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Jose Guillen's power surge is no fluke

4/14/2010

While on television today, I was asked to compare "malcontent outfielders" Jose Guillen and Milton Bradley.

I laughed a little, but I answered the question the best way I could on the fly, saying generally nice things about Guillen, a legitimate power hitter with five 20-homer seasons since 2003, and basically ripping Bradley, who in the past five seasons has averaged 96 games played and hit enough to be owned in a standard league in maybe one of those seasons. Attitudes aside, I don't see these players as similar.

Guillen, who homered again Wednesday and is one of the hottest hitters in the game right now, has seemed a bit underrated to me for years. When he blasted 31 home runs in 2003, fantasy owners didn't seem to believe it. Since that season, shared between the Cincinnati Reds and Oakland Athletics, Guillen has hit 20 or more home runs for the Los Angeles Angels, Washington Nationals, Seattle Mariners and Kansas City Royals. OK, so he moves around a bit, and he's probably not a guy you'd choose to break bread with -- I guess that's where the "malcontent" part comes in -- but look at his numbers. He pretty much always hits, no matter which team has hired him, and unlike the Mariners' left fielder/designated hitter, he generally plays, too. Guillen seems to wear out his welcome quickly, but he does play, and I think we know we can count on 20-plus homers and a decent batting average from him when he's healthy.

Last season was obviously not a full season for Guillen, but he still hit nine home runs in 81 games, which isn't far off from another 20-home run pace. I don't really judge Guillen too harshly for 2009, though. He suffered a knee injury and tried to play through it, then came back in September and wasn't much help. Plus, the Royals were losing -- a lot. He shouldn't have been rushed. I call that season, based on his previous power numbers, more of an aberration. However, the fact that Guillen was so roundly ignored in drafts for this season seems to be a response to his unproductive 2009 (or was it a willingness to disown anyone who allegedly isn't a great person?). Guillen was the No. 77 outfielder in ESPN average live drafts, but even now he's still available in 95 percent of standard leagues. How many home runs does he have to hit to get added?

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Guillen has always been a bit of a streaky hitter, and he's on one of those good streaks. His mammoth shot over the left field wall in Detroit on Wednesday was his fifth homer of the season, all in the past four games, covering four days. It was also the 200th home run of Guillen's career. And how did the Tigers pitch to Guillen with two men on and two outs in the ninth inning? Sure, a lefty was on the mound, but he was intentionally walked. The guy is scary right now, and while some can point to his low walk rate -- only two so far in 36 at bats, and one was intentional -- I counter with the fact that he has struck out only three times.

What I generally tell fantasy owners about early-season hot streaks is to avoid overrating them, because some of these players do not have track records for success. If you wanted a guy on draft day, give him more than a week or two to perform. However, when it comes to Jose Guillen, whatever you think of the man, he does have a pretty good track record of hitting for power and not hurting a batting average. (He's a career .272 hitter.) He's probably not going to hit another five home runs in the next four days, but I'll be expecting more than 25 for the season, that's for sure. As for Bradley, well, that's a blog (a negative one) for another day.