If you’ve been around for a while, you probably know that we’re big fans of Franklin Gutierrez. He represents exactly the kind of player we’ve been pounding on the M’s to acquire for years, and its a joy watching him chase down flyballs in center field. He’s going to end the year as a +5 win player, with a decent chance of outproducing even Ichiro in terms of value added to the club this year. He’s been sensational.
However, the purpose of this post is to serve as something of a cautionary note. Gutierrez is a tremendous defensive outfielder, but we very well could be witnessing a career year with the glove. Death To Flying Things isn’t likely to ever post UZRs this good again. Honestly, no one is likely to ever post UZRs this good again – his defensive numbers are pretty close to being off the charts.
As you probably know, UZR is broken down into components of range, arm, and errors. Gutierrez’s total UZR for the season is an eye-popping +22.6, but even that undersells his range a bit, as he’s lost nearly three runs due to some of those embarrassing errors he’s committed over the last few months. The Range portion of his UZR is +24.8. The next highest Range number for a center fielder in baseball this year? Mike Cameron, +12.9. No one else is over +10.
He isn’t just blowing away the field this year, either. Here’s the ranking of the best Range Runs seasons by a center fielder since 2002, the first year we’re able to produce UZR data for on FanGraphs.
Coco Crisp, 2007, +25.6
Franklin Gutierrez, 2009, +24.8
Andruw Jones, 2005, +21.7
Andruw Jones, 2003, +21.6
Juan Pierre, 2002, +21.1
Andruw Jones, 2004, +20.8
Corey Patterson, 2004, +20.3
Darin Erstad, 2002, +19.4
Andruw Jones, 2002, +18.8
Mike Cameron, 2003, +18.4
Juan Pierre, 2006, +18.4
Carlos Gomez, 2008: +17.0
Andruw Jones, 2006, +15.9
There have been 13 seasons in the last eight years where a center fielder has posted Range portion of their UZR in excess of +15. Five of those belong to Andruw Jones – besides him, Juan Pierre is the only guy to do it more than once. There’s a reason we usually say the normal range of defensive performance is something like -20 to +20 runs from best to worst at a given position.
This isn’t to degrade Gutierrez’s performance at all. We’ve all watched him run down every fly ball in the gap this year. He’s been amazing out there. But this is probably something like the defensive version of Ichiro’s 262 hit season. It’s not a slight against Ichiro to say that he’s probably not ever going to do that again. He’s a great hitter, but 262 hits in a season is crazy.
So is +24.8 range runs from a center fielder. What we’ve seen is the combination of a great defender playing at the absolute peak of his abilities for six months. If Gutierrez actually could sustain this level of run saving range, he’d go down as the best defensive outfielder in the history of baseball. I love Death To Flying Things, but we shouldn’t be projecting anyone to go down as the greatest of all time.
Appreciate what we’ve seen. Just don’t expect to ever see it again. Gutierrez is having an historically great defensive season, and expecting him to repeat it next year is asking too much.