Franklin Gutierrez Needs To Be Less Aggressive
The M’s offense has problems – that’s no secret. Most of the focus has been on Chone Figgins and the black holes at LF/DH, but right alongside those issues is the fact that Franklin Gutierrez has hit like a pitcher since returning from the disabled list. He was never an offensive force, but as he showed the last few years, he could at least hold his own at the plate and earn his money in the field. As good as Guti is defensively, however, it’s hard to be a real contributor when you’re hitting .197/.230/.248, which is Guti’s line over his first 123 plate appearances in 2011.
One of his problems is obvious and likely related to the stomach issues that sidelined him for most of the spring – he’s lost a lot of his prior strength. He shed weight while he was unable to keep food down, and it’s being reflected in how hard he’s hitting the ball. He only has four extra base hits in the 34 games he’s played this season, and just watching him make contact, you can see that there just isn’t a lot of juice behind his swing. Even when he squares a ball up, it doesn’t jump off the bat. Guti just doesn’t have his prior strength, and until they figure out how to get weight back on his frame, that might not be a fixable problem.
However, that isn’t the only reason Gutierrez is struggling. In addition to a lack of strength, he’s also adopted a different – and markedly worse – approach at the plate so far this year. Gutierrez has always been a patient hitter who worked counts and forced pitchers to throw him strikes before he’d swing the bat, but this year, he’s taken a significantly more aggressive approach to hitting.
For the season, Gutierrez has swung at 48.9% of the pitches he’s been thrown, well above his career averages and putting him closer to the likes of guys like Jose Lopez and Ronny Cedeno. He’s chasing pitches he just didn’t swing at previously, both in and out of the strike zone. Perhaps buoyed by the fact that he’s making contact with these pitches, Gutierrez just keeps swinging at pitches he used to let go by. The result? Lower rates of both walks and strikeouts and weak contact that just makes him a useless hitter.
So far in 2011, Gutierrez has essentially become Jack Wilson at the plate. He’s been an aggressive hacker with little power, and that’s just not at all what he was previously in his career. Maybe it’s just a small sample. Maybe his timing is off after missing all of spring training. Or maybe it’s counter-productive to have a manager who believes that you can fix every problem on earth by being “more aggressive”. We don’t know enough to pinpoint the exact cause of why Gutierrez’s approach is so different this year, but we know this – it’s made him a much worse player and needs to change sooner than later.
Just like Aggressive Chone Figgins is a terrible hitter, so too is Aggressive Franklin Gutierrez. They both derive value from not swinging the bat, and the sooner they get back to that approach, the better.