Monday, April 27, 2009

Don't get mad, get Wlad

Welcome back, Tad.  And welcome back me.  I posted a fair amount last season, but stopped midseason as the Mariners hit rock bottom and my interest in curling exceeded that of baseball - and the only thing I know about curling is that it's essentially goofy-looking shuffleboard on ice.

I will be shocked if this team wins more than 75 games this year, hot start notwithstanding.  However, I like the direction Jackie Z has taken the club.  The puke-inducing, dumster-diving Bavasi days are over.  Dice rolling no longer rules the decision-making process.  Emphasis on the less "sexy" aspects of the game has come to the forefront, not the least of which is defense.

Despite Seattle ranking near the bottom in fielding percentage, there are sophisticated metrics presently available that demonstrate Zduriencik has put together a very nice defensive team.  Here's one of them:

On this chart, the M's are currently near the top in UZR, which is defined as follows:

UZR (ultimate zone rating): The number of runs above or below average a fielder is in both range runs, outfield arm runs, double play runs and error runs combined.

I don't pretend to be an expert in this statistic, or whether or not it is valid.  However, if so (and assuming it holds up), it helps to validate Zduriencik's team-building approach.  

Ok, so what the heck does this have to do with the thread title?

Franklin Gutierrez was picked up in the J.J. Putz trade and has been a significant part of the defensive improvement for the M's during the early part of this year.  He's got a good glove, solid wheels and seems to pick the right route to the ball, unlike the circuitous misadventures of a certain former M's outfielder.  He's probably a great guy in the clubhouse and maybe even smells nice, too.  He has a significant role to play on this club, without a doubt.

However, his bat might as well be made out of milk chocolate.  I realize that he's just 26, but when you're coming off a .248/.303/.691 season after logging a career high 399 ABs, you'd better be good defensively.  Couple that with similarly "meh" stats in parts of three previous MLB seasons and good-but-not-great stats in the minors, and it seems clear that you might be destined to be an outfield version of Willie Bloomquist.  Pinch-running, late-inning replacement in the field, and spot starting might make more sense for Mr. Gutierrez, long term.

Wladmir Balentien, by contrast, displayed multi-tool talent in the minors, smacking 24 homers in his first PCL campaign, then 18 in just 275 AB's in his second.  Slugging was .509 and .584, respectively, and OPS was .871 and .938.  He even stole 15 bases (against four caught stealing) in 2007.  His previous lower-level minors stats look pretty zesty, too.  He doesn't hit for high average, but the boy can get on base, drive in runs, and has above-average power.  It's time to see if he can do it in the Show as well.

Balentien had slightly sprained his wrist early in the year and thus was not available.  Now that he's healthy, he needs to be given a chance to see what he can do.  This M's team is going to scratch and claw for runs all year long.  If Balentien is the real deal, he could give them a dose of what they need offensively and actually make Gutierrez more valuable as a true role player in the process.


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