Spreadsheet Baseball: On Joltin' Jose Guillen, That A-Rod Prick, And Migratory Fish

    It's hot stove season, baseball fans, the perfect litmus test of your hard-core fandom. There really is no other off-season more enjoyable to follow than baseball, at least in my experience, and I always have a good laugh at my friends or family members who are more casual fans when the Super Bowl ends and they begin to notice where all the baseball Free Agents landed. "Wait, when did they get Johan Santana?" is bound to come out of the mouth of someone you're acquainted. Just nod knowingly. It's one of those people. A casual fan. The kind of lucky person who can see the line "Jose Lima signs minor league deal with..." and not go into hyperventilation hoping the sentence does not end with "[insert your favorite team here]." You tell them that they traded for Santana or whoever they're asking about, possibly drop a name one of those people would recognize, and move on to a subject where they are not quite as likely to make an ass of themselves. It's the civil thing to do. Such fans may be lucky in the sense that they do not live and die by the transaction lists, hot stove reports, and the ESPN bottomline ticker, but they still miss out on quite a bit of entertainment. You do not need to rub in this loss by highlighting their lack of hardcoredom.

`Hokay, so, where to start with this off-season? Well first, since the entire frigging world revolves around that asshole Alex Rodriguez, A-Rod had to opted out of a contract that he knew he could do better than, the FOX and ESPN reported on it during the world series, and then the media--since they're not very good at blaming themselves--blamed Rodriguez for having a lack of respect for the game. Yes, you read that right, Rodriguez making a business decision during the World Series is very disrespectful to the game of baseball because...because...well, wait a second, there does not actually appear to be any big deal here. An athlete and his agent made their long-awaited decision on his contract. Ken Rosenthal invaded my television screen and, before I could change the channel to the Food Network or something else better than listening to Ken Rosenthal, reported on that decision. Meanwhile, the World Series was won by the Boston Red Sox. Does anyone understand how Rodriguez could be the villain here? I'm not saying that the Red Sox should get more ESPN love than they already do; far from it, I'm suggesting that if the media does not want Rodriguez's contract decision to be a big deal at a certain point, perhaps ESPN should not have done report after report after report after frigging report on Rodriguez's contract situation over the course of the season. You make a big deal out of a virtual non-story to improve your ratings, and then when it does become a bigger deal because something actually happens--Rodriguez opts out--and you blame the player who is the focus of the story. ESPN manages to get worse, somehow, and this story should have definitely outlined to Gammons loyalists that the guy is getting old. I used to love Gammons' work, and he's achieved far more as a baseball writer than I ever think I could accomplish, but his reporting on the Rodriguez opt out just sounded like another cranky old sportswriter. Sad Stuff.

    It's hot stove season, baseball fans, the perfect litmus test of your hard-core fandom. There really is no other off-season more enjoyable to follow than baseball, at least in my experience, and I always have a good laugh at my friends or family members who are more casual fans when the Super Bowl ends and they begin to notice where all the baseball Free Agents landed. "Wait, when did they get Johan Santana?" is bound to come out of the mouth of someone you're acquainted. Just nod knowingly. It's one of those people. A casual fan. The kind of lucky person who can see the line "Jose Lima signs minor league deal with..." and not go into hyperventilation hoping the sentence does not end with "[insert your favorite team here]." You tell them that they traded for Santana or whoever they're asking about, possibly drop a name one of those people would recognize, and move on to a subject where they are not quite as likely to make an ass of themselves. It's the civil thing to do. Such fans may be lucky in the sense that they do not live and die by the transaction lists, hot stove reports, and the ESPN bottomline ticker, but they still miss out on quite a bit of entertainment. You do not need to rub in this loss by highlighting their lack of hardcoredom.

