For a while there, Nelson Cruz was having the best offensive season in the history of the Seattle Mariners. For months and months his wRC+ was hanging out at or above the current team record of 182, set by Edgar Martinez in 1995. He’s dropped back a bit of late – he’s currently sitting on a 169 wRC+. Which means that he’s unlikely to break Martinez’s record – though that mark may yet be topped, because of the insane season Franklin Gutierrez is currently in the midst of.
We all know Guti’s story – he’s the face of the early Zduriencik years, while his subsequent fall due to injuries and unforseen ailments mirrored the team’s struggles for most of the finally-former front office’s tenure. He sat out 2014, played in AAA this year, then received a call-up. And what a call-up it’s been.
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Franklin Gutierrez, who should be long lost by this point, is in the middle of a rebound campaign that is unlike anything we could have reasonably seen coming. With his medical history keeping him from everyday play (and limiting him to corner outfield/DH duties), Guti has taken advantage of the times he’s able to play. In 142 plate appearances this year he’s hitting .315/.380/.646 – which translates to an insane 179 wRC+.
What the late call-up means is that Gutierrez won’t accumulate the plate appearances needed to show up in the record books – there’s no way he’ll end up a “qualified” hitter – it doesn’t mean he hasn’t been perhaps the very most unlikely revelation this year. In a lost season, Gutierrez is a former favorite having a resurgence most unreasonable. And it’s so, so awesome.
Gutierrez’s best offensive season prior to this one came in 2013, when he re-introduced himself as a low-OBP power hitter after missing loads of time with obnoxious, nagging sicknesses and injuries. That year he slashed .248/.273/.503 in 151 trips to the plate. That came on the heels of a more typical .260/.309/.420, and seemed like a weird abberation. But now it looks like a legitimate re-invention. Because all he’s done since then is rake.
Even in Tacoma this year, Gutierrez was mashing, with a .317/.402/.500 line. That, paired with excellent CF defense, would be an MVP-caliber player. And though Gutierrez is no longer able to play center, he’s actually put up above-average numbers from the corners. Pair that with his again-improved offense, and who’s to say he wouldn’t be an MVP over a full season?
Aug 16, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Seattle Mariners left fielder Franklin Gutierrez (30) follows through on his second home run of the game, a three-run homer against the Boston Red Sox during the third inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Never mind for a second that Gutierrez’s body will likely prevent him from ever playing a full season again. Never mind that his offense is virtually guaranteed to come down from it’s current level, no matter how good of a hitter he’s become. All you have to believe is that Guti’s newfound power is for real in order to believe he could be one of, it not the best player on this team. It’s really not much of a stretch.
Need convincing that Guti’s a for real slugger now? I know, it doesn’t seem right, what with the dude getting very, very sick and losing lots of weight and not even being able to play baseball for a while there. Let’s just start with that .646 slugging percentage. Want to know how many players in baseball have a higher SLG this year? I set a plate appearance minimum of 50, just to weed out rogue pitchers and Shawn O’Malley. And even with such a low threshold, Gutierrez is number one, and nobody who’s gotten real playing time is really all that close:
From top to bottom: Franklin Gutierrez, a guy who’s played in seventeen games, the best player in the National League, the best power prospect in the sport, and a guy who’s only job is to come into games and hit the ball hard. It’s mixed company, but it’s mostly good company. Nobody expects Gimenez to keep this up. Guti has kept this up for nearly two months. Oh, and sixth on this list? Giancarlo Stanton.
And he’s hitting the ball with authority. And, unlike in 2013, he’s taking his walks. The Mariners are giving Gutierrez regular days off to keep him fresh, and so far it’s working. This is a player getting a second chance and running wild with it. He’s finally, finally found a way to stay healthy and productive, and now look at what he’s become.
Franklin Gutierrez, on a rate basis, is the best player on the Seattle Mariners. Hell, on a rate basis he’s amongst the best players in the game. He’s also a 32-year-old former slap-hitting defensive wizard who missed unthinkable time with unthinkable ailments and has returned as one of the game’s premier power hitters. Except he can still pick it in the outfield corners and provides a tremendous boost to a clubhouse that’s had trouble staying unified in years gone by. It’s hard to think that it’s 2015 and we’re falling in love with Franklin Gutierrez all over again. And yet here we are.
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