Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Reconsidering Guillen

Each day, the Post and Times have both run a feature on a different National. (I think that the Nationals own site has done the same. I just don't check it out more than once a week.) And each day, they've just conveniently picked the same player. I wonder if this is something the team is setting up, through their PR office, giving them an extended chance to sit down with the player?

Or are the papers just watching each other like a hawk, not wanting to cede ground to the other. When Zuckerman sees Svrluga interviewing Loaiza, for example, does he drop his coffee and danish and run over with his tape recorder in his hand? Yeah, there are definitely more important things I could be worrying about.

At any rate, today's apparently Jose Guillen day.

No one's questioning his bat. Everyone's questioning his attitude. Everywhere he's been, he's turned bridges into charcoal. Jose doesn't seem as worried.

"Everything is going to be perfect," Guillen said. "All the stuff going on is behind me. I don't even want to talk about it. New team. New teammates. Coming to a new town. Hopefully, everything will go well."


Apparently, he's taken some anger management classes. I dunno how helpful they'll be, but at least it represents an acknowledgement that he knows he might have a problem. And, as GI Joe told me, knowing is half the battle.

Offensively, he takes over right field, replacing Juan Rivera and Terrmel Sledge. He's an upgrade on both.

Guillen came up way too early in a misguided attempt to create a 'youth movement' in Pittsburgh. After tearing up A-ball, they hurried him to the minors, hoping he'd adjust. What they, and the resulting teams who acquired him, got was a disappointing hitter who couldn't live up to his reputation and who developed a chip on his shoulder.

Well, what did they expect? He was obviously overmatched in the majors and completely unready to jump straight from A-ball. When he showed that he was having a hard time adjusting his first year, what'd they do? Play him every day the next season as well. His numbers for both years are essentially the same; he showed zero improvement. You just can't learn to hit in the major leagues. And by not letting him go to the minors to work on his swing and to get some confidence, they really delayed the maturation of his career.

Is it any wonder that he developed an attitude? I'm sure there are some other factors involved, but think about his situation. He tore up the Carolina League, winning the MVP award and had to feel like he was the next big thing, so much so that the Show was calling. He was looked on as the next big Pirates superstar--I wonder how many people told him he'd be Roberto Clemente?

Next thing he knows he's struggling. He's hitting decently for his age and considering the circumstances, but a .267/ .300/ .412 line ain't much. I don't know how this would affect his confidence, but I'd imagine he was disappointed with himself and that he probably had some self doubts inside. And yet, the team kept running him out there and trying to talk him up to standards he probably wasn't capable of living up to.

When he didn't meet those standards, you began to hear the grumblings. He's not easy to work with. He's head strong. He's over-confident.
"He started acting, like they say, a little bit cocky," said Nationals pitcher Esteban Loaiza, who was with Pittsburgh when Guillen came to the majors. "For a young guy, he really wasn't listening to the big guys. . . . He just wanted to go out there and wanted to start taking charge, and a lot of people were getting mad."

I'm obviously playing armchair psychologist now, but I've always found that when people present a particularly strong personality, especially when it comes to confidence, it's because they're actually the opposite and are just trying to cover for it. Is it possible that he was just shaken up inside and acting out as a result?
[H]e used to stand in the outfield in Pittsburgh and launch throws from the warning track to home plate on the fly -- just to show off.

Isn't it possible that he was doing this sort of thing because that was the one skill that he was clearly superior at, one skill, like speed, that could translate from single-A to the majors, unlike hitting a slider? If he really did that pretty frequently, maybe that was his way of showing that he did belong?

Eh, I'm probably venturing off the deep end here, but it reminds of something Bill James wrote about Ty Cobb in his Historical Baseball Abstract. I don't have the book in front of me, but James writes about how some pictures of Cobb and his actions sometimes give off the impression that he was a very insecure person and that his lashing out was a way of dealing with that insecurity. Could Guillen be doing the same thing?

This is where Frank Robinson may earn his keep. Robinson, especially early in his career, carried many of the same labels, although he didn't act out in the same way. If Frobby can pull him aside, give him some pointers and get him to focus on the game and take his frustrations out on the ball, it'll do Guillen a lot of good.

Hopefully, with a new team, a new city and a track record of personal success over the last two years, it will be a fresh start in outlook for Guillen. If he can relax and enjoy the moment, he's capable of putting up some scary numbers.

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