`Hokay, so, where to start with this off-season? Well first, since the entire frigging world revolves around that asshole Alex Rodriguez, A-Rod had to opted out of a contract that he knew he could do better than, the FOX and ESPN reported on it during the world series, and then the media--since they're not very good at blaming themselves--blamed Rodriguez for having a lack of respect for the game. Yes, you read that right, Rodriguez making a business decision during the World Series is very disrespectful to the game of baseball because...because...well, wait a second, there does not actually appear to be any big deal here. An athlete and his agent made their long-awaited decision on his contract. Ken Rosenthal invaded my television screen and, before I could change the channel to the Food Network or something else better than listening to Ken Rosenthal, reported on that decision. Meanwhile, the World Series was won by the Boston Red Sox. Does anyone understand how Rodriguez could be the villain here? I'm not saying that the Red Sox should get more ESPN love than they already do; far from it, I'm suggesting that if the media does not want Rodriguez's contract decision to be a big deal at a certain point, perhaps ESPN should not have done report after report after report after frigging report on Rodriguez's contract situation over the course of the season. You make a big deal out of a virtual non-story to improve your ratings, and then when it does become a bigger deal because something actually happens--Rodriguez opts out--and you blame the player who is the focus of the story. ESPN manages to get worse, somehow, and this story should have definitely outlined to Gammons loyalists that the guy is getting old. I used to love Gammons' work, and he's achieved far more as a baseball writer than I ever think I could accomplish, but his reporting on the Rodriguez opt out just sounded like another cranky old sportswriter. Sad Stuff.

At the end of the day, the Rodriguez contract is incredibly easy to analyze compared with some of the other deals made this off-season: he is getting an average of 27.5 million dollars for ten years. This would be a highly questionable signing for a team that did not have virtually limitless financial capabilities, but the Yankees do, in fact, have virtually limitless financial capabilities. Rodriguez is a Hall of Famer, and will probably break Barry Bonds' record. The Yankees will probably lose on the last couple years of the deal, but at least Cashman was smart enough to recognize the important of keeping Rodriguez in town. I was downright giddy at the prospect of Rodriguez leaving the Yankees for the Angels or some National League team, and I really thought the irrational negativity that clings to Rodriguez like splat pigs cling to walls portended a team change. Not so. Ah, well, at least we don't have to worry about him heading into the AL Central. What? You say that another big bat landed in the Central? Do tell.

LHP Dontrelle Willis and 3B Miguel Cabrera to the Detroit Tigers, in exchange for RHP Burke Badenhop, RHP Eulogio De La Cruz, RHP Dallas Trahern, LHP Andrew Miller, C Mike Rabelo and OF Cameron Maybin to the Florida Marlins

Oh. I was hoping that the biggest bat to land in the American League Central landscape would be the fearless and incorr-er,...the fearless and productive Jose Guillen. Unfortunately, that's the not the case. With this trade, a lot of people are handing the division to the Tigers. The Big Lead has already landed on the bandwagon to the tune of "nothing less than 95 wins." Rotowire has a similarity positive outlook. I could dig up the thousands of positive responses to the trade, but it'd be tedious and silly. In truth, it's hard to disagree with the idea that this deal is great for Detroit... from the standpoint Tigers just made the best "win now" deal of the off-season. While you may have heard that the Detroit Tigers are going to win the AL Central, and this will help their cause, the Marlins just pulled in some pretty great swag for their best hitter and most recognizable pitcher.
    First of all, you cannot just evaluate this deal by saying "Miguel Cabrera is awesome and Dontrelle Willis is great so here come the Tigers!!!" because Dontrelle Willis is a pitcher that Detroit needs to be very careful with, as he was a markedly below average starter last year in the weaker league. Miscast Willis in the role of inning-munching ace, and the Tigers are more likely to see a 5.00 ERA than one in the threes. Check out Willis's stats from last year:

Dontrelle Willis, 2007, 205 IP, 83 ERA+, 1.6 WHIP, 10.56 H/9, 6.4 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, 1.27 HR/9, 0.7 VORP, 17th in PAP

This screams "talented-but-overworked-young-pitcher," not "money No. 2 starter on a division champion." Now you all are educated baseball fans so you probably know Willis is not really a number one starter most years anyway. The fact is, last year he was less valuable to his team than Daniel Cabrera was worth to the Orioles. You know Daniel Cabrera, he's the guy who got absolutely bombed in the second half season and inspired much hair pulling and tooth gnashing over at Camden Chat. What Willis needs--and whatever you think of PAP, it's pretty clear that Willis's workload correlates with his decline--is a team willing to carefully watch his pitch counts next year. He threw over 550 innings in 2005 and 2006, so the Tigers are getting a pitcher who has a lot of wear on the tires considering his relatively young age.
If Detroit is careful with him--I'm not saying baby him, just watch this pitch counts for heaven's sake--they should get an effective starter who is capable of an ERA in the low fours. If Willis makes it through '07 intact I'll be downright high on his prospects for 2008 and beyond. However, if Jim Leyland, who has a checkered history in terms of taking care of his young pitchers, fails to recognize that Willis is not a Carlos Zambrano workhorse, you're probably looking at more disappointment for the D-Train. That'd be a shame, because he's really fun to watch, in part because of the ridiculous leg kick wind-up that makes him look super cool and might also contribute to issues with fatigue. By the way, if there's any question or whether or not you want Joe Girardi within a country mile of your young starters, Willis's decline is another data point towards a resounding "no."

