Four weeks into the 2009 season, Tigers left fielder Carlos Guillen is batting dead last among his peers at the position — an anemic .198 average and .268 OBP for a guy Detroit counts on for big-time production. The next worst is the A’s prized offseason acquisition, Matt Holliday, and he’s still hitting 35 points higher.
(While it’s still early and Holliday is much more likely to regain his near-MVP, three-time-All-Star form than Guillen, we must give credit to Craig Calcaterra — Shyster of ShysterBall — for declaring in June 2008 that Holliday is nothing more than a product of Coors Field. We shall see.)
Right now, left field isn’t providing much offense for any of the A.L. Central clubs. Chicago’s Carlos Quentin is hitting only .244 but at least he has eight homers (Guillen has zippo); Kansas City’s David DeJesus is at .241, and Cleveland’s Ben Francisco is hitting just .239. Only Minnesota’s Delmon Young is hitting over .250 — he’s at .271.
So when do the Tigers (and Tigers fans) push the panic button on Guillen? Well, given his inability to stay healthy and advancing baseball age, perhaps we should be pushing it right now. But let’s think about this for a moment.
A couple of things jump out at me about Guillen, one makes me nervous, the other makes me think he’ll be okay. Well, at least I think that I think he’ll be okay:
- As much as the World Baseball Classic seemed to help Miguel Cabrera get his groove on much earlier than he did last year, I’m wondering if Guillen wouldn’t have benefited more from skipping the boondoggle altogether. I mean, the more games he plays, the more likely he is to pull something, strain something, dislocate something, right?
- Guillen has come out of the gate quickly for the Tigers since he arrived in 2004. Here are his numbers in April since then:
- 2004: .309 Avg. / .396 OBP / .444 SLG
- 2005: .385 / .467 / .526
- 2006: .315 / .398 / .596
- 2007: .300 / .396 / .467
- 2008: .304 / .404 / .468
- 2009: .230 / .310 / .284
Can we chalk it up to a once-in-a-contract, molasses-like start or the trend of something more chilling — i.e., Higginsonesque? For the answer, I turned to BaseballProspectus.com to see how they envision the future of Carlos Guillen. Here’s what I found.
The folks at BP have him projected at .271 this season with 14 homers and 61 RBI. (Wouldn’t you be delighted with those numbers after a start like this? I would.) Not exactly the production you want from a $10 million guy, but not Jacque Jones either. In fact, the Baseball Prospectus crew sees Guillen as a .270ish guy for the rest of his career. If they’re right, and more often than not, they are, Guillen could be given the Damion Easley/Gary Sheffield treatment in about 10 months or so — if not sooner.
Then again, we might look back and laugh at all the handwringing about his sluggish April and think of him as Baseball Prospectus did in 2007:
Guillen is perhaps the most underrated player in baseball, and the crown jewel of Dave Dombrowki’s rebuilding job. Guillen’s strength is his ability to take multiple approaches at the plate, taking power cuts early in an at-bat, choking up and leveraging his slap-hitting ability when behind in the count, and working a walk when ahead.
Or, we’ll lament another ill-advised contract under Dombrowski’s reign and see what BP saw in 1997:
Guillen is an injury-prone shortstop prospect â€”1994, left shoulder; 1995, right elbow â€”but heâ€™s a good hitter and defensive shortstop. Another product of the Venezuelan factory. Health is the only question, but itâ€™s a massive one.
My gut tells me it’s the latter.