I Have Come To Praise Franklin Gutierrez
Coming into the season, we knew Gutierrez could play defense. After the Putz trade was announced, we spent thousands of words telling anyone who would listen that the Mariners just acquired Mike Cameron-lite, an elite defensive center fielder who would more than make up for his offensive shortcomings with spectacular defense and the results would be manifest in improved results for the pitchers.
That’s all been true, and obvious to anyone who watched the games. If you haven’t figured out by now that Gutierrez is one of the best defensive players in baseball, I don’t know what to tell you. If you haven’t realized that defense matters and the three centerfielders plan can yield positive results, you might want to start following basketball or something.
But I’m not here to talk about Franklin Gutierrez’s defense. I’m here to praise the man’s offense, and beg for him to be reinserted into the #2 slot in the batting order.
Forget the results for a second. Gutierrez had a good weekend, and his seasonal line is now above average for a hitter. Obviously, if he could keep that up, it would be the best mark of his career to date. But it’s easy to talk up a guy’s offense after a good week early in the season inflates his season totals. Let’s talk about how Gutierrez is approaching each at-bat.
On a team full of hackers, Gutierrez stands out as an oasis in the desert. His swing percentage for 2009 is 37.6%, second lowest on the team (only Endy Chavez swings less at 36.9%). Lopez, Beltre, and Betancourt swing about 55% of the time. That 18% difference is what enables Gutierrez to work the count, get into situations where he can sit on a fastball, and make the opposing pitcher work. He hasn’t drawn 10 walks so far by accident. Pitchers aren’t scared of Gutierrez, but he’s making them throw strikes. Not just one strike, but multiple strikes in every at-bat. If you aren’t around the plate, you’re going to throw Gutierrez a lot of pitches before you end up putting him on base.
Gutierrez and Betancourt have seen the same amount of balls and strikes this season – 51.8% of the pitches thrown to Gutierrez have been in the zone, compared with 52% to Betancourt. Gutierrez has 10 walks and is seeing 4.00 pitches per plate appearance, while Yuni has yet to walk and is seeing 3.31 pitches per plate appearance. That’s all approach. That’s why Gutierrez has made 7 less outs despite having a batting average 20 points lower, and those extra outs are extremely valuable.
Wakamatsu began the season with Gutierrez in the #2 spot, and he had the right idea – he’s the perfect hitter for that slot on this team. With Ichiro leading off, you want a patient hitter in the #2 spot in order to give him an opportunity to steal bases. With Griffey hitting 3rd against RHP, you want a guy in the #2 spot who can hit LHPs, in order to minimize the opponents ability to get easy platoon advantages late in games. Managers also like a #2 guy who can bunt, and since it’s the spot that will get the second most plate appearances on the team, you’d like the guy to be a competent hitter.
Patient approach? Whacks lefties? Good bunter? Decent hitter? Check, check, check, and check.
Gutierrez is perfect for the #2 spot in the order against both RHPs and LHPs. Against RHPs, you have 1/3/5 LHBs, so having Gutierrez’s ability to hit LHPs will deter opposing managers from bringing in a LOOGY to go after the top of the order. Against LHPs, he’s one of the better hitters on the team, and you want his patience and gap power driving the ball as often as possible.
Endy Chavez had a nice start to the season, but he’s a #9 hitter, and the fact that he’s left-handed makes him an even worse fit for the #2 spot between Ichiro and Griffey.
Franklin Gutierrez has earned his way back up to the top of the line-up. With the way he’s approaching his plate appearances, he’s earned the reward. Move him back up, Wak.