Life To Flying Things

Dave · June 17, 2009 at 9:31 am · Filed Under Mariners 

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.


31 Responses to “Life To Flying Things”

  1. Mike Snow on June 17th, 2009 9:51 am

    If Alan Cockrell can get him to start driving the ball again

    Well, can he? I’m skeptical.

    Of course, hitting coaches rarely have much real impact, but if Cockrell’s accomplishing anything positive for this team, there’s precious little evidence of it. On offense, the only players worth taking credit for are Ichiro, who as I understand it does his own thing and coaches are smart enough not to tinker, and Branyan, for whom it’s attributed to regular playing time and eye exercises. Seems like everyone who’s been cited as getting extra coaching has failed to make progress from it, unless you count Quiroz going 4-14 so far.

  2. bakomariner on June 17th, 2009 10:13 am

    I was at the game last night…Franklin CRUSHED that thing…on the Petco scoreboard, they announce it was the SECOND longest home-run in the (short) history of the park…

    It was awesome…

    Beltre’s was a no-doubter too…

  3. dennismk on June 17th, 2009 10:23 am

    If the Ms show any patience with any player this year, I hope it is with FG. He is one of those players who will develop into something special if given the time to play regularly. The way he covers center reminds me of Cammy but also the best player I ever saw play live in his prime (hint: #24, SF). His instincts right after the ball is hit are rare in the majors. That is not immediately apparent on TV but when you’re in the ballpark you can see how quickly he moves to cover the other outfielders when balls are hit in their direction (whether flies or groundballs). It’s one of those intangible qualities that are supposedly taught early but very few pros seem to remember it, opting instead to rely on sheer strength/willpower to fill that gap.

    The fact he tries to do more with his ABs than simply swing for the fences makes me think there is not only room for improvement, but that he is capable of incorporating such improvements.

  4. et_blankenship on June 17th, 2009 10:53 am

    Gutierrez sometimes becomes a bit too defensive against breaking balls and two-strike counts, collapsing his front leg in an effort to keep his bat in the zone. He works a lot of two-strike counts, so unless he correctly guesses or assesses fastball and takes his fastball swing, many of his at-bats end with a soft front side.

    He’s one smooth cat, though. More than Cammy, his body, running style and easy speed in CF reminds me of Eric Davis before the Riverfront astroturf ravaged his knees.

  5. Paul B on June 17th, 2009 10:59 am

    His GB/FB ratio is identical to what it has been in recent years.

    The outlier so far is his HR/FB in 2007, which was over 13%. Last season and this season it is closer to 5%.

  6. marc w on June 17th, 2009 11:01 am

    One of the most frustrating player types….

    To continue with the Mike Cameron comparisons, look at what happened to Cammy from his age 24-26 seasons.
    In 1997 he played 116 games with 14 HRs and an ISO of 174. In 1998, in his age 25 season, he hit only 8 HRs (in 141 games!) for an ISO of .126. It didn’t help that he hit .210. He was shipped out to Cincinatti, where he hit 21 HRs and had an ISO of .213 for the Reds in his age 26 season.
    The early power in a partial season coupled with power outage/swoon later matches Gutierrez, and Cameron’s more similar physically than other guys who’ve hit for more power at 23-24 than they ever would again (Coco Crisp, for one, and ex-M’s player Greg Briley). So Cameron/Felipe Alou are the best-case scenarios (Alou had a solid age 24 season, with a bit of a dip at 25, then stardom at 26. He was never down in the .103 ISO range, though).
    What do you think of a Claudell Washington-type career as the midrange projection for power? It’s there, but he’s not someone people would generally call a power hitter, even for his position.

    Just a note on this: “But those guys don’t hit 425 foot moonshots at Petco Park.”
    Maybe not, but Carl Everett and his .133 ISO (which ended his career in 2006) hit one 431 feet in Seattle – in May – and another 432 in Anaheim. It happens. I’d love to know how far Rene Rivera’s HR at PETCO travelled, but Hittracker doesn’t seem to have it.

  7. Willmore2000 on June 17th, 2009 11:25 am

    [no, you don’t. Read the comment guidelines.]

  8. diderot on June 17th, 2009 11:50 am

    I want Guti out there in center for the next 6-8 years. I don’t care if Ackley can play center, why would we put him there? Let him play a corner. His arm issue is thus less important, and his offensive will be the same no matter where he plays.

  9. Chris_From_Bothell on June 17th, 2009 11:52 am

    What kind of pitches is he seeing regularly, and what kind of pitches does he usually drive for homeruns or deep flyball outs?

