Thanks to a 2006 season that has seen Detroit reach the World Series for the first time since 1984, Carlos Guillen has finally received a little bit of the press he’s more than earned over the course of his career with the Tigers. Can you guess how many times Carlos Guillen slugged over .500 in his professional career, before joining Detroit? How about full seasons with a .400 on-base percentage, or even a .300 batting average? The answer to all three questions is zero, which makes Guillen’s late rise even more intriguing to analysts and fans alike, considering that he’s topped all of those marks in the past three years.

Carlos Alfonso Guillen was signed as a non-drafted free agent in 1992 by the Houston Astros at the age of 17 out of Maracay, Venezuela. He would have to wait until 1993 to make his professional debut with the Dominican Summer League Astros, where he would only log 56 at-bats in 18 games. He wouldn’t get a chance for more playing time or improved numbers until 1995, as he sat out the entire 1994 season after left-shoulder surgery. Once he could return to the field, that 1995 season was a different story, as he walked in eight percent of his plate appearances while hitting .295/.351/.429 in the GCL at age 19; this earned him recognition from Baseball America, who named him the fourth-best prospect in both the GCL and the Astros organization.

Baseball America rated him as the #74 prospect in the minors prior to 1996. Guillen initially backed that up by hitting .330/.414/.491 in 112 at-bats, but then he dislocated his left shoulder and missed the rest of the season. In his short time at the Single-A level, Guillen managed to increase his walk rate, Isolated Power, and home run rate; a positive sign for a 20-year old, even one with so little playing time. Another item of interest was his .405 batting average on balls in play, which is well out of the realm of normal. It was the end of his days in A-ball, as the Astros aggressively promoted him to Double-A Jackson. Outside of a June stretch where Guillen went 34/102 for a .333 average, he struggled to collect hits, only putting together a .254/.322/.377 line. His walk rate was solid at 8.7 percent, and his HR% was 2.3 for the second year in a row, but his BABIP dropped to .295, which accounts for the drop in production, at least relative to the previous year.

Guillen would earn a promotion to Triple-A New Orleans for the 1998 season, and would end it in Triple-A Tacoma after the Astros traded for Randy Johnson. The Astros gave up quite a bit of talent in that deal, sending Guillen, John Halama, and Freddy Garcia up north for half a season of Johnson. With a rebound in BABIP to a more realistic .322, Guillen fared well in his first full season of Triple-A:

Team                AB  AVG  OBP  SLG SecA  XBH%  ISO 2B+3B  BB%   K%
New Orleans (AAA)  374 .291 .350 .457 .246  31%  .166  22   7.4%  14.5%
Tacoma (AAA)        92 .228 .297 .293 .152  14%  .065   2   8.9%  16.8%

Tacoma wasn’t a pleasant experience, but it was only 24 games, and he managed to hit .333/.381/.410 in ten games with the Mariners in September. In 1999, Guillen managed to play in all of five games for Seattle before tearing his ACL in his right knee. once again, Guillen was shelved for the season.

Guillen played a few games for Tacoma on his rehab assignment after tearing his hamstring in 2000, but was on the major league roster for most of the season. His last stop at Triple-A would come from June 3 to July 3, where he would hit .299/.386/.437 with a BB% of 11.8 after hitting a paltry .143/.239/.159 for Seattle over 23 games, splitting time between third base and shortstop. Guillen would improve greatly in the second half, putting together a .289/.348/.462 line with 20 walks over 225 at-bats, an encouraging sign for a Mariners team that was about to lose Alex Rodriguez to free agency.

Guillen’s 2001-2003 seasons can be taken as a piece, as there are no real significant chances from year to year:

Year  AB   AVG  OBP  SLG SecA  XBH%  ISO 2B+3B   BB%    K%
2001  456 .259 .333 .355 .219  25%  .096  25    10.1%  17.0%
2002  475 .261 .326 .394 .227  33%  .133  30     8.7%  17.2%
2003  388 .276 .359 .394 .253  27%  .118  22    11.5%  14.2%

His Secondary Average and batting average improved three consecutive seasons, and his walk rate was above ten percent twice. By all accounts, his 2003 season was fairly productive, given his position and his home park. The important statistic that is not displayed in the table is BABIP; in order, Guillen’s BABIPs for the three years were .312, .307 and .273. These do not match up with his line drive rates from these years though; in 2002, his LINERD% was 22 percent, and it was 24 percent in 2003. Using Dave Studeman’s “general formula” for estimated BABIP (LINERD% + .12 = Expected BABIP), Guillen should have been much closer to a .340 and .360 BABIP for 2002-03. When you account for this difference, Guillen’s season lines are a tad improved: with the .033 difference for 2002, Guillen’s line is .284/.359/.427, and the .087 difference from 2003 gives Guillen a .363/.446/.481 line, fitting in pretty nicely for an Age-27 season of a player who supposedly exploded in the subsequent three years. Those lines assume that every extra hit was a single, which most likely would not be the case, but they serve our purposes for this exercise.

