Franklin Gutierrez Needs To Be Less Aggressive

Dave · June 28, 2011 at 10:41 am · Filed Under Mariners 

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.

Comments

23 Responses to “Franklin Gutierrez Needs To Be Less Aggressive”

  1. msb on June 28th, 2011 10:59 am

    Gutierrez has always appeared to be one of those players who lose weight as the season goes on, so the odds of him getting fully up to strength during the season are not great…

  2. Westside guy on June 28th, 2011 11:03 am

    Thank you for writing this article, Dave – I always enjoy reading your insights regarding the M’s.

    To the surprise of no one, I put blame for this on Wedge – simply because it appears to be a problem shared by a number of Mariners this year. Also, as you pointed out, Wedge has talked to the media several times about wanting players to be more aggressive at the plate. I thought initially he’d been specifically referring to one or two guys like Saunders, but it doesn’t seem that’s the way the rest of the team has interpreted it.

  3. LongDistance on June 28th, 2011 11:14 am

    Dave,

    I know we’re only on the cusp of June sliding into July, so this is really early.

    But it’s become obvious there are elements of a Contention Post which are sneaking into the regular posts. Maybe it’s just my point of view, but when I think of previous years, where things were just so seriously wrong at a systemic level… that this year, things have a strange proximity to contention. Just a tweak away…

    OK, maybe not just a tweak away. We all know that the tweak they need, call it the Mutha Tweak, is in getting a LF that doesn’t resemble an empty lot.

    But the fact is, we’re in a season where, with just a few real changes, we’d be more than just nearly being there, but we’d… be… being there.

    Fact is, this is the first year in a long time, that such a Post (and the delirious thread it would engender) would even have any business in being launched.

    And, no, I don’t think I’m being outrageously Pollyanna-ish about it. (Instead of the usual Cassandra-ism…).

    Me… I think you’re itching to do it, but have held back for the sake of logic (and sanity), built on years of experience.

    I say… just do it. Why?

    Because I think the timing says they, too, are dealing with the idea and are trying to decide whether to jump or not.

    And if they do indeed jump, they have to go sooner than later.

    Slim and none the chances at the wild card? At this point, you bet. But if they hang in there three more weeks… But at the same time, wait their way out to end July.

    Too late.

    I think they’re thinking, and we should be, too.

    Do it.

    The Contention Post.

  4. Typical Idiot Fan on June 28th, 2011 11:18 am

    I wonder if the weight loss has effected his swing. Having more bulk on the arms and body in the form of muscle can slow a swing down a bit. Not enough for us to notice, but enough for the timing to be just a fraction of a second off.

    The reason I say this is that his contact rate is almost 5% higher than career averages. It’s like he has the ability to keep the bat in the zone longer to make contact. It’s probably throwing off everything else.

    It’s not just a matter of being aggressive either. He’s had some pitches in the strike zone that he hasn’t handled particularly well. He might be pressing or he just could be still all buggered up from the illness and not having a worthwhile spring.

  5. 300ZXNA on June 28th, 2011 11:19 am

    It’s seasons like this where I seriously wonder if the collective IQ of baseball players is around the Forrest Gump level. Seeing how League would have been better off with a flipped coin selecting his pitches, and now what may be coaching induced aggression at the plate:

    “Alright, I know you’re struggling, but what I want you to do, is take a second look at these pitches you’re taking. You know those pitches you deemed poor hitter’s pitches and likely to produce an out? Well, you need to start swinging at those. Yep, no other way to get out of a slump than trying Vlad Guerrero you way on base . . .”

  6. Typical Idiot Fan on June 28th, 2011 11:24 am

    “Alright, I know you’re struggling, but what I want you to do, is take a second look at these pitches you’re taking. You know those pitches you deemed poor hitter’s pitches and likely to produce an out? Well, you need to start swinging at those. Yep, no other way to get out of a slump than trying Vlad Guerrero you way on base . . .”

    Really? Is this what everybody thinks Wedge is trying to get his players to do?

  7. Westside guy on June 28th, 2011 11:25 am

    Actually it’s funny because – as was pointed out by another poster a couple days ago – Chris Chambliss was a fairly patient hitter. He wasn’t exactly Ricky Henderson, but he’d take 40, 50, 60 walks a year during his peak.

    I wonder who wins, between the hitting coach and the manager, when it comes to determining the players’ approach at the plate…

    I tried looking up Wedge, but his career was too short.

  8. groundzero55 on June 28th, 2011 11:34 am

    Really? Is this what everybody thinks Wedge is trying to get his players to do?

    I certainly hope not. By being aggressive Wedge meant on hittable pitches, in the strike zone, not on everything. I completely agree. Few things are more frustrating than watching a game lost on a strikeout looking.