    I don’t really know anything about baseball bat swing mechanics, but intuitively, wouldn’t someone with his sort of frame be able to take pitches that are lower in the strike zone and do a sort of golf swing with them?

    Maybe pitchers just generally pitch him in such a way that he doesn’t get pitches he can drive like that.

  10. Jay Yencich on June 17th, 2009 12:25 pm

    According to the end of the video, Franklin Gutierrez hit Yuniesky Betancourt’s fourth home run of the year.

    Padres baseball is so boring that they not only are not paying attention to such things, but would prefer to chat up local businesses than note that the opposition just hit one of the longer home runs in park history.

  11. JMHawkins on June 17th, 2009 12:37 pm

    Between 2007 (ISO .207) and 2008 (ISO .135) Gutierrez’ K-rate dropped from 28.4% to 21.8%. His HR/FB dropped preciptiously (as Paul mentioned)from 16.0% to 6.3%. His contact increased from 73.9% to 79.3%. He saw roughly the same mix of pitches those two years.

    Appearances indicate someone convinced him to change his swing to cut down K’s and the result is less overall power. Blankenship’s observation of sometimes being too defensive might be the key. Clearly Gutierrez can drive the ball when he takes a power cut, but he may be so worried about not striking out that he’s holding back.

    But, a quick glance says 5 of the 12 HRs he’s hit since 2007 ended came with 2 strikes, so what do I know.

    However, if he did change his swing to cut down K’s, please note that his wOBA in 2007 when he was striking out 28.4% of the time was a slightly above league average .339, while his wOBA since then, with his K rate down to 21-22%, is a significatnly below league average .305. Strikeouts are an overrated problem. At least for guys who can launch a moon shot.

  12. Willmore2000 on June 17th, 2009 12:43 pm

    [steroid conversation is out, period.]

  13. kenshabby on June 17th, 2009 1:10 pm

    Also of note regarding Gutierrez:

    This season he has 47 hits, but only 10 XBH (5 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 21.2% of hits are XBH); of his 99 hits in 2008, 36 were XBH (26 2B, 2 3B, 8 HR, 36.4% of total hits). The 2007 breakdown is similar to 2008: 28 of 72 hits were XBH (38.9%).

    So we should expect more XBH, mostly in the form of 2B. Hopefully his strength and ability to drive the ball further develop, resulting in more HR power as Dave reasons.

    Yeah, Gutierrez’s great defense, combined with increased hitting potential—for both power and average—make him one of the most exciting players to come to the M’s in recent years. Really glad to have him.

  14. Russ on June 17th, 2009 1:13 pm

    What I love about Gutierrez making that catch is how easy it looked. Only a handful of guys could have ran that ball down. Most would have had to lay out to even make an attempt.

    Franklin ran that down and and make a bread basket catch because he was about to overun the ball. He had to shuffle step to put himself in the right spot.

    He is becoming one of the at-bat’s we should watch because anything can happen when he is at the plate. His approach alone, regardless of the outcome is interesting.

  15. Paul B on June 17th, 2009 1:14 pm

    So Cameron/Felipe Alou are the best-case scenarios

    Fun with the similar player lists on Baseball-reference:

    Felipe is the #5 most similar through age 25, so you might be on to something as regards a best case scenario.

    The most similar, though, is Matt Lawton, who put together a string of pretty good seasons at Minnesota and Cleveland, although his career ended at age 34.

    The second most similar is Greg Briley. Who only had one good season at the plate. Here’s hoping that Briley is not a good comparison. Call that the worst case scenario.

    Glenn Braggs is number 7 on the list. Call that an almost worst case scenario. He sure didn’t have as good a career as we hoped when he came up.

  16. Mike Snow on June 17th, 2009 1:15 pm

    So we should expect more XBH, mostly in the form of 2B.

    Yes, the lack of doubles has concerned me a lot more than any missing home run power.

  17. wabbles on June 17th, 2009 1:22 pm

    Good post. Shouldn’t it be called, “Death to Pitched Things?” 🙂 I’ve been likewise impressed by Gutierrez’s ability to create runs as well as preventing them. Given that analysis, let’s hope he keeps improving. Griffey didn’t start hitting homers until 1993 at age 23 (and the first of two two-team expansions). Cameron had more doubles, triples and stolen bases per year than Griffey when he came over in 2000. The latter would be great.

  18. homi on June 17th, 2009 1:25 pm

    Was anyone else purturbed that Franklin’s catch wasnt on ESPNs “top plays” last night

  19. gintzdog on June 17th, 2009 1:26 pm

    Paul B,

    I think you’re confusing Glenn Braggs with little Darren Bragg, who was a Mariner before he bounced around baseball.

