Normally, I would start an article like this with something along the lines of, “It’s never a good sign that a team has two positions in our baseball’s worst feature.”
But the Seattle Mariners haven’t had a normal season in 2011.
The Mariners are, on paper and statistically in so many categories, God awful. But yet they find themselves right in the thick of the American League West and Wild Card race.
The Mariners have stayed in contention with baseball’s worst third basemen (thanks largely to Chone Figgins' ineptitude) and also baseball’s worst center fielders. Thanks to Franklin Gutierrez's stomach, center field has been a problem all year for the Mariners.
Let’s take a look at the Mariner center field situation and if there is any hope for the future.
Major League Rankings*
AVG: 30th (.194)
OBP: 30th (.256)
SLG: 30th (.299)
HRs: Tied for 12th (7)
ISO: 25th (.109)
wOBA: 30th (.248)
WAR: 30th (-0.5)
Seattle’s lack of center field production can be directly tied to Gutierrez’s stomach. Gutierrez has missed most of the 2011 season because of a stomach disorder, which was then diagnosed as irritable bowl syndrome, or IBS, as the cool doctors say.
Gutierrez has only played in 24 games and has yet to get going at the dish. He’s hitting .193/.230/.265 with one HR in 88 plate appearances. Gutierrez has really struggled against right-handed pitching. He has just three extra-base hits and a .391 OPS against them this season.
I am really torn about Gutierrez. And my indecisiveness has nothing to do with him in the field. In the field, Gutierrez is as slick and as smooth as they get.
My indecisiveness comes from the fact that outside of 2009, he really has never done much at the plate. I am starting to wonder if his 2009 season (.283/.339/.425 with 18 HRs) was a career year and he is just a .240 hitting kind of guy.
Only time will tell, but it appears 2009 was a career year for Gutierrez and he will be hard pressed to equal that production again.
Gutierrez’s absence in the lineup has forced the Mariners to go with Langerhans and Saunders as replacements.
Langerhans is an internet darling. Mariner fans who love sabermetrics salivate over this guy like I was salivating over baby back ribs at the Big Apple BBQ Festival last Sunday.
Langerhans knows how to work a count and his career 13 percent BB Percentage is pretty good. However, he can’t do anything else. He’s like a poor man’s Jonny Gomes, but with more athletic ability.
Langerhans has a slash line of .173/.317/.346 in 64 PAs this season, which isn’t too far off from his career slash line. He’s a classic fourth OF.
Saunders is a promising 24-year-old, but hasn’t shown much at the major league level over the course of 608 plate appearances. His career slash line is .203/.270/.318. Saunders appears to be headed towards fourth outfielder status as well.
The Mariners signed Gutierrez to a four-year, $20.25 million contract extension last January, so it’s his job to lose. He also has a $7.5 million club option for 2014.
As long as Gutierrez continues to play stellar defense, he’ll be worth the value of his contract. But the Mariners are offensively challenged in many positions, so if Gutierrez can ever return to his 2009 form, I am sure it would be greatly appreciated by the Seattle brass.
The Mariners also have Greg Halman, who has done very well when give the chance with the big club this season. He’s batting .409/.409/.636 with one HR in 29 PAs this season. However, despite his power and ability to play a major league center field, one has to wonder if he will be able to hit on a consistent basis at the major league level.
*Stats were compiled prior to Thursday’s games