Nice to see Franklin Gutierrez help decide last night’s game with a crushing, one-out triple off Jim Johnson in the ninth inning. Gutierrez could stand to deliver a little more power to his team. If he did, the comparisons between him and the current Orioles center fielder given up by the Mariners in the Erik Bedard trade might get real interesting.
There already are some interesting comparisons to be made between Gutierrez and that other centerfielder, guy by the name of Adam Jones. Now, no one has to state the obvious here: that Jones is clearly the better all-around player at this stage of his career. His hitting numbers took a jump to that next level this season, while his defense is regarded as above average.
But the difference might not be as big as it seems.
Where Jones has the clear edge is in power.
Jones has an OPS of 1.002 with a .603 slugging percentage.
Gutierrez has an OPS of .716, with only a .368 slugging percentage, even after last night’s extra-base hit.
So, that’s a pretty big gap.
On defense, Gutierrez appears to be the better player, though it’s questionable how big the gap is. So far, at least, Gutierrez leads all American League players with a Revised Zone Rating of .979. Jones is 13th at .914, which is still very good — just not as good as Gutierrez. Also, Gutierrez has made one additional play outside his designated “zone” of coverage, putting him second-best in the AL and Jones at No. 3.
So, Gutierrez leads in that area.
It’s in another defensive metric that Gutierrez has really jumped out ahead of Jones. The Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) stat currently has Gutierrez at +6.1 and headed for a +16.0 pace when factored over a 150-game season.
Jones is the big surprise here, posting a minus-4.7 stat thus far and, when it’s projected over a 150-game schedule, he’s headed for a minus-18.6 score. In other words, Raul Ibanez territory when he used to play left field at Safeco. Now, how can that be? Well, remember, these defensive stats are in their infancy and can fluctuate. Its proponents suggest looking at the numbers over multiple years. Last year, Jones posted a UZR of +9.9 in 129 games and it worked out to +11.5 when projected over 150 games.
So, is this a one-year fluke in the scoring? Or is the Jones we’re seeing now more like what we can expect going forward? Is his added offensive power coming at the expense of his defense? Forget the highlight reel catches you see. It’s the stuff you don’t always see that shows up in these numbers. We won’t have the true answer this year, but it’s worth considering as we move forward.
But based on the numbers, Gutierrez continues to score at an above-average level year-to-year. It’s safe to say, I think, that he is an above-average defender and better than Jones at this stage.
So, the question is, can Gutierrez close the gap offensively? I think so — to a point.
If you look at Jones, his batting average on balls put into play is up there at .389, roughly 100 points above average in the majors. It would suggest he’s been quite lucky so far and could come down in the numbers. Same with his home run rate of fly balls: up there at a whopping 22.9 percent compared to the average of about 11 percent. So, he’s probably had a few more homers than a player could normally expect, which boosts the slugging percentage and OPS, obviously.
Gutierrez has a home run/flyball ratio of only 6.4 percent — nearly half what the normal rate is. So, he could start popping a few more. His batting average on balls put in play is .321, slightly above average, but not anything that should skew his numbers too badly.
Jones does have much higher on-base-percentage than Gutierrez, .399 to .348. But much of that comes from the hits and, as we’ve said, he’s been getting quite a few more of those than he likely should be. Gutierrez has the better walk rate, at 10.4 percent compared to 6.7 for Jones.
In other words, Gutierrez should be able to sustain that decent OBP over the long-term while Jones will likely see his drop to more earthly levels.
It’s doubtful, make that almost impossible, that Gutierrez will ever develop the power that Jones has. Where Gutierrez can make up the gap is in OPS, based on a strong on-base-percentage that is sustainable and some of Jones’s big numbers dropping when luck swings the other way and his home run balls start getting caught.
Now, this is not saying that Gutierrez can become the equivalent of Jones. But what I am saying is that the gap may not be as large as some people think. It may be that, with the one J.J. Putz deal, the Mariners will wake up a year from now and find they have a center fielder that’s about 75-80 percent what Jones is.
And given all the understandable hand-wringing over the Jones topic the past year-plus, that’s not half bad.