For the sake of argument, we'll say that Willis bounces back a little bit under the watchful eyes of the Detroit organization. We'll say an ERA+ back above average thanks to less home runs, but a lower innings total. Since Willis was a 4.5 WARP3 player last year, we'll bump him up to 6.0 WARP3, meaning he'll be worth six wins to the Detroit Tigers next year. I don't know if I'm being too generous with that or not, but we'll use that as the baseline. Now, let's look at the other new Tiger:

Miguel Cabrera, 2007: .320/.401/.565 (34 Home Runs, 38 doubles, 119 RBI), 150 OPS+, 11.2 WARP3, .326 EQA, 71.0 VORP.

    Basically, any headline that says the Tigers acquired a pair of stars is LYING. The Tigers got one highly questionable pitcher and one total stud who is carrying a little more weight than some people would like. I speak for a lot of statheads when I ask "who cares?" He's a bit overweight, but he doesn't have the build that makes you worry for his future as with, say, Ryan Howard. He doesn't have a particularly violent swing, and in terms of injury history...well, I'm sure he once did something embarrassing like slam his hand in the car door while on a date, but he's missed a grand flipping total of fifteen games in the last four years. Anyone who instantly says "LOL, he's too fat"...at this point, it seems about as relevant to me as saying "Albert Pujols talks funny" is to Pujols's ability. Give me some gosh darn evidence that I can look over that Miguel Cabrera is going to whoopee pie himself out of the league, and I'll listen, but I'm very optimistic about his future. That's an understatement. The kid is just an incredible hitter and he's not even in his prime yet.

    Baseball Prospectus projects Miguel Cabrera to not quite match this year's production, but it's a pretty darn safe bet to mark him down as a 10.0 WARP3 player. That may actually be too pessimistic. But anyway, if the Tigers actually have added sixteen wins for next year, that makes the rest of their off-season a heck of a lot easier. They won 88 games last year, so I suppose the thinking of those who are anointing Detroit goes something like this: 88 wins + 16 (or whatever you think these two are worth) = division title. Now, I can't out-and-out call BS on that, because 16 wins is a nice, big chunk, but I can say that anyone who looks at this so linearly is not really hip to the whole story. A cursory glances shows Carlos Guillen, Ivan Rodriguez, and the newly acquired-Jacque Jones all saw their production fall off last year. Placido Polanco, who is highly dependent on batting average, is likely to regress. Edgar Renteria is absolutely not going to hit .332 again, let alone in Comerica Park, and he plays bad defense. Curtis Granderson and Magglio Ordonez are great but both seemed to reach their best case scenario last season and there's no guarantee, especially with batting average heavy Magglio, that either is going to get back to double digit WARP3 territory. Gary Sheffield is 50 years old and plays like he's 60. With the pitching staff, Verlander is the only starter I'd be totally confident in predicting he will be above average next year.

    Given that I'm also giving Willis some credit I might have been a bit loopy to do so, the fact is that while this is a great deal for the Tigers, I have to think that a lot of that whole "Miguel Cabrera crushing the ball" thing is going to have to offset decreased production from other places on the team. Don't get me wrong here, I like this trade a lot for the Tigers, and I think it means that will definitely compete for the division, and that's what it's all about. However, I stop short of anointing them an instant favorite and hundred-game winner. Even when it comes to acquiring unequivocally great players, the hype machine can blow things out of proportion.