So, the question is, did Safeco hide Guillen’s natural progression? It’s certainly plausible, especially given that Safeco’s BABIP from 2001-2003 was only .287, below the league average. It’s possible that Guillen’s estimated BABIP figures are a bit overstated, but it’s clear that he was brought down somewhat, considering his high line drive rates and Detroit’s .304 BABIP from 2004-2006.

Guillen would make his way to the Tigers via trade. Juan Gonzalez and Ramon Santiago were dealt in exchange for Carlos Guillen, which will eventually–if not already–rank as one of the more significant blunders in Seattle history. It seems as if Guillen’s success came out of nowhere, but we’ve opened up the possibility that this isn’t the case by checking out the potential Safeco effects on his hitting. Baseball Prospectus 2004 was on top of things in this regard, actually:

A very underrated ballplayer. Guillen’s an acceptable defensive player, hits for a reasonable average, has some pop and pretty good control of the strike zone. He’s fully capable of playing a championship-caliber shortstop, and no player’s recognition is more dampened by his home park. The Mariners proved their inability to recognize Guillen’s talent, jettisoning him to Detroit for some flotsam and signing Rich Aurilia to take his place.

The emphasis is my own, and kudos to whoever wrote that comment, even if PECOTA didn’t recognize the park differences enough in its .258/.336/.380 forecast for 2004. At least, that’s what Guillen’s season line (.318/.379/.542) told me. Baseball Prospectus 2005 wasn’t as enthused about Guillen’s potential:

Indians GM Mark Shapiro must be cursing Omar Vizquel‘s balky knee, which caused the Mariners to void a trade with the Tribe and make an equally ill-advised move by shipping Carlos Guillen to the Tigers. Nobody expected the MVP-caliber season that followed, but Guillen has always had a well-rounded skill set that was underrated because he’d played in such a poor hitter’s park. Guillen has had some injury problems of his own, of course, including a knee bang-up that ended his season three weeks early. There’s virtually no chance that he’s going to replicate his numbers of a year ago, either in the field or at the plate, but if he retains even half of his improvement, he’ll be one of the better players in his league.

The comment was correct that he did not replicate his numbers in 2005, but he rebounded in 2006:

Year  AB   AVG  OBP  SLG  XBH% ISO 2B+3B  BB%    K%
2004  522 .318 .379 .542  40% .224   47   8.9%  14.9%
2005  334 .320 .368 .434  22% .114   19   6.6%  12.5%
2006  477 .320 .400 .519  37% .199   46  11.4%  14.0%

He’s looked somewhat like the altered 2003 version of himself the past three years, and set a career high in walks in 2006. Batting average isn’t much of a predictable skill, but Guillen has hit pretty much .320 for about 1400 at-bats now. He’s got some extra-base hit power, and he draws a walk. Of course, if I’m taking a look at how much of a false representation his actual numbers from 2001-2003 were, I should also take a look at 2004-2006 to see what can be expected of Guillen in the future:

2004  3.8  36.8%  22.2%  41.0%  N/A   13.2%  .352   .342
2005  3.7  24.5%  22.4%  45.2%  7.9%   7.0%  .359   .344
2006  3.8  30.2%  21.5%  42.2%  6.1%  13.7%  .355   .335

Guillen’s numbers were a tad inflated this year, since the difference between his BABIP and expected BABIP was .020 points. For the other years though, he was just a bit over, and his 2005 dropoff in production can be attributed to injury and a drop in flyball and home run rate coinciding with an increase in grounders. Considering 2007 will be his Age-31 season, Guillen should be able to match whatever PECOTA throws out there for him a little later in the offseason, since it’s built off of the past three seasons.

His line drive rates are fairly consistent with his Mariner days, which leads one to think that the Mariners weren’t so much unlucky for dealing Guillen as they were misguided. Considering his road numbers weren’t up to par from 2001-2003 either, the M’s can be given a bit of a break, but getting back the weak package they did for Guillen is the questionable portion. It’s safe to say that without the Guillen deal, neither franchise might be in the position they currently find themselves in. Sadly for the Mariners, Carlos Guillen is playing in a World Series as you read this.

Marc Normandin is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. You can reach Marc by clicking here or click here to see Marc’s other articles. You can find some of Marc’s other work here.

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