The Revival Of Franklin Gutierrez


Think back last 17 months that Franklin Gutierrez has had. The 2010 season started out great. He put up a 142 wRC+ in April (meaning he was 42% above average at the plate), and then followed that up with a 135 wRC+ in May. This was no simple hot streak, it was a 2 month long breakthrough by one of the game’s young stars.

Unfortunately, that was when the wheels came off the Guti bandwagon. Gutierrez began to suffer some a mysterious stomach ailment that made it difficult for him to eat. He slowly lost weight off an already svelte frame that didn’t have excess weight on it to be lost, and his strength became to suffer.

His wRC+ dropped to 71 in June, and then down to just 34 in July. He adapted as best he could. He ran out grounders and tried to slap his way on base as his power numbers evaporated. By the end of the season, his season total wRC+ had dropped to just 87 (which is 13% below average) even after his hot start.

Lots more after the jump. Also, Graphs!

The drop off was so dramatic I felt it needed to be graphed. Enjoy:

The season ended. Guti snagged his first of hopefully many Gold Glove awards, and flew back to Venezuela to try and get better. He didn’t. On November 12th he checked into a hospital with extreme stomach pain. Tests were done. Nothing conclusive was found. He went home.

Then spring training rolled around, and Gutierrez’s stomach issued flared up again, and this time it was much worse than before. He couldn’t eat. He lost another 15 pounds in about a month. The Mariner’s sent him up to Seattle for “extensive tests” that were again inconclusive, and then sent to to the Mayo Clinic for even more tests. The end result was a vague “irritable bowel disorder” diagnosis that was more of a “we’ve ruled everything else out but still can’t verify anything” diagnosis.

Luckily, the medication and dietary treatment worked, so the Mariners and Gutierrez waited. They waited for him to get back in shape. They waited for him to build back up some muscle. He had reportedly lost 25 pounds total since the problem had first arisen 9 and a half months earlier. It wasn’t going to come back all at once.

By mid May, the Mariners has managed to pitch their way into contention, but they knew that running Michael Saunders out there in CF everyday wasn’t going to help them stay in the race. So they brought Guti back early. He was still one of the top defensive players in the league. The Mariner’s bet that with his slowly returning strength that he’d find a way to be productive at the plate as well. They bet; they lost.

Saying that Gutierrez struggled would simply not be accurate. He was genuinely bad. From May through July, he was one of the worst hitters in the American League. His wRC+ in June was 11. There were pitchers who significantly out hit Gutierrez. Chone Figgins significantly out hit Gutierrez. (Can I make it any clearer how poor his hitting was?) Despite his defensive awesomeness, Guti was on the verge of losing his job in the Mariner outfield.

There has been a lot of debate on if the stomach issues and lost muscle mass were still a problem. Eric Wedge said they’re weren’t. Gutierrez refused to talk about it. I’m sure each of you will believe what you will on the subject. I have no doubt that he still lacked the strength he had at the beginning of last year. On the rare occasion when he made decent contact, the ball simply didn’t jump off his bat. There was just no power in his swing.

Then something changed. It was back on July 21st. Guti started making solid contact like we hadn’t seen him make all year. He had a tiny 4 game hitting streak. He also drove a few balls that were caught. Even when he was hitting into outs he seemed to be hitting the ball hard. He had a couple 2 hit games surrounded by a few hitless games, but he continued to make better contact.

The change was gradual at first, then it accelerated. I can only assume that there was a point when he finally noticed that things had turned around, and that knowledge had given him confidence. On July 31st he started an 8 game hitting streak, a streak that included 13 hits, with 4 of those hits being doubles.

The difference in his offensive game has been astounding. His August wRC+ is currently at 138. That’s 38% above what an average MLB player is producing. For a player who had had 7 straight months of very below average production, that is a significant sign. It’s also back to his pre-stomach condition level. Let me show you what the numbers looks like in a pretty graph:

Note that I divided the wRC+ stats, which are naturally normalized to 100, so that they would be based around 1 instead. I also divided the UZR values by 10. This was done so that the 3 curves would fit on the same graph, and it would be easy to see the correlations.

As you can see, his defense has been steady all season. Remember that he only played half of May, and it’s only the 19th of August, so don’t be concerned by those months being a little lower in a UZR department. They should be. So, with a fairly stable defense, his changes in his monthly WAR is almost entirely dependent upon his ability to hit, and for most the the season he simply hasn’t done so.

His defense was great, his bat was, well, anti-great. The 2 averaged out to make to close to 0 WAR over the first 3 months Gutierrez played this season. 0 WAR. That’s what you’d expect an average AAA player to be able to produce if they were called up as an injury replacement. But then there’s August, where he’s already been worth .7 WAR. That’s not insignificant. That’s amazing.

The improvement is so astounding that I made another graph to show it.

Again, note that I scaled things to make them fit onto the same access. Also, the green line is WAR per day, which is an unorthodox way of representing this information, but I needed a way to demonstrate the improvement despite drastically different time intervals.

At this point, I feel like I’m setting myself, and thus all you, up to be disappointed. Perhaps this is just a small hot streak, and he’ll regress back down to the Franklin Gutierrez we’ve seen since last June. Perhaps he’s just never going to be an above average player. Perhaps, but I hope not.

Perhaps instead he’s turned the proverbial corner and become the player we all thought he could be. And for that, I am very hopeful.