Ozzie Guillen knows from sitting in the manager’s seat for nine years that defense wins championships.
He knows it is especially crucial up the middle. He was a Gold Glove shortstop and played 16 seasons in the majors.
Guillen is not so sure players today fully grasp the importance of defense, though. Young players don’t seem to care about it as much as they used to, he said.
‘‘Players now think about offense more than defense,’’ said Guillen, the manager of the White Sox’ 2005 World Series champions. ‘‘They know if they hit 30 homers and hit .400 in college, they’ll be a first-round [draft] pick. There’s a big difference the way they look at the game. But they might not understand [that] when you don’t make the plays, you hurt the ballclub.’’
Which brings Guillen to the Sox’ young middle-infield combination of shortstop Tim Anderson, 25, and Yoan Moncada, 23. Anderson is in his second full season and Moncada is in his first, and they are the Sox’ top two players by Baseball Reference’s wins above replacement despite Anderson having 13 errors and Moncada 15.
‘‘They might not know it, but the White Sox are building that team around them,’’ Guillen said.
Guillen still dabbles in managing a team in Venezuela during the winter, is an analyst for ESPN Deportes and is a regular on broadcast media outlets in Chicago, where he makes his home and watches the Sox regularly. He has spoken none too highly of Anderson and Moncada in recent weeks, saying on The Score (670-AM) that Anderson’s future might be at another position and on NBC Sports Chicago of Moncada: ‘‘I love him for two days and hate him for three.’’
But he’s coming around on them of late, especially Anderson.
‘‘A month or so ago, I was down on Anderson,’’ Guillen told the Sun-Times during the weekend. ‘‘But the more I see, the more I like. He’s playing better defense. He’s slowing the game down a little. I haven’t changed my mind completely, but it’s better. I think he has a chance to be good.’’
Indeed, Anderson has committed only three errors since May 30.
Guillen, who was a .347 hitter in Class A in 1982, said then-Padres general manager Jack McKeon warned him he wouldn’t be a big-leaguer if he didn’t become a better fielder, so he went to work on his defense. He said he doesn’t know how hard Anderson and Moncada are working at it, but he knows the key for both is hard work and ‘‘not just sweat and 10 minutes of ground balls. Quality work, not quantity.’’
Guillen knows it’s in them to be good because of their talent.
‘‘They have more tools than me from here to heaven, no doubt,’’ Guillen said. ‘‘More arm, more range, athleticism. My gosh, I wish I had those tools.
‘‘But Moncada, this kid shows up to the ballpark, and for one week he’s one of the best players in the American League. All of sudden, something happens in a game, and he’s not the same. To play in the big leagues, you have to be consistent.’’
Hitters will have highs and lows, but defense needs to be a constant.
‘‘If you have a good pitching staff and have a good defense, it makes your staff great,’’ Guillen said. ‘‘You make a play, your pitcher can last one more inning. People don’t realize that. If you don’t play good defense, you will not be able to compete.’’