Gutierrez’s Encouraging Finish

Dave · September 26, 2012 at 8:59 am · Filed Under Mariners 

While we noted on Monday that Justin Smoak’s strong finish to the year shouldn’t guarantee him a job on the 2013 club, the fact that he’s playing his way back into the conversation is a positive. You don’t want to overreact to a few good weeks of performance, but it’s better to have guys like Smoak finishing strong than simply limping to the end. And, while most of the focus has gone towards Smoak’s offensive surge, the most encouraging sign over the last month has come from someone else – Franklin Gutierrez.

Since he came off the DL on August 27th, the Mariners have played 26 games – Guti has started 23 of those, including the 18 inning game and the game the next day. He’s essentially been an everyday player for the last month, which is something we haven’t seen from Guti in a couple of years now. And, more than just taking the field, he’s actually been pretty good.

In this 23 game stretch, Guti is hitting .261/.320/.413, which is good for a 107 wRC+. In his breakout 2009 season where he racked up +6.3 WAR, he posted a 105 wRC+, and the stats the measure his core skills (walk rate, strikeout rate, isolated slugging) are pretty much dead on with what he put up three years ago. Even when Guti was on the field the last couple of years, he didn’t show much in the way of power, likely due to the intestinal issues and the loss of weight that occurred as a result. This year, 13 of Gutierrez’s 36 hits have gone for extra bases, compared to just 14 of 72 last year.

With his defense, Gutierrez doesn’t have to be a great hitter to be a productive part of a winning team – he simply needs to be an average-ish hitter and stay on the field. For the last month of the season, that’s pretty much exactly what he’s done. To give it some context, Gutierrez’s 110 wRC+ for the season is an almost exact match for Michael Saunders’ 111 wRC+, and I think we’d all agree that he’s had an encouraging year at the plate. When he’s been able to play, Guti has essentially been Saunders’ offensive equal.

The absolute ideal scenario for the Mariners is to have those two play side by side next year, producing average-ish offense in both left and center while providing significant defensive value in the spacious gaps of Safeco Field. They can’t plan on the ideal scenario — Guti has proven to be too brittle to be relied upon — but Guti’s durability and performance over the last month has at least created some reason to at least give him a chance to play regularly next year. They’ll need to commit to a strong fourth outfielder who can play regularly if pushed into that role, since Wedge clearly doesn’t trust Casper Wells with that position, but Guti’s performance over the last month means that they can probably focus this winter on acquiring just one starting outfielder, and then adding a good fourth OF as a reserve behind Gutierrez and Saunders. That’s certainly an easier task than going out and getting two everyday guys.

Like with Smoak, we can’t simply take the final month and extrapolate it out to 150 games next year. Baseball doesn’t work that way. But, we can be encourages that Gutierrez is showing that for a reasonable period of time, he’s both able to play regularly and hit like he did when he was one of the best center fielders in baseball.

Comments

20 Responses to “Gutierrez’s Encouraging Finish”

  1. stevemotivateir on September 26th, 2012 9:17 am

    Thanks for the post, Dave. It certainly has been encouraging to see Guti play consistently.

    It seems obvious that the team will target a starting outfielder this off-season, but I’m just as curious what the team plans to do with that fourth outfielder spot.

    It doesn’t seem like Wells is wanted, nor does it seem like Robinson or Thames are good enough. Is it likely that at least one of them will disappear this off-season? Who might be a good target to bring in for that role?

  2. CCW on September 26th, 2012 9:26 am

    One thing that I don’t think folks focus on enough is that, with Safeco’s (current) dimensions, left field is almost another center field. Having a great defensive left fielder is particularly valuable in Safeco. It’s one reason the M’s outfield defense with Winn, Cammy and Ichiro was one of the best ever. Which is to say… Saundo and Guti in left and center field would be awesome.

  3. cjones on September 26th, 2012 9:39 am

    Thanks, Dave. I had not realized how his numbers look since returning. I love Guti and if I had one wish related to (current) Mariners, it would be that he stays healthy. My previous top wish was fulfilled by Felix’ perfect game.

  4. bookbook on September 26th, 2012 10:53 am

    Dan SZymbomouthful suggested that Guti’s defense isn’t showing as elite this year – which may not be surprising for a wounded 30-year-old person,

  5. maqman on September 26th, 2012 10:55 am

    I understand the caution in expecting Guti to have a whole season without a health issue but he is a young man in good medical condition now and expecting him to remain so is not unreasonable.

  6. marc w on September 26th, 2012 11:22 am

    “he is a young man in good medical condition now and expecting him to remain so is not unreasonable.”

    Hmm. On opening day next season, Gutierrez will be 30 years old. He is, by any reasonable estimation, on the decline phase of his career. It’s one reason I really didn’t see his positive contribution at the plate coming. He’s healthier now than he has been, but age is slowly chipping away at what a healthy Franklin Gutierrez can do.

    I’m also not one to hold his freak injuries against him; I doubt he’ll get another concussion on a pick-off throw. But the weight of his injury record DOES make it unreasonable to assume good health going forward. The injury cascade that nuked the first half of 2012 is a perfect example. I don’t expect that he’ll see a repeat of that, but if your body picks up two injuries while you’re rehabbing from a third, it’s possible that your connective tissue is different in some important way from your teammates.

  7. kramerica60887 on September 26th, 2012 12:28 pm

    Dave, great post! It looks like we’re starting to form some positive, concrete conclusions about many of our former question marks.

    However, I was wondering what you thought about Ackley. If he continues to founder at the plate, i.e. rolling over pitches and swinging through hittable fastballs next year for a substantial period of time, is he worth keeping as a starting second basemen even though he possesses superior defensive value? I mean, his comments from last night, to paraphrase, “I just couldn’t hit anything” have to concern you right?