  9. Westside guy on June 28th, 2011 11:36 am

    Really? Is this what everybody thinks Wedge is trying to get his players to do?

    I don’t think that’s what Wedge wants his players to do… but with his repeated assertions that his batters need to be “more aggressive”, it sure seems to be how they’re interpreting it.

  10. Typical Idiot Fan on June 28th, 2011 11:38 am

    Okay, so, just for fun, went and look at the Eric Wedge managed Indians from 2003 to 2009 to see if I can spot any philosophical hitting discipline problems. All players who posted high percentages with other teams still posted high walk percentages with Wedge. All players who had good plate discipline before still had it. In fact, some players were more patient and disciplined under Wedge then on other teams (notably, Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner).

    So, really, where is this “Wedge hates walks”, “Wedge wants you to swing at balls and make outs” crap coming from?

    I certainly hope not. By being aggressive Wedge meant on hittable pitches, in the strike zone, not on everything. I completely agree. Few things are more frustrating than watching a game lost on a strikeout looking.

    This is how I’ve always interpreted it. Someone over at LL posted a link to a comment by Wedge that seems to back this line of thinking up more than the exaggerated hyperbole that some fans have taken it to. Now, I realize that swinging at more pitches in the zone will still lead to fewer walks, but swinging at pitches out of the zone is an obvious failure of the hitters already not having strong plate discipline. And, if you look at our hitters, most of them have never had it. Olivo, Peguero, Halman, Ichiro, Ryan, Kennedy? Not patient guys. Langerhans, Bradley, and Cust were all patient, but they’re also terrible in other ways, so they’re replaced.

    I don’t see this as an “either or” approach by the coach.

  11. Auggeydog on June 28th, 2011 12:04 pm

    Where did “I want players to be more aggressive with pitches in the strike zone” become “I want players to be more aggressive at the plate”? I think we agree we want guys to be more aggressive in the zone, instead of watching hittable pitches go by.

    None of us know what happens between Wedge, Jack Z, or the players. We can complain about the line ups, we can wish they might be more to our liking. Wedge is searching for a successful batting order, a successful LF, a way to get rid of a horrible 3rd bm, and a DH that does what a DH should. He is trying to keep a not very good team with a great pitching staff in the hunt for the playoffs. He has too many AAA players, and not enough “proffessional hitters” on this team. Every Manager makes mistakes, Wedge has made some too. If you take the overall body of work I think he has done a fine job.

  12. Sports on a Schtick on June 28th, 2011 12:08 pm

    Less is more for pretty much everyone in the lineup. It seems Ackley is the only one with an actual plan at the plate and the rest of ‘em just go with the flow.

    2-0 count? Swing, baby!

  13. hoiland on June 28th, 2011 12:36 pm

    Great post Dave.

    Halman needs to be in CF today and Wednesday afternoon.

    Guti needs some time off. It is going to be tough and a long process to get that weight back. However, just because he is ‘weaker’ doesn’t excuse his lack of discipline at the plate. He flat out needs to be taking more pitches and being patient.

    Until he realizes this, it is going to be a long time before he becomes semi-productive again.

  14. eponymous coward on June 28th, 2011 1:11 pm

    Gutierrez is entering the zone where he’s turning himself into a RH version of Endy Chavez: great glove, useful player for your team, but so bad at the plate that he really needs to be a 4th OF.

    Pity that right now, we’ve got a grand total of one guy in the OF who’s really a quality OF on defense and at the plate… and that guy isn’t having a particularly awesome season at age 37.

    This is a problem going forward, too: the Mariners will be paying ~$30 million the next two years to two guys (Figgins and Gutierrez) who’ve had a sub-.300 wOBA in their last 1600 plate appearances, whose 2011 seasons will likely be even worse than their 2010 season (so they aren’t exactly regressing to a mean, they’re collapsing past the Mendoza line), and who will be under contract for a while (read: there will be huge pressure to try and get return on that salary by playing them regularly, as we’ve seen with Figgins, and any deal involving them is likely a replay of Silva for Bradley: “here, take my garbage and I’ll take yours”).

  15. Jay R. on June 28th, 2011 1:14 pm

    What Wedge means and how his frequent remarks are interpreted could very well be two different things. However, when young players see Jack Cust get relegated to the Siberian end of the bench and hackers like Peguero rewarded with playing time, it is easy to see how the ‘Wedge hates walks’ version of things could at least subtly influence them.

    The offense is terrible. It needs base runners, and it needs to get into bullpens faster (it also needs upgrades at several positions, but this is something that can be done with existing personnel). Walks help with both of those things.

