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What Can We Expect of Franklin Gutierrez’s Defense in 2013?

The Mariners recently brought back Franklin Gutierrez on a one-year, $1 million contract, plus incentives, a move greeted mostly by praise. He fits an obvious need, the contract is a low base, and we all know his upside if he stays healthy. When he first came over from the Indians, Guti immediately established himself as one of the best defensive center fielders in the game. This isn't shocking news to anyone reading. Franklin Gutierrez was amazing at defense. It was abundantly clear watching him. The statistics scream it. His nickname is Death to Flying Things. I'm more interested in what we should expect going forward.

The last time Gutierrez played more than half a season was 2011, his age 28 season. By Fangraphs' Defense rating, Franklin Gutierrez ranked 7th since 1960 in defensive runs above average for center fielders through age 28:

Games

Defense

Andruw Jones

1440

249.7

Paul Blair

1118

116.5

Ken Griffey Jr.

1372

97.4

Mark Kotsay

1001

83.5

Carlos Gomez

823

82.6

Devon White

743

82.5

Franklin Gutierrez

681

79.7

Mike Cameron

710

78.7

Willie Wilson

943

76.1

Curt Flood

1059

70

Darin Erstad

934

68.7

Willie Davis

1218

68

Andre Dawson

1035

67.7

Kenny Lofton

540

67.7

Brett Gardner

475

63.6

Total

14092

1352.4

Before going on, let's all acknowledge that three of the top eight have manned CF for the Mariners for most of the last 25 years. Holy shit.

These 14 players provide rough defensive equivalents of a healthy Franklin Gutierrez, though it's notable he played fewer games than almost everyone on this list.

Franklin Gutierrez proceeded put up below average defensive numbers in 2012 and 2013, with obvious caveats. Those numbers only reflect 454.1 innings, and it's a constant question if he's ever actually playing at 100%. How did the other 14 center fielders on our list fare in ages 29 and 30? Firstly, we must exclude Gardner and Gomez, as they haven't yet completed their age 29 and age 30 seasons. Second, we're going to ignore Erstad and Dawson, as they switched positions. The result:

Games

Defense

Devon White

299

55.3

Andruw Jones

310

40.4

Mike Cameron

305

35.1

Paul Blair

293

30.5

Kenny Lofton

276

26.1

Willie Davis

275

12.2

Willie Wilson

296

3

Curt Flood

284

2

Ken Griffey Jr.

305

1.7

Franklin Gutierrez

81

-11.4

Mark Kotsay

268

-13.4

Total

2993

181.5

Of the remaining ten players that predominantly played CF over their age 29 and 30 seasons, five remained elite, one above average, three more around average, and only one became well below average, not including Guti. It seems highly probable that Guti's body has harmed him more than most, but it's hard to say a lot from such a small sample size.

Let's look at how these players did at age 31:

Games

Defense

Kenny Lofton

153

21.3

Paul Blair

134

10.5

Devon White

97

9.4

Mike Cameron

140

9.2

Curt Flood

153

6

Willie Davis

158

4.1

Andruw Jones

75

1.1

Willie Wilson

146

0.8

Mark Kotsay

56

-4.3

Ken Griffey Jr.

111

-8.9

Total

1223

49.2

Not a huge dropoff from ages 29-30, but a bit of a steady decline. They're not the best of the best anymore, but many are still solidly above average. Andruw Jones and Ken Griffey Jr. showed the most notable declines, due to weight gain and injury.

Overall, the elite defensive center fielders of the last 60 years or so have held up reasonably well into the age range where Franklin Gutierrez currently lies. It's not unprecedented that a guy like Guti could still be an above average defensive center fielder this coming year. Unfortunately, in cases of injury, the decline can be pretty staggering.

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