, come to think of it, that's where "Louisville" comes in).

And, after all of that, he's finally re-established himself as a big leaguer. And he still is, only it's now three stops later. If he's learned to appreciate hard work in the meantime (though apparently he reported overweight last spring), good; just the same, it would appear to this far outsider that he's adopted some resentment, too.

Alright, enough of that for now. Although it's a cliche, it is true that only time will tell.

2. Is Guillen a legitimate clean-up hitter?

According to Baseball Direct (which, as I understand it, is some of STATS Inc.'s stuff for free), the average National League clean-up hitter---or, more precisely, all the at-bats from the No. 4 hole combined, then average per team---had a batting line of .281/.373/.513. Guillen hit .294/.352/.497 last year in Anaheim, which played as a neutral park.

When I said that Guillen re-established himself as a big leaguer, I wasn't joking. That 2004 batting line is nothing compared to his 2003 batting line, which was .311/.359/.569, which in turn was nothing compared to his first half of 2003 in Cincinnati, with his Albert Belle batting line of .337/.385/.629.

You see where I'm going with this; setting aside an other-worldly half-season, his 119 OPS+ in 2004 is probably a pretty decent representation of his abilities. He could beat that figure, sure, and he could tank it some, too---but if you arranged 100 "Jose Guillen seasons," I'm betting that most of the time, he'd come within 5-10 percent of that figure.

He's a passable clean-up hitter, keeping in mind that RFK might well play to the pitcher's side of neutral.

3. Was Guillen worth Rivera and Izturis?

Guillen didn't come without a cost, of course. As I understand it, his 2004 salary is $3.5 million, which is a pretty fine bargain when one considers what the market wrought this offseason. The greater cost came in the departure of Juan Rivera and Maicer Izturis in order to bring in Guillen. In essence, Guillen replaced Rivera, and---for better or worse---free agent Cristian Guzman replaced Izturis as the shortstop of the present and future.

Neither Rivera nor Izturis necessarily look like future all-stars, of course. On the other hand, both are pretty young and very cheap. Guillen may be a bargain, but the mind contemplates the cards Dandy Jim Bowden could have played had the Guillen and Guzman salaries been off the books---Odalis Perez, perhaps (which would have negated the "need" to bring in Stevie Loiaza, too). Suffice it to say, speaking just on financial merits, Guillen (and Guzman) better be worth it.

I should mention that neither Rivera nor Izturis are lame-oh Diamondbacks-quality prospects, either. Hell, Rivera hit .304/.364/.465 last year---in the major leagues. And he wasn't being babied in a lefty-mashing role, either. (In fact, he hit better against righties.) As for Izturis, he only beat the hell out of the Pacific Coast League last year, hitting .338/.428(!)/.423 for Edmonton, before being exposed rather starkly in a 107 at-bat cup o' coffee in Montreal following the O-Dog Cabrera trade.

Nothing otherwise in Izturis' minor league record suggests, even after league-and-park adjustments, that he would be anywhere near the kind of offensive force he was in AAA last year. I'm no prospect expert, but I don't foresee him establishing himself as anything greater than a 250-AB utility infielder. Ultimately, I believe, this trade comes down to Guillen vs. Rivera. If you take great stock in runs batted in, you probably think Guillen is a far superior player. That's fine; that's your right.

On the other hand, I see a dirt-cheap outfielder who has already proven he can hang in quite well against big league pitching and is now entering his "magical age-27 season." That's Rivera. Guillen better hit really, really well---especially considering his Explosion Probabilty Index might just be through the roof.


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