  20. Paul B on June 17th, 2009 1:30 pm

    I think you’re confusing Glenn Braggs with little Darren Bragg, who was a Mariner before he bounced around baseball.

    Oops, you’re right.

    Glenn Braggs was yet another player who had a strange career, had some decent seasons but was done by age 29. Not a good comparison with the glove, though.

  21. JMHawkins on June 17th, 2009 1:41 pm

    What I love about Gutierrez making that catch is how easy it looked. Only a handful of guys could have ran that ball down. Most would have had to lay out to even make an attempt.

    Yeah, I loved listening to the SD announcers on that call. They thought it was a double for sure.


    GRANT: “awww…”

    NEELY: “…caught.

  22. justme on June 17th, 2009 2:35 pm

    Props to Aardsma as well, whom little has been said about thus far. Another good pick up by Z. 😉

  23. jbetzsold on June 17th, 2009 2:55 pm

    Some players simply never come into what they could be. The word potential is way over used. Having said that, so what if he doesn’t hit as many dingers as we would like. I saw a catch of his earlier in the year in which he tracked the ball and caught it over the fence as he was flying into the fence. Clearly an ability to keep track of multiple obsticles at one time. This team is multiple parts short but it is as heady as the days of him who shall go nameless(Pat Gillick).

  24. Dave on June 17th, 2009 2:56 pm


    Come back, good commenters. We miss you.

  25. aaron c. on June 17th, 2009 3:13 pm

    Having said that, so what if he doesn’t hit as many dingers as we would like.

    Yeah, wanting the Mariners players to be as good as they can possibly be is pretty stupid.

    Anyways, I think it’s encouraging that his LD% is higher than it was in 2007 or 2008. Less encouraging is that his HR/FB rate in 2007 was double his career norm, but at the same time I find it hard to believe that Gutierrez’s true talent level as a power hitter is ~Bengie Molina.

  26. nfreakct on June 17th, 2009 3:34 pm

    This seems like one of those instances where something like Hit/FX could provide us with a clearer idea what’s going on with Gutierrez. A quick glance at Fangraphs shows that he’s not exactly getting screwed over in a lot of the advanced batting metrics so he’s not necessarily getting unlucky (with the exception of maybe his HR/FB ratio).

    So yeah, here’s hoping maybe with a few tweaks we can see Franklin using his power a bit more often. Not that’s he’s isn’t awesome already.

  27. Hdizz on June 17th, 2009 3:36 pm


  28. Red Apple on June 17th, 2009 4:05 pm

    My first thought was…as a righty, is Safeco killing him? But his OPS at home is .827 and .547 on the road; and an even more dismal away ISO of .098. Granted, this is only 215 PAs this year.

    His BABIP at home is .407 and .226 on the road.
    Are his hits at home dropping in front of outfielders who have him positioned poorly?

    Whatever the case, that bomb last night sure would have flown out of Safeco.

  29. Russ on June 17th, 2009 4:49 pm

    Was anyone else purturbed that Franklin’s catch wasnt on ESPNs “top plays” last night

    It was an amazing play but it looked easy. If he’d gotten his uniform dirty, he’d be on the reels for sure. WFB.

  30. joser on June 17th, 2009 5:26 pm

    I still haven’t gotten used to Gutierrez being out there in center. I’ve already lost track of the number of times this season an opposing hitter has put a charge into a ball and I’ve thought (or said) “Crap!” as they show the ball flying into the outfield and it looks like an obvious gapper going for extra bases. And then as it falls towards the fence Guitterez magically appears in the frame, looking almost leisurely as he intercepts the ball along the most direct route possible. I got so used to seeing those balls fall in with no Mariner uniforms anywhere nearby, and it still freaks me out how fast and seemingly effortless he is out there.

    Of course the speed is real but the effortlessness is an illusion. He’s going flat out (if you noticed that shot of him on the bench after the catch last night, he was puffing hard) but he’s a lot like a giraffe, which don’t seem to go that fast either until you get close. Those long legs (and the lack of herky-jerky Ibanezesque knees and elbows) make him look like he’s not going fast, but he’s covering a lot of ground.

    I know, this post is about his hitting and the mystery of his peek-a-boo power. But I’ve got nothing to add there. I’d love to see him hit dingers regularly, and I have no idea why he doesn’t, but I’m just really happy to see him out in the field every inning.

  31. bookbook on June 17th, 2009 8:40 pm

    Any chance Gutierrez needs glasses?

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