    His swing looks almost as lost as Smoak’s in his darkest moments.

  8. Westside guy on September 26th, 2012 1:17 pm

    I really hope they do go get a decent outfielder. As Dave said, it’s obvious Wedge has no faith in Wells (for any role), and while I’ll admit the following is totally subjective – I think I’ve seen enough of both Thames and Robinson, at least in their current incarnations.

  9. Ms4Life on September 26th, 2012 1:18 pm

    If they are healthy to start next season I feel really good about giving Saunders and Guti starting spots.
    And i’d love to see Wells and Thames split RF. I still personally think Wells has some starter type potential.

    I want Justin Upton. Personally, I want both of them. Trade for Justin and sign BJ. They will both work to push each other to succeed and deal with that transition to Seattle that so many athletes have trouble with.

  10. 9inningknowitall on September 26th, 2012 1:23 pm

    The Mariners have a lot of talent but the guys just seem to under perform. Hopefully this team, that is still young, can learn how to be more consistent and compete over a full season. That includes staying healthy for at least 90% of the season.

  11. Mariners35 on September 26th, 2012 1:54 pm

    As much as I love Jaso and would like to see more of Wells, I’d almost rather see them packaged off to bring in player(s) of equal or greater talent that Wedge will actually USE.

    For example, the no Jaso vs. lefties thing is going to start clogging the roster, and / or potentially lead to roster decisions designed to present platoons that are working around Wedge’s bad strategic decisions. It would be better to have a talented player that Wedge will actually play everyday.

    Or, they could shortcut this whole thing and get rid of Wedge. ;)

  12. sexymarinersfan on September 26th, 2012 2:13 pm

    Actually, to me, the Jaso not hitting lefties and Montero not hitting righties is kind of workable for me right now. They easily can play C and DH while a 3rd catcher takes a bulk of the load behind the dish as well. This is where a really good part time 4th OF like I believe Guti is, could be used to pick up some extra AB’s at DH from the right side, while taking days off in the OF. I think Seattle needs 2 starting OF’s. I don’t think that’s asking too much based on the crop of guys that are hitting the market this winter.

  13. kramerica60887 on September 26th, 2012 3:04 pm

    The most encouraging aspect of the outfield development is its collective depth. After we acquire an everyday OF this offseason via trade or free agency, we’ll have an enviable arsenal of competent swinging and fielding platoon players behind the starting three – Saunders, Guti, and Unknown (Though can I hope for BJ Upton?).

    There’s Casper, Eric Thames plus Carp as an emergency corner OF or even Trayvon if necessary. This way when Guti gets hurt, Saunders can slide over to CF and Casper/Thames can share time in one spot. Imagine had we signed Josh Willingham, next year’s five outfielders would be Saunders, Guti, Willingham, Wells, and Thames…that’s very solid.

    Jack Z has done a very commendable job developing depth and options at various positions throughout the organization like we haven’t had in a long time.

  14. stevemotivateir on September 26th, 2012 3:08 pm

    @ms4life

    You can’t carry six outfielders! Personally, I’d rather see Pagan over BJ Upton, but nearly any combination would be better than one with Robinson and Thames.

  15. Dave on September 26th, 2012 3:11 pm

    Having many terrible players isn’t the same thing as depth. Trayvon Robinson isn’t a Major League player. Eric Thames is, at best, a 25th guy on the roster. Mike Carp can’t play the outfield and doesn’t hit well enough to justify a spot as a pinch-hitter only.

    Wells is the only decent depth OF in the organization, but Wedge clearly doesn’t like him, and he’s unlikely to actually be used in the proper way here in Seattle. In reality, the M’s probably should trade Wells this off-season, and then bring in a new 4th OF that Wedge will use, rather than force any more playing time to be given to worthless players.

  16. kramerica60887 on September 26th, 2012 3:40 pm

    At least Thames would have some decent pop for a 25th roster candidate, so maybe he’s worth keeping around…though watching him flail helplessly at everything last night was near unbearable.

    Too bad about Casper. He does several things pretty competently, it just seems like Eric Wedge – like most managers – make snap judgments based on tiny sample sizes and give players little chance to redeem themselves. Though his prolonged slump there after the All Star break did him no favors.

  17. stevemotivateir on September 26th, 2012 3:57 pm

    ^You really think other managers make judgements like Wedge?! I certainly don’t. I think Wedge is in a league (or fantasy world) of his own. I would bet most, if not all managers, would have had Wells starting more regularly, and much earlier on.

  18. mattlock on September 26th, 2012 4:23 pm

    I have an idea. Let’s sh*tcan Wedge and get us a manager that will use the talented players on his team!

    In all seriousness, it seems absurd to have to consider trading a perfectly good player that the team has a distinct use for, just because the manager is an effing moron when it comes to talent evaluation and in-game usage. If a guy flunks in both of those categories, all he’s good for is “leadership” and “motivation.” I agree it’s important that a manager have those qualities, but I’d rather have an a-hole manager to plays the right players, constructs reasonable lineups, and manages the bullpen like he has a brain. At least then the best talent is in position to succeed–or at least have a chance at it. If all Wedge is capable of is “leadership and motivation,” he sounds like a perfectly good bench coach.

  19. Don Money on September 26th, 2012 11:11 pm

    Geez, Wells looked good when he came back from Tacoma but then obviously couldn’t adjust to how he was being pitched. Wedge stuck with him for a few weeks while he was flailing away, so I don’t see the “snap judgement” comment being used here.

  20. stevemotivateir on September 27th, 2012 7:02 am

    ^Did you happen to notice how many other players went through slumps, some for the better part of the season, and didn’t see a reduction in playing time? That’s the point.

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