    Having concluded this deal will be a good one for the Tigers, it's a good one for the Marlins too. Looking at the case of perhaps the biggest name going to Florida, I think it's more of a possibility that Andrew Miller will be above average next year than Dontrelle Willis accomplishing that feat. I am aware that Miller experienced some bumps in the road in 2007 after a great first couple starts (all told, he was replacement level after 13 starts), but I am very high on Miller's stuff and his outlook in general. He's going to be 23 next year, can spot the ball up in the mid-90s from the port side, and he's got the advantage of moving to another pitcher's park (meaning I don't think last year's rough ending will snowball on him). Miller had a better K-Rate and HR-rate than Willis last year, and it wouldn't surprise me if his ten-plus per nine hit rate had a lot to do with inexperience. He's going to be cheap for a while (for a team that we assume needs financial flexibility if they're going to move) and his ceiling is high. In other words, he's the exact type of player the Marlins should have been targeting given their odd situation.

    Really, the most striking thing about this deal from the perspective of looking at what the Marlins are getting is that how familiar this story is getting. I chose to focus on Miller here, but Cameron Maybin is very good prospect and the other swag, with the exception of Rabelo, is rather interesting. However, my reaction Florida once again cutting bait on their most recognizable players--and indeed, one of their best--is to ask how much longer the Marlins will remain in Florida. This trade seems to be another step towards Las Vegas or some other city that will actually show up to a baseball stadium.

No, He's Not Emil Brown: Jose Guillen signs with the Kansas City Royals for 3 Years, 36 Million

    I'm mildly surprised at the negativity I've seen regarding this signing, but I suppose the steroid thing is big in baseball circles these days. And since Guillen received those steroid shipments, I suppose a lot people are going to ask whether he ever was that good before he got on the juice. It might not surprise you, but I think the argument that Guillen's career was jumpstarted entirely due to performance enhancing drugs is a bit silly. Guillen was a talented, if very uneven player before he touched any PEDs. If reports I read ESPN are to be believed, Guillen bought more than $19,000 worth of drugs from the Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center between May 2002 and June 2005, apparently having some of the shipments sent to the Oakland Coliseum during the 2003 season, after he was traded to the A's. Unfortunately, the only person who knows how much or how often Guillen juiced up during this time period is Jose Guillen, and I wasn't able to get an interview. The thing that makes figuring out Guillen's "non-PED ability" is the fact his breakout year of 2003 came a time where A) he would have had access to PEDs and B) at Age 27, a popular time for hitters to breakout as they reach their physical prime. I am aware that Guillen had hit poorly in the previous two years as a part timer in Tampa, but I'm also aware of sample size issues and  that Tampa does have a history of making weird choices when it comes to who gets playing time.

    In his first two years, with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Guillen looked like your typical young, impatient outfielder with pop. We're reaching back to 1997-98, a period of time where even steroid witch hunters will agree Guillen was not juicing. You can look at those two years--82 and 84 OPS+--and say "that's the player he should have been without `roids" and you can choose not to avoid the simple information that the guy was 21 and 22 in those years. A whole lot of growth as a player can be expected go forward for a talented 22-year-old, and, looking back at numbers objectively, Guillen's early career growth may have been stunted by the trade that sent him to Tampa. After playing almost a full year as a 21-year-old in Pittsburgh and starting all season for them in `98, Guillen was flipped midway through the next season to the Rays, and, coupled with a poor start in Pittsburgh, ended up with only 316 at-bats for that season. He played an even more sparing 41 games the following year. In 2002, splitting time with Arizona and Cincinnati, Guillen was once again a part timer.

    Far be it for me, a simple baseball enthusiast with stupid-looking hair, to infringe on the idea that Jose Guillen's breakout year in 2003 was all `roids. I know that's not the American thing to do and a guy like me, who despises Barry Bonds, ought to be a rah-rah supporter of the Mitchell Investigation, but has anyone even considered the fact that Guillen's big 2003 season--where started off gangbusters with the Reds and was flipped to the A's at the deadline--might have occurred because the Reds stuck him in the line-up and let the kid play? It's not as if Guillen suddenly became superhuman; he still only took 24 walks for the entire year, and while his power increased his slugging percentage of .569 that year tells a bit of a deceiving tale. While it was an increase in power over previous years--and don't get me wrong, PEDs might have helped that--a lot of it was tied up in his .311 batting average. Acknowledging those PED shipments, it seems totally plausible to me that getting full-time work and natural growth as a hitter were both big factors in Guillen's establishment of a new performance level. Bigger than steroids? I'm not qualified to tell you how much of a difference they made, but I'll tell you that--from the perspective of someone who has looked at gosh knows how many career paths when they should be studying Freud's stages or something--that Guillen's own may be irregular, but it also is not all that surprising given the circumstances of the years leading up to that 2003 breakout.

