In 2009 new Mariners center fielder Franklin Gutierrez had one of the best defensive seasons in major league history. A .283/.339/.425 hitter, the Mariners believed the 26-year old outfielder could hold down Safeco’s vast centerfield for years to come. Nicknamed “Death to Flying Things” Gutierrez was signed to a four-year, $20.5 million contract before the 2010 season. It was the apex of his baseball career. By the summer of 2010 with his defensive stats still good, but not as good, and his promise as a defensive whiz with power evaporating, it’s clear the M’s did not have the player they thought they had.
Franklin Gutierrez, And Today’s Thing To Be Concerned About
By Jeff Sullivan on Aug 30, 2010, 5:53
Something was wrong with Gutierrez. He was pale and thin and seemed to feel poorly. In 2011 his plate appearances slipped from 639 to 344. Gutierrez revealed he was fighting Irritable Bowel Syndrome the following spring. His plate appearances in 2012 declined by half. Groin injuries, hamstring injuries, arm problems followed in 2013, together with rumors of a genetic disorder that caused inflammation of his joints.
It’s Time For Seattle Mariners To Give Up On Franklin Gutierrez
But before the 2015 season began, Gutierrez signed a minor league deal with Mariners to give it one last try. He reported to Tacoma and lit up the PCL. Of course, everybody lights up the Coast League, so when he was called up to the Mariners on June 24th, everyone welcomed him but his teammates, the fans, the press knew two things:
- Gutierrez would have to demonstrate he could still play the game at a major league level.
- He’d also have to show he had overcome the chronic injuries and nagging illness that prevented the manager from writing his name on a lineup card when he was needed.
Ten Years, One Pitch: Franklin Gutierrez redeems the Mariners and himself in 6-5 walk off over Blue Jays
By Matthias Ellis on Jul 26, 2015, 8:55p
- Slash line .315/.369/.692. That’s a 1.061 OPS
- OPS + 191 (100 is average, Nelson Cruz has an OPS+ of 169)
- 25 extra base hits, including 15 dingers in 160 plate appearances.
- 270 innings in a corner outfield position with a UZR/150 rating of 9.6 (average is 0. In 2012 and 2013 Guti had a negative rating in CF.)
- At the present time, Franklin Gutierrez holds the Mariners record for fewest at bats per home run at 9.7.
It is truly something to celebrate. And we should, with Franklin, for Franklin as joyously as we can because his is a great story of redemption, of persistence, of triumph. And because the Mariners have a .1% chance of making the playoffs it is time to think about the 2016 season, and Guti’s role in it.
First things first:
- Gutierrez is a free agent
- Gutierrez has a degenerative condition that is likely to worsen
- 2015, as glorious as it is, epitomizes a small sample size.
- Gutierrez at his very best never had an offensive season resembling this one.
Franklin Gutierrez has a legion of fans. He’s always had a host of Seattle admirers, even when reporters were calling him “The Man of Glass.” Count me among them. Given what he’s accomplished this year, it is only natural to wonder what a season of Guti in the outfield would look like.
Likely we would be disappointed. Though he doesn’t have unacceptable splits (.283 vs RHP/.333 LHP in a small sample size,) he has functioned so well because manager Lloyd McClendon has used him sparingly. When he was unavailable for a few days in August, I cringed. Here we go again. In order to get the best out of Gutierrez, using him sparingly against left handed pitchers and selected right handers seems to be the proper formula. Gutierrez can easily form a platoon with Seth Smith in an outfield corner, and can pick up some additional at bats at DH if Cruz occasionally plays some right.
I know what some of you are thinking. The M’s need a center fielder, Guti would be perfect. Wrong. Guti in 2015 is not Guti in 2009, or 2010, not even of 2012 or 2013 when he wasn’t very good. In a television interview this weekend, Gutierrez was asked about whether he wished he could play center. He replied wistfully that he wishes things were different, but he was really better suited for the corner now. Franklin Gutierrez is now 32. He’s been through the equivalent of a health warzone, and emerged alive, but not unscathed.
And before we go one more step we must accept one more likelihood: Franklin Gutierrez is never likely to have another season like this again. There is nothing in his past to suggest he will be this good a hitter with this much power again. The most homers he’s ever hit in a season is 18 in that magical 2009 season. He did that with 629 plate appearances. Do the math that’s 31.1 at bats per home run. We might want to imagine what he can do with 600 plate appearances (which he won’t get in order to keep him on the field) but don’t for a minute imagine it will be like 60 homers. Jimmie Foxx in 1932, his best career year, had an AB/Hr ratio of 10.1. Hank Greenberg’s best was in 1938 at 9.6 AB/HR. They were two of the most successful right handed hitters (pre-steroids) of all time. Please, accept now that we should remember 2015, but it will be a statistical outlier.
Every time I think about this season I am disappointed. This should have been the year. And because the Mariners are playing so well at this moment it hurts that much more. But there are great stories on this team. Nelson Cruz has been so much more than I thought he would be. Tom Wilhelmsen has made the most of his opportunities in the ashes of the bullpen left by Fernando Rodney. Every time I see in my mind Franklin Gutierrez whacking a long fly into the seats I feel a warm glow where my heart should be. Take these moments and enjoy every one remaining to you for the rest of the season.
There is no question in my mind Guti has a place on this team in 2016–if the Mariners choose to bring him back and if he wants to be here. I’ve included the headlines to help you remember what a long road back it’s been. But don’t fool yourself. Don’t expect too much.