I’ve read what’s been posted here and everywhere else lately on Carlos Guillen‘s pain-free workouts, gobbled it up, really. I too have caught the bug, of enthusiasm for our newly healthy second basemen. Wouldn’t it be great if Guillen was really back to his old self?
Carlos Guillen, not Verlander, not Austin Jackson, not Miggy, is my favorite Tiger. He was one of my favorite players before he ever put on the D, I have to love a guy that plays through a whole season fighting to stay in the lineup with Tuberculosis. I mean, honestly, who gets tuberculosis nowadays? Fleecing the Mariners to get Doc Holliday over here was just icing on the cake. When we went to the World Series in 2006, it was Carlos Guillen that led the team in WAR.
Carlos Guillen can hit. He’s got a little power, he takes walks, and let us not forget that the bar for middle infielders is (once again) very low. He may not have the best range, but he’s not a terrible fielder in other respects. If we could get a full season out of him, without those nagging injuries that have hurt his performance the past two years, Carlos Guillen – even without great range – is probably the best second baseman in the AL Central. He could easily add 3 wins to the production we got at second base last year.
That’s what started me dreaming. So I started to wonder: sure he might get hurt again, but what are the odds that he’ll pull it together for a big age-35 season? And that led me to check his top-10 comps by similarity score up to age 34. This was going to be “Things to Pin Your Hopes On, Part 2: Carlos Guillen”, but the research I’ve been doing has not been cheerful reading. And that turned my smile upside down.
To clarify, all these things do is match players based on a number of statistical criteria including not only how they have performed overall, but how their performance has trended or deviated from season to season. For Guillen we’re looking for middle infielders with a strong mid career peak and a couple of sub-par injury-plagued seasons up to age 34, and then how they fared at age 35 and beyond.
Number 2: Ronnie Belliard. At least he played through his age 35 season, but last year he only managed a .632 OPS in 185 plate appearances. Below replacement level
Number 3: Red Kress. Gave the Tigers a .597 OPS in 110 plate appearances in 1940. Below replacement level.
Number 4: Rich Aurilia. Now we’re getting something positive! Aurilia played 3 more years with 931 plate appearances after 35. Unfortunately, only in one of those 3 (age 36) did he give an acceptable level of production, a .745 OPS. Even that year Aurilia was below replacement level, since he didn’t have the youthful agility to play anything but first or third. Over those three seasons, Aurilia was 0.7 wins below replacement level.
Number 5: Carlos Baerga. Played at age 35 and 36, but not well. A .638 OPS in 2004 and a .653 OPS in 2005 led to a cumulative 0.7 wins below replacement level
Number 6: Joe Randa. We remember a bit of Joe Randa from his time as a Tiger, but his age 35 season was quite a long time removed from that. Splitting time between San Diego and Cincinnati the Joker actually put up some decent offensive numbers. His .787 OPS in 2005 was 24 points above his career average. The only problem is that he cost his teams many of those runs back through bad defense. That, of course, is pretty common with older infielders. Still not something cheerful to think about. Nonetheless, Randa’s 1.4 WAR at age 35 is the best on the list so far (by a long shot). Randa too stunk at age 36, gave the Pirates a below-replacement-level performance and was out of baseball.
Number 7: John Valentin. You could make the case that some of the comparables on the list just weren’t as good with the bat as Carlos Guillen, but you couldn’t say that about Valentin. His career numbers compare favorably with Guillen’s so far. Valentin played out his age 35 season, with a .698 OPS in 242 plate appearances good for 0.4 WAR, then he was done.
Number 8: Robby Thompson. Like Todd Walker, retired after his age 34 season in 1996.
Number 9: Jeff Cirillo. Perhaps the best on the list so far. Cirillo played 3 more seasons, and actually hit pretty well – with an .800 OPS at age 35, a .784 OPS at age 36 and a .684 OPS at age 37. The only problem? He never managed 300 plate appearances in a single season. Still, his 3.9 WAR after age 35 is the best on the list.
Number 10: Davey Johnson. I remember the guy as a manager, but it turns out he wasn’t too shabby of a hitter in his time. His career WAR total is about 25, his best year with the bat was at age 30 with a .916 OPS in 1973. After that his trajectory looks awfully Guillen-ish. He played a full season at 31, but didn’t hit quite as well. The three years after that he only managed 187 plate appearances total. He put up a .678 OPS, 0.4 wins below replacement level overall in his age 35 season and then he was done.
Isn’t that just about the grimmest read ever? I was hoping to see something positive. Some Guillen-comp with a late career boom like we’ve seen from folks like Jeter. Seems guys like that don’t have histories quite like Carlos Guillen. Out of 10 top comps, 2 didn’t play at 35, 5 played below replacement level, and the highest of the 3 high achievers only contributed 1.4 WAR. So, I’ll be pulling for him like crazy all season long and I hope Carlos proves them all (and me) wrong, and carries us to the promised land like he did in 2006, but I can’t pin my hopes on that.
So, look for “Things to Pin Your Hopes On, Part 2: Scott Sizemore” later this week. When old guys get hurt, there’s still a lot that can go right.