The Reinvention of Franklin Gutierrez, Baseball Miracle

The Dodgers signed Franklin Gutierrez over the weekend. Now, I didn’t realize the Dodgers still had room on their major-league roster, but they probably know better than I do. Here is a list of problems that have sent Franklin Gutierrez to the disabled list over the past several years:

  • stomach gastritis
  • strained left oblique
  • torn right pectoral
  • concussion
  • strained right hamstring
  • strained right hamstring

Related to the above, here are Gutierrez’s year-to-year plate-appearance totals after getting traded to the Mariners:

  • 2009: 629
  • 2010: 629
  • 2011: 344
  • 2012: 163
  • 2013: 151
  • 2014: 0

That zero stands out. Gutierrez missed all of 2014, making the personal decision to sit out so he could focus on treatment. Treatment for what? Treatment for ankylosing spondylitis! Young athletes are not often diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, but Gutierrez was, and there isn’t a cure. It’s a condition he’ll deal with for the rest of his life, and it costs him flexibility and mobility. It’s cruel and unrelenting, and when Gutierrez elected to not play, he couldn’t have known whether he’d ever be able to return.

But he tried in 2015. He tried, and he succeeded, having settled on a treatment plan that left him feeling somewhat okay. Gutierrez batted almost 200 times with the 2015 Mariners, and then he batted almost 300 times with the 2016 Mariners. And the player that Gutierrez turned himself into was and is dramatically different from the player he’d been before.

Franklin Gutierrez vs. Franklin Gutierrez
Years PA Def/600 BB% K% wRC+ ISO HR/FB% Hard% Zone% WAR/600
2007 – 2010 1999 18.3 7% 21% 94 0.143 9% 32% 53% 3.6
2015 – 2016 472 -10.3 9% 29% 135 0.255 30% 44% 45% 3.7

That’s a comparison of recent Gutierrez to what’s basically peak, healthy Gutierrez. Earlier in his career, Gutierrez was as smooth an outfield defender as anyone had ever seen. He was one of the best defensive players in baseball, and at the plate, he showed some promising pop. Now look at the last two years. Gutierrez has become a negative defensive asset, because he simply doesn’t move so well anymore. For the same reason, he’s seldom aggressive on the bases. So much of that old athleticism is gone, and it’ll never return. But Gutierrez has found a way to compensate. He’s gotten bigger, and he’s made a conscious effort to try to just beat the living crap out of the ball.

Some percentile rankings from the last two years:

  • HR/FB%: 100th
  • ISO: 96th
  • Hard%: 99th
  • wFA/C: 99th
  • Exit Velo: 96th
  • Contact: 7th
  • K%: 5th
  • Fastball%: 4th
  • Def/600: 19th

No hitter in baseball has managed a higher rate of home runs per fly ball. Gutierrez has some of the best hard-contact measures around, having sacrificed contact to get there. At this point, he has a lot of power and a lot of swing-and-miss, and so pitchers increasingly treat Gutierrez like a terrifying threat, avoiding fastballs and avoiding the zone. As far as other things go, Gutierrez can still play the outfield, but he isn’t very good at it. And there will be days he’ll wake up and he simply won’t be able to play. On those days, his condition won’t let him.

The reality is, Gutierrez isn’t getting healthier. And teams are reluctant to sign a player whose availability is unpredictable. From time to time, the Dodgers might end up frustrated, playing games with a short bench. But they know what they’re getting into, and they know what Gutierrez has been able to do since his return. Having lost a lot of his ability to move around, Gutierrez has focused on more light jogs and fewer hard sprints. He remains active with his 34th birthday coming next week, and given where he’s been, that’s almost impossible to believe.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Westside guymember
5 years ago

So long, Guti, and thanks for all the fish!

– A fan in Seattle