Carlos Guillen Named Detroit’s Starting Left Fielder

Carlos Guillen was not happy with his role last season. After accruing 17.2 wins as Detroit’s SS from 2004-2007, he has since spent games bouncing between 1B, 3B, LF and the DL. Guillen’s move off of SS came in the wake of a -10 UZR season at SS. Although he put up 1.2 WAR in limited time in 2008, his wOBA dropped 30 points and he lost even more time to injury in 2009. As such, the Tigers saw themselves left with the very definition of a replacement player.

This leaves the Tigers with a dilemma. Although it’s not likely that Guillen’s true talent has dipped below replacement level, it certainly is not at the six win level of 2006 and probably not at the three win level of 2003, either. With Ryan Raburn waiting in the wings, it makes little sense to commit to a 33-year-old declining hitter over the team-controlled player. Unfortunately, Guillen’s contract calls for $13 million in both 2010 and 2011.

Naturally, Jim Leyland’s response was to name Carlos Guillen the starting left fielder for 2010. The Tigers, having reached a 163rd game playoff with the Minnesota Twins this year, likely have playoff aspirations.

Their best bet to reach the playoffs, of course, is to field the best team. Ryan Raburn put up a .378 wOBA last year vs. Guillen’s .328. Guillen ranks as a 2.46 in the Fan’s Scouting Report, and has a -3 UZR in a small sample. Raburn only ranks slightly better, and has a +1 UZR in LF in a 110 game sample – again, not big enough to draw conclusions. The 50 point wOBA difference is akin to the difference between Lance Berkman and James Loney, and there’s no reason to believe Guillen’s defense outweighs this copious gap in offensive production.

The counterpoint is that Guillen’s BABIP was a precipitous .267 in his shortened 2009. With a career BABIP of .325, this is especially low, and we should expect regression. The question is, though, can Guillen recover from injuries at age 33, learn how to play a relatively new position, and put up a wOBA over .350 like he has in the past?

It seems like a rather large gamble to take for Detroit. Raburn is young but has very solid minor league numbers to support his first ML season. Apparently, money talks. This is just yet another example of the veteran with the big contract getting playing time over an equally skilled or possibly better young player because the team is unwilling to cut its losses and admit its mistake.

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Eric Cioe
Eric Cioe

Also heard from Leyland: “Brandon Inge is our 2009 catcher.” “Miguel Cabrera is our third baseman.” When the chips are down, he seems to have no trouble going back on his “word.” I expect that this was simply encouragement for Guillen to work out and make sure he can actually play the field next season. Raburn will get his ABs, and he should. He’s not a .375 wOBA guy, I don’t think, but he’s not chopped liver, either, and he’s likely as good or better than Guillen at the plate and he definitely has more range than Guillen in the field.

I think Guillen will end up DHing more often than not next season with Raburn in left. I also think Jim Leyland thinks this.