Monday, March 22, 2004

You gotta love silly spring training headlines. The LA Times breaks the story that Jose Guillen might bat fifth. Really? Didn't we know that already? The lineup arrangement of Salmon-Glaus-Guillen has been a "story" all through camp.

The real point of the Times story is that Guillen has impressed, and the OC Register is on the same beat. I'm still highly suspicious of him. Both papers refer to past questions about his character (the Register's "Guillen's reputation is that of a temperamental player who can blow up when things go wrong" is a typical line), but that's not what worries me. What concerns me is that last season was his first above-average season with the bat. Even at that, he had 312 superlative at bats against 167 decent ones. The rest of his career has seen 2000 substandard at bats. Last year was his age 27 year -- the age players are most likely to peak and/or have fluke seasons (Gary DiSarcina's only good season, 1995, came when he was 27).

The Angels are betting that all Guillen needs is playing time and someone to believe in him. Is there reason to believe that his turnaround last season was for real? Well, what made him better last year? Looking at all the components of his performance, we find that in many respects her performed as he always has. He was within one standard deviation of his career averages in strikeouts per at bat; strikeouts per walk; walks per at bat; and each of singles, doubles, and triples per at bat.

The outliers are batting average on balls in play (1.282 SD above norm) and home runs per at bat (1.885). So, not only was he getting more hits on balls in play, he was also hitting the ball over the fence more often. That led to career highs in batting average (.311), slugging percentage (.569) and isolated power (.258). Was there an actual change in his approach?

He saw marginally more pitches (3.59 per plate appearance against a career average of 3.49, an insignificant difference). But we find some interesting results when looking at his groundball to flyball ratios. His career mark is 1.67, but last season he was at 1.29 -- a career low. Whether he intended to or not, he was driving the ball more often. Even in the vast expanses of Oakland, where fly balls go to die, he managed a 1.39 groundball to flyball ratio, well below his career norms.

This doesn't quite explain everything. He hit more home runs per flyball than over the course of his career (1.712 SD above his norms). But if he somehow altered his approach at the plate, these flyballs may have been less "accidental" and been struck with more authority.

I believe that Jose Guillen has above-average speed. He's also a small guy, 5'11'' and 190 lbs. Is it possible that teams used to direct him to hit the ball on the ground and "take advantage of his speed"? I don't know, of course. But he has played for some backasswards organizations like Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay.

I think that if Guillen has altered his approach, a fair amount of his improvement could be real (expecting a season like last year's is a little silly, though; of course, given his pay, no one is expecting it). What we'll have is a guy with a mediocre average, no walks, and some pop. Sound familiar? Guillen could be the poor man's Garret Anderson. His lack of on-base skills means I probably don't want him batting fifth, but I'm more optimistic about him now than I was when I started this entry, so there you go.

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