clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The secret to Franklin Gutierrez’s success

Franklin Gutierrez found a way to mash.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

When he made his major league debut way back in 2005, I’m sure Franklin Gutierrez couldn’t even imagine the path his career would take. Through all the ups and downs, the ailments and injuries, Gutierrez fought to stay on the field. His success these last two years is a testament to his perseverance and determination. It’s likely that he won’t be donning a Mariner uniform in 2017. But his miraculous contributions since being diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis deserve some recognition.

Over the last two years, we’ve seen Gutierrez’s power explode. He was never known as a slugger earlier in his career, but he can definitely be considered one now. Among the 320 batters who have accumulated at least 450 plate appearances over the last two years, Gutierrez leads the major leagues in home run per fly ball rate. He’s 14th in isolated slugging and 28th in wOBA. With so much success driving the ball, it’s surprising to see that his fly ball rate is rather average, just 33% over the last two years. But when he does hit the ball in the air, he absolutely punishes it.

Here are just a few relevant data points that show just how successful he’s been:

Year HR FB% HR/FB% Avg FB+HR Exit Velo Avg FB+HR Distance
Year HR FB% HR/FB% Avg FB+HR Exit Velo Avg FB+HR Distance
2015 15 35.6% 35.7% 96.4 354.1
2016 14 31.9% 26.4% 98.5 354.1

In 2016, his average exit velocity on fly balls and home runs was second in the majors, trailing only Gary Sanchez; in 2015, he was ninth. His average distance on these batted balls—never wavering between the two years—ranked fourth in 2016 and second in 2015. We don’t have Statcast data for 2013, but I suspect we’d find similar results. To me, that appears to be the year something clicked. It’s possible it was a change in swing mechanics or maybe it was simply a carryover from his physical therapy and strength training to treat his ailments. Whatever the cause, when Gutierrez hits the ball in the air, he absolutely demolishes it.

Just to drive the point home further, here’s a heat map of the fly balls he’s hit over the last two years, colored by exit velocity:

He’s been able to cover both sides of the plate and has been particularly successful on pitches up in the zone. If a batter doesn’t make solid contact on these high pitches, it usually turns into a pop fly, but Gutierrez’s infield fly ball rate has been just 6.3% these past two years, well above average. So not only has he been incredibly successful when putting the ball in the air, he’s selectively seeking out pitches he can handle and driving them with power.

Just for good measure, here’s a prime example of what Gutierrez has been capable of these past two years:

With Jerry Dipoto’s focus on getting younger and more athletic in the outfield, Franklin Gutierrez’s days as a Mariner are probably over. The more I look at his numbers the past two years, the more I’m astounded. Gutierrez has resurrected his career by turning himself into a premier power hitter. He isn’t an everyday player anymore but whatever team signs him will have a powerful platoon-mate or option off the bench.