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Why the Jose Guillen trade makes me sad

You might have noticed the 1,800 hysterical comments about Jose Guillen on the day of the trade. Now that some time has elapsed, it looks as if there was a whole lot of overreacting going on in that thread. The season didn’t end right there. Major League Baseball didn’t take away wins retroactively. The Giants traded for a player. He might do well, he might do poorly. We’ll see.

The reason for the overreaction, though, is simple. Jose Guillen isn’t good at baseball compared with the rest of the other players in the majors. Did you happen to watch him stretch a triple into a double yesterday? It was pretty impressive. He doesn’t have any range, he doesn’t run well, he doesn’t hit for average, and he doesn’t work the count or take walks. He’s already 34, so he isn’t going to suddenly figure this stuff out, either. His lone skill is that, on average, he can hit about two more home runs every month than Aaron Rowand or Travis Ishikawa would if they were given the same number of at-bats.

Is that worth the hit the Giants will take on defense or on the bases? Probably not. Your mileage may vary, but I’d wager that the Giants are a better team when Rowand or Ishikawa are in the lineup and on the field. The difference probably isn’t enough to get irate over. Guys get hot, guys get cold, and over the last month-and-a-half over the season, the difference will probably be negligible. The real reason for the freakout, though, is probably because we look at Guillen’s stat line and see that he hasn’t cracked a .315 on-base percentage in over three years. But the Giants’ front office looks at Guillen’s stat line, and sees this:



The heart starts racing. Mmmm, those are some sweet RBI. Man, imagine if he played for the Giants. Would have totally had all of those RBI! Oh, man, we’d be in first for sure. Those RBI just transfer right over, so now we have a big bat! Boch! Can you start this guy four or five days a week? (Ayup. Already on it.) Oh, man, he’s had his problems with authority before, but we’ll deal with that for a run producer. Mmmm. RBI. Oh, mama.

It’s so 1975, that it’s almost cute. But in 2010, just about everyone running a baseball team knows that RBI are a terrible way to evaluate hitters. It's Bengie Molina all over again. Guillen has 62 RBI this year; Rowand has 32. Well, that must mean that Guillen is a much better run producer with runners on base, right? Aaron Rowand has had 113 plate appearances with runners on base this season. Guillien has had 210. The Royals hit Guillen in the middle of the order, which maximized his RBI opportunities. He had nearly twice the plate appearances with runners on base than did Rowand, and, shock of shocks, he has nearly twice the RBI.

It’s insane for a team to think they can glean any sort of insight off of RBI alone. But I think the Giants are doing it. I don’t have proof. Sabean might be laughing about this post right now with the Giants’ in-house sabermatrician. But it’s the only explanation I can think of for why a team would want Jose Guillen. Heck, the Royals didn’t want him. Paid him to leave. Said, nope, not worth it. And somehow he can come to another team – one trying for the playoffs, no less – and start? It’s bizarre unless you pretend that RBI are useful indicators of anything when they’re completely stripped of context.

That’s what upset me. I pretty much knew all this already, but the Guillen trade was a cold bucket of wet reality to the face. Sabean loves using that bucket.

Now I’ll take questions from the audience.

Hey, the Giants are just hoping to catch lightning in a bottle, like they did with Pat Burrell and Joe Carter. Remember how awesome Joe Carter was? I’ll bet you hated that trade, but without Carter, the Giants probably don’t play a 163rd game.

Sure, Guillen could go all Joe Carter on the rest of the NL. He could also go all Ricky Ledee on the Giants. More importantly, though, is that he’s most likely to go Jose Guillen on everybody. Because he’s Jose Guillen. You can’t justify trading for Ruben Rivera right now and say, "Oh, but he could hit ten homers before the end of the season!" He’s still Ruben Rivera, and you have to assume he’ll hit like Ruben Rivera.

Big deal. Guillen was basically free. What’s the harm in seeing if he can get hot?

I’m thinking that Ruben Rivera could be had for the major league minimum right now. Basically free. What’s the harm in seeing if he can get hot? It’s a bit of a ridiculous comparison to keep bringing Rivera up – Guillen has actually had some good seasons in the majors – but I’m just trying to point out that it’s a little silly to hope that a player who hasn’t been good for three years will suddenly justify his acquisition and get hot. Maybe it will happen. I’m hoping it will happen. It’s just not likely.

Well, you’d hit like that if you were on the Royals, too. You can’t blame a guy for being affected by the losing atmosphere.

Uh, actually, I can blame a guy. What a lame excuse. We’ve watched some pretty bad baseball here in San Francisco over the past five years. At no point did I think, gee, it would be perfectly acceptable for Randy Winn to stop trying because the team is just so bad. I don’t think Guillen’s numbers suffered because the Royals stunk. But if they did, well, that’s not something that would support his acquisition. "Oh, it’s okay. He just isn’t hitting because he’s sensitive. Well, here’s a pressure-packed playoff race, Jose! Enjoy!"

Hey, don’t get on Sabean. He signed Huff when no one wanted him, remember, and look at how that worked out.

I’m thinking that Huff was signed because he had 85 RBI last year. If someone asks you how many state capitals there are, and you say "50. I know this because there are 25 states and two capitals in each," you got the right answer, but you used the wrong method.

I hope Guillen does well. I hope this post is something worth mocking five months from now. It just seems like the Giants didn’t learn from the poor offenses they built in the post-Bonds era. That’s why the Jose Guillen trade hurts, even if it isn’t likely to make a big difference.