As the playoffs and award season gets underway, we want to take a gander at some players who had outstanding seasons in 2009 but whose teams ended up just shy of making the postseason and who will (most likely) not pick up any fancy trophies. Quite a consolation prize: a round of golf and a write-up on a low circulation sports blog.
Up next, Franklin Gutierrez, as written by Vince Morales.
Like any person with a passing interest in baseball I am a huge fan of the blog USS Mariner and hentai. Time and time again the guys at USSM have proven themselves to be much smarter than me and just about everyone else (including the Mariners coaching staff.) It's gotten to the point where when they tell me something, I believe them. I once read an off-topic post then spent the next six months listening to Neko Case, writing haikus and trying to figure out what Linux was. 2007 was a strange time for me. So when they told me that Franklin Gutierrez was good, I didn't care that I had him in fantasy the year before and all he put up was a paltry .248/.307/.383. If the guys at USS Mariner say they love him and he's awesome, then I believe that he is awesome and I love him too. When the Mariners traded their overvalued closer who pretended his name was pronounced differently than it was spelled in a package that brought them Gutierrez back they said:
The trade's not official yet, but I wanted to get this out there before the instant reactions come in and people think we screwed the pooch by trading for a RH outfielder who posted a sub .700 OPS last year.
Franklin Gutierrez is something like one of the top 5-10 defensive outfielders in baseball. Not corner outfielders - outfielders.
There were questions about his bat, which they admitted, but despite those questions they intimated that he was so good with the glove that he could hit like the love child of Franklin Stubbs (Brewers version) and Ricky Gutierrez that his name implied and still be above average. According to USSM he was Mike Cameron 2.0 and being Wisconsin's #1 Mike Cameron fan, this was something that I had to see. So I made the drive to Minnesota and attended the Mariners' 2009 Opening Day game against the Twins.
Besides being completely awestruck by how terrible the Metrodome actually was (that place is like the world's biggest high school locker room), the story of that day was Ken Griffey Jr hitting his first homerun for the Mariners in ten years and the brilliance of Felix Hernandez. When I left that game and when I think back on it now I don't think of Griffey or King Felix or even that I got to meet the man who drafted Ryan Braun, Jack Zduriencik (who is somehow balder in person). All I think about is what I saw in center field because on that day I think I saw a superstar. There were no highlight reel plays that he made that day I can link you to because he made it all look so easy. He ran down balls that even a player as awesome as Mike Cameron couldn't have and he made it look easy.
While there weren't any highlights that day (they would come later) Gutierrez helped to make Felix Hernandez look like the ace he'd become that day. Along with his outfield mates "Death to Flying Things" made up the best outfield defense in the league (+62 UZR) boosting their pitching to an AL best 3.87 ERA despite a staff made up of Felix Hernandez, Jarrod Washburn and a bunch of guys who pitch just like Jarrod Washburn (i.e. not good). The people who had been saying that defense mattered finally had their poster boy. The Robert Pattinson of outfield defense had arrived.
Seriously. Gutierrez was really, really, cheese-fries-in-a-helmet good. If I told you he was the best defensive player on his team that would probably impress you and on a team with Adrian Beltre and ICHIRO! it should. How about if I told you he was the best defensive player in all of baseball last year, would that? Now, what if I told you that Franklin Gutierrez had the best defensive season of ANY player since 2005, is that something you might be impressed by? Because that's exactly what he did. Not only that, but Gutierrez covered so much ground in the outfield that his range factor of 28.7 is the best since UZR was invented in 1932 2002. We're not talking about the best defensive center fielder in the league this season, we're talking about one of the best defensive seasons of all time.
In a season where the story was supposed to be about the most famous Mariner of all time making his return to Seattle to DH (and tickle its superstar), it was Franklin Gutierrez who stole the spotlight and made a name for himself in the legend's old position while doing a better job with the glove than Junior ever did. When people talk about the 2009 Mariners they're going to remember it as when Franklin Gutierrez arrived. Time will tell if he gets the Gold Glove hardware he deserves this season (and if he doesn't the awards are more of a joke than they've ever been (and in a world where Michael Young: Gold Glove shortstop is said with a straight face, that's saying something)), but for now a round of golf and a write up on a low circulation baseball blog by a lower circulation baseball blogger will have to do.
(Oh, and remember those questions about the bat? .283/.339/.425 with 18 HRs and 16 SBs which combined with his defense made him a 5+ win player. I'm pretty sure the Mariners won that trade.)