    From then on, Guillen's story becomes a bit more well-known. He had a good year (which a lot people seem to think was a great one) by hitting .294/.352/.497 and backing Vlad Guerrero as the Angels took the division...and then he got cranky with his was lifted for a pinch runner and was not allowed to play in the playoffs. I am not going to go around trumpeting the virtues of Jose Guillen as a clubhouse presence, or adhere to racial stereotypes and tell you he's "fiery guy," but I do have to ask what the public reaction towards a white player would have been in the same situation. In did not seem like too many people were willing to jump into Guillen's corner of that particular fight, and perhaps that was appropriate. I am certainly not questioning Mike Scioscia's decision, because I'm sure he knew Guillen better than I did. I cannot help but wonder, however, if maybe Jose has got a little bit of bad rap when it comes to his attitude. And this is recent development just because he now plays for a team I write about, it's something I've questioned before, particularly since we really haven't heard much, if anything about Guillen's supposed crankiness in the last couple years.

That's much ado about 2004, though, and in 2005 Guillen continued to be a good corner outfielder despite a mostly park-induced drop in counting and rate stats. While he hit .283/.338/.479 in 2005, he was doing it in the pitcher's haven of RFK, and his adjusted OPS was actually only 5 points off his 2004 season. Slugging 58 XBH that year, Guillen's third significantly above average year in a row seemed to portend a solid career from here on out, an expectation that was disrupted by an awful, injury-plagued year in 2006 that saw Guillen's ability to hit for average disappear and thus drag down the rest of his hitting line. It was for this reason that he was available for relatively cheap for the Mariners, signing on a make-good one year, six million dollar deal. The funny thing is, if it weren't for the injuries Guillen experienced in 2006, he probably would have signed his one big free agent deal at the conclusion of the 2006 season instead of signing with the Royals. It's kind of ironic that people are pointing to that bad 2006 as a data point against the Royals signing him, because that bad 2006 is a big reason we will enjoy Guillen's services for the next 3 years. And yes, I did say enjoy (it certainly is neat that Seattle didn't offer Guillen arbitration, by the way).

Finally, completing the stat picture, Guillen hit a solid .290/.353/.460 with the Mariners last year, once again playing a park that is not particularly kind to hitters. For those of you not hip to Safeco, it plays close to neutral for left-handed hitters and tends to be much, much harder on right-handed hitters (one of the reasons that the Mariners have targeted mid-range lefty talents such as former Royal Raul Ibanez). At age 31, Guillen took 41 walks, which is mildly encouraging in that it seems his patience has actually improved a bit. This also suggests to me, coupled with the return of his bat speed and ability to hit in the upper .200s, that Guillen is a reasonable bet to age well into his mid-thirties despite a skill set that generally says "powerful yet impatient outfielder." In short, three years is a good contract to be giving to this type of player. Guillen once again cracked 50 with his XBH total and hit 23 home runs, so it seems whatever steroid-induced injuries hampered him in 2006--that was a rather non-funny joke, sorry--are past him. I am pretty confident that Jose Guillen is going to produce well at the K, which is a much better hitter's park than he's used to, and I think he's a big plus over what you'd get from the zombie-like Emil Brown this season. So if the question is "did the Royals sign a player who fits a need and will help the team?" then my answer is yes.

That's not really the question, is it? The question is whether or not Jose Guillen's contract is the best use of financial resources and whether or not it makes sense to sign him given where the Royals are headed in the next couple years. For the former, it certainly appears as if the Royals ownership--Wal-Mart Man--is getting to the point where they're willing to commit more financial resources to the team, which really can only be a good thing. When it comes to the latter question, I can only conclude that Dayton Moore is very confident that his team will be competitive at some point in the next three years. And I am not talking about "81-81 competitive," I'm talking about "playing with the big boys" competitive. It makes no sense at all to commit 12 million dollars to a player like Guillen if you don't think you team is going to compete for a playoff spot within those three years. So GMDM believes, people, and the question is if you believe him. I have to answer that question with a definite "maybe."

Spreadsheet Baseball returns next week with more on this Winter's Deals. I apologize for not getting Andruw Jones and others this week, but I will get to that in the coming articles. For now, questions/comments are welcome/encouraged. Happy reading.

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