  16. joe simpson can hit on June 28th, 2011 1:21 pm

    All I know is I watched on TV last night as Guti took two belt-high, outside-edge fastballs (in two different ABs) that he should have driven into right center field. Both called strikes as the bat sat on his shoulder. Who knows what Wedge means by “aggressive,” but a simple return to past swing rates for Guti and Figgins, i.e. a more “passive” approach, doesn’t seem like a complete answer.

  17. msfanmike on June 28th, 2011 1:22 pm

    All players who posted high percentages with other teams still posted high walk percentages with Wedge. All players who had good plate discipline before still had it. In fact, some players were more patient and disciplined under Wedge then on other teams (notably, Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner).

    So, really, where is this “Wedge hates walks”, “Wedge wants you to swing at balls and make outs” crap coming from?

    Nicely done TypId … nicely done. Spot on.

    Wedge wants his players to swing at good pitches, not bad pitches.

    Auggeydog: Spot-on too.

  18. MrZDevotee on June 28th, 2011 1:26 pm

    So, of all the possibilities Dave listed, we’re all gonna run with “Wedge is making players suck!”

    And it seems like the same guys who argue that a manager doesn’t have a positive effect on players’ performances also somehow believe saying the word “aggressive” in a couple of interviews will cause his players to be less effective? Really?

    Auggey’s right… Wedge has only said “to be aggressive” about pitches in the zone.

    Guty’s problem is obvious– he’s not at 100%, and he’s pressing because he’s struggling and feels changing his approach is necessary when what’s necessary is to stick with his most consistent approach until it starts producing again.

    I think it’s a LONG long leap to blame Wedge for Guty’s problems.

    I’m pretty sure Wedge’s approach is “be less aggressive at shitty pitches” and “don’t let the good ones go down the middle of the plate”.

    I think the truth is, we’re playing about as well as we should now (about like we all imagined at the beginning of the year), and it’s gonna take some getting used to, because we’ve been pretty fortuitous this earlier results this year.

    (I like Holland’s idea too– let’s give Guty some time off, maybe a day off before our next travel day)

  19. rgrams7 on June 28th, 2011 1:44 pm

    Amazing how many Seattle fans will buy into the posts of some schmuck who thinks he knows how to run a baseball team.

  20. TomC on June 28th, 2011 1:48 pm

    The implication that Wedge is having a negative effecvt on the M’s offensive approach made me look up the numbers.

    According to fangraphs, the Mariners have the 18th highest O-Swing% – the rate at which they swing at pitches outside the strike zone. They are swinging at pitches outside of the zone 29.4% of the time – very close to league average. However, they have the 4th highest Z-Swing% – the rate at which they swing at pitches in the strike zone (66.3%).

    This tells me the Mariners are about average (or slightly above) at laying off the stuff outside the zone but they are more aggressive than most in swinging at pitches in the strike zone. Using this approach, the Mariners have scored the second fewest runs in the MLB.

    By comparison, the Red Sox (number 1 in runs scored) are 16th in O-Swing% – only .2% different than the Mariners – and 20th in Z-Swing% rate. The Yankees (2nd in runs scored) are 29th (next to last) in O-Swing% and 26th in Z-Swing% rate. The Diamondbacks have the highest rate of swinging at strikes and the 8th highest rate of swing at balls outside the zone – and the 8th most runs scored.

    This data suggests to me that plate discipline is less significant than bat speed, hand-eye coordination, etc.

    The Mariners lack talented hitters, not patience.

  21. MrZDevotee on June 28th, 2011 1:51 pm

    Tom C-

    “The Mariners lack talented hitters, not patience.”

    (Ding Ding Ding)

    We have a winner.

  22. msfanmike on June 28th, 2011 1:59 pm

    So, of all the possibilities Dave listed, we’re all gonna run with “Wedge is making players suck!”

    I would hope this would turn out to be a very short list of “runners” but when “every problem on earth” references are used and tied with a few tidy little “maybe” bows … some people listen. Measure (i.e. read) twice. Cut once.

    He threw out 3 hyberbole’esque “maybe’s” and a “we don’t know” … and quite cleverly, at that.

    Great post – really … or is that another “maybe?”

    Maybe Guti just doesn’t like playing for Wedge. He didn’t hit much when he and Wedge were both in Cleveland. Run that thought to the conjecture counter and see if it sticks. Someone will probably buy it.

    Yeah … sure … Wedge’s fault.

  23. Typical Idiot Fan on June 28th, 2011 1:59 pm

    Amazing how many Seattle fans will buy into the posts of some schmuck who thinks he knows how to run a baseball team.

    This was not necessary. Dave has provided more to the Mariners and baseball at large community than many others. It is because of him that a lot of us are smarter than we were before. I respect Cameron for everything he’s worked hard to accomplish and his work.

    It just happens that on this particular point, I disagree with him.