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Franklin Gutierrez: AL Comeback Player of the Year?

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The reemergence of Guti has been one of the very best parts of the Mariners 2015 season. But has he done enough to merit serious consideration for AL Comeback Player of the Year?

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

To start off this article, please allow me to present you with two pieces of information.

1. The official Comeback Player of the Year award was established in MLB back in 2005 and is given to one player in each league every season who is judged to have "re-emerged on the baseball field during a given season". This relatively vague award is voted on by a panel of MLB beat writers, so you know it always goes to the most deserving player and there are never any biases/dumb selections. Just like HOF voting. (Sure.)

2. After not playing in MLB in 2014 (due to injury/sickness), Franklin Gutierrez is having a bananas season in 2015. He has been worth 2.0 fWAR in 2015 (in just 142 PA) and has a sky-high wRC+ of 179 (nine points higher than Mike Trout and 10 points higher than Nelson Cruz). This is based largely on the fact that he has the highest slugging percentage (0.646!) among any of the 182 MLB hitters with 140+ PA in 2015. Guti appears to be back with a vengeance.

But should he receive any consideration for Comeback Player of the Year?

Unfortunately (or fortunately, considering it's likely helped him stick around all season), as I mentioned above, Guti has only had a limited amount of playing time with the big league club in 2015. Since being called up in late June (after 209 PA down in Tacoma), Franklin has started 31 of the Mariners 62 games (while also making 13 late inning defensive/PH substitutions) and has averaged just 2.3 PA per M's contest. Over a full season, that would put Guti somewhere near 375 PA; that certainly isn't as many as a starter would have, but it would still enable Franklin to be a very useful player. During the M's remaining 28 games, Steamer projects that Gutierrez will pick up 76 more PA, which would give him a total of 218 PA in 2015 with Seattle. That would represent the highest number of PA that Guti has managed since 2011 (hooray!), but is it enough to merit including him in the discussion for AL Comeback Player of the Year?

To find out, I threw together the table below, which shows previous winners of this award. I've only included the winners who were batters, because those are the comps that are pertinent to Guti. (However, eight pitchers have also won this award: Cliff Lee, Brad Lidge, Chris Carpenter, Francisco Liriano (twice!), Tim Hudson, Fernando Rodney, Mariano Rivera, and Chris Young.)

Player Season G PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Def fWAR fWAR gain
Jason Giambi 2004 80 322 0.208 0.342 0.379 0.323 94 -5.2 0 -
Jason Giambi 2005 139 545 0.271 0.44 0.535 0.422 165 -18 4.2 4.2
Jim Thome 2005 59 242 0.207 0.36 0.352 0.321 90 -2.1 -0.1 -
Jim Thome 2006 143 610 0.288 0.416 0.598 0.421 153 -14.6 4.8 4.9
Carlos Pena 2006 18 37 0.273 0.351 0.424 0.341 100 -0.3 0.1 -
Carlos Pena 2007 148 612 0.282 0.411 0.627 0.431 167 -12.8 5.9 5.8
Aaron Hill 2008 55 229 0.263 0.324 0.361 0.308 84 1.8 0.6 -
Aaron Hill 2009 158 734 0.286 0.33 0.499 0.357 114 -2.8 4 3.4
Jacoby Ellsbury 2010 18 84 0.192 0.241 0.244 0.222 26 1.4 -0.2 -
Jacoby Ellsbury 2011 158 732 0.321 0.376 0.552 0.4 150 18 9.4 9.6
Ken Griffey Jr. 2004 83 348 0.253 0.351 0.513 0.366 118 -19.7 -0.2 -
Ken Griffey Jr. 2005 128 555 0.301 0.369 0.576 0.399 142 -17.4 2.9 3.1
Nomar Garciaparra 2005 62 247 0.283 0.32 0.452 0.333 97 -4.6 0.3 -
Nomar Garciaparra 2006 122 523 0.303 0.367 0.505 0.369 122 -6 2 1.7
Dmitri Young 2006 48 184 0.25 0.293 0.407 0.303 78 -4.9 -0.5 -
Dmitri Young 2007 136 508 0.32 0.378 0.491 0.375 127 -17.9 1 1.5
Lance Berkman 2010 122 481 0.248 0.368 0.413 0.347 114 -5.6 1.7 -
Lance Berkman 2011 145 587 0.301 0.412 0.547 0.408 163 -17.5 4.8 3.1
Buster Posey 2011 45 185 0.284 0.368 0.389 0.335 116 6.4 1.6 -
Buster Posey 2012 148 610 0.336 0.408 0.549 0.406 164 13 7.7 6.1
Casey McGehee 2013 Played in Japan
Casey McGehee 2014 160 691 0.287 0.355 0.357 0.319 102 0.7 1.4 1.4
Franklin Gutierrez 2014 Did not play - Injury/Health concerns
Franklin Gutierrez 2015 44 142 0.315 0.366 0.646 0.425 179 1.0 2.0 2.0

