Gutierrez’s Encouraging Finish
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.