We looked on this season as Michael Saunders figured out how to be a valuable major league player; how Franklin Gutierrez continued to suffer from improbable setbacks, yet still produce a respectable line; and how Jesus Montero struggled to perform up to our expectations, among many other things that happened on the diamond. But how do we know what was real and what was flukey? Though sometimes it seems so long, a season is actually pretty short from a statistics perspective. I created the color charts this year—which attempt to show the levels of improvement and above-averageness—in order to help distinguish between significant observations and ho-hum observations.
These are the final two color charts for the 2012 season. First, the comparison to a player’s past performance. Remember that this chart compares a player’s stats from 2012 to his stats from as far back as 2009. The greener the box, the greater the improvement—or in the case of batted balls, the more often the outcome.
It’s important to note that some of these players, like John Jaso and Jesus Montero, didn’t have to play very many games in SafeCo in past years. Even guys like Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak and Saunders experienced what was deemed an even-more-difficult SafeCo Field this season. So when we look at Saunders’ large improvement in his power numbers—homeruns per outfield flyball (HR/FB) and ISO power—we should consider that improvement as an even more significant jump in talent that has a better chance of sticking next season.
I spoke not-too-kindly of Saunders earlier this season, arguing that he hadn’t shown anything of value to that point. He obviously read my post, and vowed to prove me wrong. In the above chart, Saunders’ row is almost entirely green, now. In fact, the only negative regression came in his outfield flyball rate. But really he just replaced flyballs with line drives and ground balls. For Saunders, this is probably a tradeoff that needed to happen, as we saw his BABIP climb from .262 to .297 this season. With his seemingly sustainable BABIP spike, in combination with a drop in strikeout rate (not shown in chart), his batting average came up from .196 to .247. It wouldn’t hurt if Saunders continued to get better, but his .247/.306/.432 slash line in 2012 was good enough for a guy with an above-average glove in center who also takes half his cuts in SafeCo field.
Saunders’ center field buddy, Franklin Gutierrez, has produced a solid BABIP the last three seasons, so his tradeoff of more outfield flyballs for less grounders was probably healthy. In fact, he pretty much just brought his flyball rates up to meet those of Saunders, and both those guys ended up with similar batted ball profiles, and almost exactly the same BABIP (.297 and .302). So while their changes were opposites, both players produced the changes needed to improve.
What we also saw from Gutierrez was mild improvement (light green color) in both his power numbers and his line drive rate. Though light green represents the least significant of improvements, it does represent some improvement. A guy still suffering from the effects of IBS and/or baseballs in his ear could probably not have exhibited any improvement, and that should be encouragement enough.
But there is no need for me to go through every player. The colors are a helpful way to quickly identify levels of improvement or decline for yourself! On to the league comparison chart, where I have used the colors to indicate a player’s performance relative to the rest of the league.
The player I wanted to point out here is Jesus Montero. His season has definitely been disappointing compared to expectations, and his inability to hit right handers is cause for concern. However, he only struck out 17% of the time (not shown), which is league average, and his HR/FB and ISO were very close to league-average. For a right-handed rookie hitting in SafeCo, league-average power is actually impressive. But the best thing we saw from Montero is probably his 24.6% line drive rate, quite a bit better than league average (moderately green box). SafeCo Field’s marine air shouldn’t do much to affect a player’s contact ability, and Montero posted nearly-identical line drive rates both home and away. But a BABIP gap of 54 points dragged his home numbers down, and with them his overall numbers. On the road, Montero posted a .295/.330/.438 slash line, good for a 113 wRC+. The contact skills are there, and they are more than just one shade of green above the league rates.
The Mariners have to deal with some serious issues before they can contend in the AL West, but we did see real improvement in Michael Saunders, we did see Franklin Gutierrez perform admirably despite injuries, and we did see the contact skills promised from Jesus Montero.