Kansas City Royals outfielder Jose Guillen has been one of the hottest hitters in the majors this year. Not only have his numbers stood out, but he has taken on a quasi-leadership role in the dugout. It is looking like the team's investment on Guillen for $36 million over three years was worth it.
Guillen's numbers may not seem gaudy compared to other major league sluggers, but they are virtually unheard of for a Royals player in this generation. So far this year, he has a team-high 13 home runs with 60 RBIs and a .288 batting average through 77 games. The most impressive stat is perhaps his .507 slugging percentage on the year, which sits within the top 15 among qualifying players. He ranks second in the American League in RBIs and is tied for eighth in hits (88). Last year, the team's leader in RBIs, outfielder Emil Brown (Oakland Athletics), had just 62. Their leader in home runs, catcher John Buck, had just 18.
Guillen is on pace to eclipse those numbers this year barring a major injury, but should Guillen's owners ride out the entire season with him?
Guillen is leading with his bat and with his mouth. He called out his teammates at the end of May, questioning their determination. Although the team is seven games back in the AL Central division, they have won nine of their last 10 and are not in last place, where they frequently reside. The team's recent success can be partially attributed to Guillen, who recently matched a career-best 11-game hitting streak.
The 32-year-old has improved with each month of the season. After slumping in April at a .192 clip and likely hitting many fantasy waiver wires, he has turned it on with averages of .308 in May and .379 through 95 June at-bats. He has hit 10 home runs and compiled 45 RBIs since the start of May.
His success this year is somewhat surprising especially since his team is not considered an elite offensive squad. The Royals are tied for 26th in runs scored (321) and for 25th in home runs (56), but they are deadlocked in 10th place with a .263 team average.
In his career, Guillen has a .275 batting average and has only recorded 100-plus RBIs in a season once, in 2004 with the then-Anaheim Angels. The previous season he also blasted a career-high 31 home runs combined with the Athletics and Cincinnati Reds.. Those numbers came when he was hitting in the middle of a potent offense that scored 836 runs.
Guillen has never hit more than .300 in a single season, and his .288 batting average this year is on par with his numbers from recent years when he has played full seasons. In 2004, he played in 148 games and hit .294. In 2005, he appeared in 148 games and hit .283, and last year, he played in 153 games and hit .290.
He hit .216 in just 69 games in 2006 but had season-ending surgery to fix a torn elbow ligament in late July. He is on pace to play close to 160 games this year, and his previous performances would extrapolate to a very productive 2008 season.
On the other hand, Guillen is at an age when many pundits expect sluggers to start losing some of their power. Another interesting trend in his offensive numbers also relates to his production before and after the All-Star break. Looking at his last two full seasons, his statistics dropped from a combined .297-28-103 in 620 at-bats to a cumulative .275-19-72 in 524 at-bats after the Midsummer Classic. His home run rate dropped from one every 22.1 at-bats to one every 27.5 after the break.
Fantasy baseball outlook
These numbers are particularly interesting and noteworthy for owners of Guillen in their fantasy leagues. Even if he has a trend of tapering off in the second half of the season, it appears that Guillen is having another great year, as he has for much of this decade. He also leads the Royals in doubles (28) and total bases (155). With outfielder David DeJesus second on the team with 39 RBIs - 21 behind Guillen - it is safe to say that he is carrying the team offensively and does not appear to be letting up. Guillen's surrounding offense doesn't inspire much confidence, but fantasy players need to remember that his teammates aren't standing in the batter's box with him.
Fantasy owners may be considering offering Guillen in a trade for a player with a better fantasy reputation. This could be a mistake, considering the fact that he is having arguably the best season of his career. Even if his numbers decline somewhat in the second half of the season, they would still be considered worthy enough for him to occupy a spot on your roster.
His numbers this year should be considered legitimate, since he is not hitting considerably higher than his career average. Remember, Guillen hit .290 just last year with the Seattle Mariners, so his numbers at this point are surprising but should not be utterly shocking. If you're looking to shop Guillen in a trade, it would be more justifiable in an extremely shallow mixed league; he was likely a waiver wire addition, and flipping him for an elite player could be extremely profitable. He should not be considered as expendable in any deep mixed leagues and definitely not in AL-only leagues unless the right offer comes around.
About Keith Hernandez
Keith, an editor with KFFL, joined the team as a Hot off the Wire analyst in 2008 and has been playing fantasy sports since 2005. He is involved in MLB, NFL and NASCAR content. He graduated from the University of California-San Diego in 2005 with a B.A. in Communications and was a four-year starter as a member of the baseball program.
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