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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Franklin Gutierrez Killing it in Center Field for the Mariners

Posted By on Thu, Jun 18, 2009 at 10:57 AM

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When once we watched Franklin Gutierrez patrol the outfield for the Indians, Tribe fans knew that he was a defensive genius. It was hard not to notice. He had speed, he had a good, strong, accurate arm. He had a knack for the spectacular plays, which didn't happen that often because his speed and angle to the ball allowed him to make most seemingly difficult catches pretty easily. He just glided.

When the Tribe traded Gut to the Mariners in the deal that sent Luis Valbuena from Seattle to Cleveland, and Joe Smith from New York to the shores of Lake Erie, Clevelanders knew that while Gutierrez would never impress anyone on the Pacific Coast with his bat, he would flash enough leather to make them take notice.

Turns out, all those expectations were right. Gut, while posting a lowly .671 OPS, grades as the top center fielder in baseball according to various metrics. Rob Neyer wrote about it:

It's a beautiful thing, when objective analysis meets subjective evaluation. If you watch Gutierrez for just a few games — and I probably haven't seen more than six or eight Mariners games this season — you would guess that he's one of the best center fielders in the majors. Meanwhile, the four center fielders with the highest Ultimate Zone Ratings this season are Coco Crisp, Matt Kemp, Mike Cameron, and — topping the list — Franklin Gutierrez.

The Mariners and general manager Jack Zduriencik deserve a great deal of credit for all this. Gutierrez is 26, and prior to this season he had started the grandiose total of 15 games in center field in the majors (because he was behind Grady Sizemore on the depth chart in Cleveland). Sure, his numbers as a corner outfielder with the Indians were outstanding ... but who pays attention to numbers? Other than Zduriencik, how many baseball executives were wild about turning Gutierrez into a center fielder?

I guess it all depends on what you need. If you just want a defensive savant who'll save you runs in the field and be completely and consistently below average at the plate, this is your man. Especially, as Neyer also points out, if that guy's only making $450,000.

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