Going into 2013, to say that the state of Franklin Gutierrez’s body is important to Mariners fans would be an understatement. J.J. wrote on Saturday, “Guti scares the hell out of me,” and that probably sums up Mariners fans’ collective sentiments pretty well.
In 2009, Guti put up a .283/.339/.425 slash line on his way to a 6-WAR season. Since that season, Guti has been hampered by injuries and setbacks, and he has been worth less than 4 total WAR in three seasons (according to both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference). IBS, an oblique strain, and a freak concussion on a pickoff play can be blamed for much of his poor performance, but are these things that should worry us so much? I don’t think so.
I did some online research on IBS, and many sites such as this one suggest that IBS does recur periodically throughout life, but that the appropriate medication eases the symptoms. Guti is more than a year removed from his first bought with IBS, and we haven’t heard a thing about any recurrence. Guti has access to the best medication and treatment around, and thus he will likely experience the mildest forms of recurrence.
Thanks to the Dodgers’ trainer Stan Conte and this article in the Sun Times, I have a data set of 11 hitters that suffered oblique strains or similar injuries to kick off the 2011 season. Of those 11 players, not a single one has experienced another oblique strain (or it has not been reported in the case of the minor league players on the list). It even hard to argue that it negatively impacted any of the players beyond the time frame of the injury.
J.J. Hardy, for example, missed a large chunk of April and May in 2011 with an oblique strain. He came back to hit 30 homeruns and had one of the best seasons of his career.
After an oblique injury sidelined Erick Aybar to start the 2011 season, his 2011 and 2012 seasons have arguably been better than his career numbers—.743 OPS after versus .683 OPS before. And that doesn’t even take into account the league-wide decline of offensive numbers.
Corey Hart has posted an .860 OPS since his oblique injury, and recorded just an .817 OPS the two seasons prior to injury.
Curtis Granderson had a frickin’ MVP-caliber season after his pre-season obligue strain!
The list of positive recoveries goes on, and it’s encouraging, while the list of potential decliners is not something that concerns me much. That list includes just Jason Bay and maybe the former Angel’s prospect, Freddy Sandoval. Bay had already shown decline during the 2010 season before kicking of 2011 with a rib cage injury. His OPS+ dropped from 105 to 98 between the two seasons, hardly a decline to write home about. 2010 was Bay’s age-31 season, and he had already dipped significantly between 2009 and 2010. This suggests to me that his decline is more generally related to body deterioration, and not necessarily the rib cage injury at all. Plus, though similar according to the Dodger trainer’s list, it’s not exactly the same as an oblique strain. Bay was the worst comp on the list to begin with!
Freddy Sandoval has experienced a plague of injuries since being named a top prospect in the Angels organization a few seasons ago. It would be difficult to argue that it’s the oblique strain keeping him from making a splash in the majors.
Freak Pickoff Move Accident
This doesn’t happen very often ever. While one concussion can induce future concussions more easily, his risk of concussion is not that much higher now that it was before. No one on the diamond takes hits like catchers take hits, and luckily Guti is not a catcher.
Guti has suffered a range of setbacks that have rendered him a less-than-average center fielder over the last three seasons. However, these aren’t necessarily issues that are going to continue to render him subpar. Here is a comparison of some statistics between Guti’s 2009 season, and this season:
A player that was debilitated by the injuries Guti has suffered and still feeling significant effects could not do this—not even in 115 plate appearances. His K/BB rate remains virtually unchanged, and he’s hitting a few more line drives with very similar power.
I am very optimistic that Guti—with his gold glove defense that hasn’t gone away—will be a valuable, everyday center fielder in 2013. I think you should be optimistic, too.