On an fWAR basis, Guti's numbers are certainly better than some of these past winners. If he keeps playing semi-regularly and doesn't fall apart, he'll likely finish up with an fWAR around 2.5. That is a far cry from Jacoby Ellsbury's 9.4 fWAR back in 2011, but it's significantly better than the "comeback" seasons put up by McGehee or Dmitri Young. However, each of the gentlemen in the table above did manage at least 500 PA during their comeback seasons. That is more than twice than the number Guti will likely end up with this year, which probably doesn't bode particularly well for his chances. That being said, Franklin has been SO GOOD this year when he's played...

To get a better sense of Guti's chances, it would also be prudent to look at the other potential candidates for Comeback Player in the American League in 2015. I did a quick Google search to see who is generating "comeback buzz" (not one of the articles I found mentioned Guti's name, which is dumb) and came up with the players in the table below.

Player Season G PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Def fWAR fWAR gain
Jose Iglesias 2014 Did not play - Injury
Jose Iglesias 2015 119 452 0.302 0.348 0.372 0.316 99 8.6 1.8 1.8
Alex Rodriguez 2014 Did not play - Suspended for PED use
Alex Rodriguez 2015 122 515 0.256 0.361 0.482 0.362 131 -12.6 2.3 2.3
Prince Fielder 2014 42 178 0.247 0.360 0.360 0.305 88 -3.4 -0.3
Prince Fielder 2015 128 557 0.317 0.381 0.476 0.366 129 -15.5 1.6 1.9
Kendrys Morales 2014 98 401 0.218 0.274 0.338 0.271 72 -11.5 -1.8
Kendrys Morales 2015 131 534 0.288 0.354 0.471 0.355 127 -13.2 1.6 3.4
Jason Kipnis 2014 129 555 0.240 0.310 0.330 0.289 84 -6.6 0.7
Jason Kipnis 2015 116 531 0.317 0.389 0.468 0.369 138 4.7 5.1 4.4
Franklin Gutierrez 2014 Did not play - Injury/Health concerns
Franklin Gutierrez 2015 44 142 0.315 0.366 0.646 0.425 179 1.0 2.0 2.0

There are very few pitchers in the AL who deserve to be in this discussion this year; the most talked about fellas that I ran across were Clay Buchholz (a not good choice), Ryan Madson (giving this award to any bullpen arm is pretty ridiculous because reliever seasons are so damned volatile), and Ubaldo Jimenez (a bad choice). As for the hitters above, A-Rod has been pretty fun this year, but giving him the award after coming back from being suspended for PEDs seems like it would be ill-advised and disingenuous. I would also discount Jose Iglesias (he's never managed to put up more than 1.9 fWAR in a season, so what exactly is he coming back to?) and Kendrys Morales (he only looks "good" this year because he was such a piece of garbage in '14) from this list. This leaves Prince Fielder and Jason Kipnis as the most likely contenders.

At the end of the season, the winner will likely be someone who 1) has experienced a sizable bump in production this year compared to last season but 2) also allows for the creation of a strong, "feel good" narrative. Guti certainly provides an opportunity for a lovely narrative. He was once a top player in this league (an fWAR of 6.0 back in '09), who suffered a series of injuries/hardships (that seemingly derailed his career), but now he's reemerged as a potent offensive force. However, the same thing can also be said about Prince Fielder... except his team is less bad than the Mariners (somehow) and still in the playoff hunt. So he may have an edge. Additionally, although the main thing that Kipnis "battled" with last year was ineffectiveness/inconsistency, he has bounced back to have a phenomenal 2015 season (one of only six players in the AL with an fWAR above 5.0). Cleveland hasn't been particularly good at baseball this year, but it's not hard to envision Kipnis winning this award.

Ultimately, whether Guti wins or not, he's made a hell of a comeback this season and has been so, so fun to watch. (I don't think he will win it, but crazier things have happened in baseball...) Regardless, here's hopin' he keeps playing well and that Seattle find a way to bring him back for 2016.

Go M's!