Life To Flying Things
Franklin Gutierrez has been one of the best things about the Mariners this year. He’s legitimately in the conversation for the best defensive outfielder in baseball, and he might even win the argument. As he showed again last night, he gets a phenomenal jump on balls and takes great routes, making plays that most outfielders wouldn’t even dream of getting to. He’s a tremendous defender and a not-terrible hitter, making him an above average player overall. If you’re trying to figure out how the M’s are hanging around .500 with a miserable offense, Gutierrez is one of your answers. He’s been a great pickup for the team.
However, he’s also something of an enigma to me. If you didn’t see the home run he hit last night, go check it out. That thing was destroyed. That’s the kind of home run you expect Branyan or Beltre hit – an absolute no doubt bomb as soon as it leaves the bat.
For Gutierrez, though, it was just his fourth home run of the season, and pushed his isolated slugging up to .102. For comparison, Yuniesky Betancourt’s career isolated slugging percentage is .114. Gutierrez’s power output so far this year is akin to what you’d expect from a guy who is in the line-up for his glove. But those guys don’t hit 425 foot moonshots at Petco Park.
This isn’t the first time Gutierrez has destroyed a fastball either. In 2007, he hit a 429 foot bomb off Justin Verlander, a 422 foot home run off Joel Peralta, a 406 foot shot of Josh Beckett, and a 401 foot dinger (I’m running out of synonyms) off Kason Gabbard. Last year, he hit a 419 foot home run off Alberto Castillo and a 416 foot home run off Andy Pettitte. Earlier this year, he hit a 409 foot shot off Francisco Liriano.
Gutierrez has power. It’s in there. After all, he hit 70 home runs in 2,591 career minor league plate appearances, which averages out to around 16 HR per full season. Most players will hit home runs at a higher rate in the majors than they did in the minors, as they get stronger as they age. Sure enough, Gutierrez hit 13 home runs (and posted an ISO of .207) in 301 plate appearances in 2007, showing the kind of power you’d expect based on his minor league track record.
It’s not just the numbers, either. From a physical standpoint, there’s no reason he shouldn’t hit 15-25 home runs a year. He’s 6’2, lean, but with some upper body strength, offering a physical package similar to players like B.J. Upton. His swing has some lift to it, so he’s not constantly beating the ball into the ground. He’s got solid bat speed, and he doesn’t have any problems catching up to major league fastballs. He works the count, gets himself into spots where he can sit on a certain pitch, and doesn’t chase too many pitches out of the zone.
So why isn’t he driving the ball with any regularity? Honestly, I don’t have any answers. The opportunities are there. The swing is there. The power is in there. He can hit a baseball a long way, but why he doesn’t do it with more regularity, I don’t know.
It will be interesting to see how Gutierrez finishes the year offensively. He’s so good defensively that he doesn’t have to get any better with the bat to justify his spot in the line-up. He’s a +2 to +3 win player as is, even posting a .300 wOBA. But, he’s not a finished product. There’s upside in there. If Alan Cockrell can get him to start driving the ball again, like he’s done for most of his professional career, Gutierrez goes from a really nice piece to an all-star. He’s just 26, so let’s hope the power surge is coming. We get glimpses of it, but I’d love to see it regularly.