M's use stats to reveal gems, such as Franklin Gutierrez
Gutierrez is a prime example of the type of hidden gems the Mariners are hoping to uncover with their fledgling department of statistical analysis. The department is overseen by Tony Blengino, and it has one full-time employee, four seasonal interns and two outside consultants.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Weeks before the new Mariners regime pulled off its first blockbuster trade last December, front-office assistant Tony Blengino ran some numbers for his boss.
The Mariners were figuring out who to pinpoint as potential trade targets and Blengino, a special assistant to general manager Jack Zduriencik, had his eye on an outfielder he'd been monitoring since the prospect was in the Dodgers' system several years back. So, he researched some defensive numbers on Franklin Gutierrez, then a struggling young right fielder for the Indians, using traditional statistics like outfield chances, as well as some more advanced modern ones like Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Revised Zone Rating (RZR).
"We knew who the kid was," Zduriencik said. "But the numbers Tony showed us really opened our eyes."
These days, Gutierrez is regarded as possibly the best defensive outfielder in baseball. Few players at any position in the majors have provided as much combined offensive and defensive value for as little in salary as the $455,000-earning native of Venezuela.
Gutierrez is a prime example of the type of hidden gems the Mariners are hoping to uncover with their fledgling department of statistical analysis. The department is overseen by Blengino, and it has one full-time employee, four seasonal interns and two outside consultants.
Besides Gutierrez, whose stats were researched just as the department was being formed, the numbers-crunching branch has played a key role in the acquisitions of both Endy Chavez and Ryan Langerhans. Going forward, the department will bring new assistant GM Jeff Kingston into the fold and look to possibly expand in size as it incorporates new technologies into its research.
"It's still evolving," Blengino said. "At this point, we're still watching to see what type of shape it's going to take."
Gutierrez first came on the radar of Blengino and Zduriencik when they were with a Brewers team looking to trade Richie Sexson. The Dodgers were one of two main trade destinations, and Gutierrez jumped out at them as they combed that team's system for potential returns.
Fast forward to last December, with Gutierrez trapped behind Grady Sizemore on Cleveland's depth chart at center field and about to get bumped from right field by a guy with better hitting numbers. The Mariners sensed they could secure a top prize.
"He was a hot prospect," Blengino said. "He was a high-profile prospect who didn't hit right away in the major leagues. And he defended at his second position, really. Because center field was his home. He'd go back home and play winter ball, he'd play center field.
"So, we knew, defensively we couldn't go wrong. And then we thought, there's a chance he'd hit."
Gutierrez did start hitting, for average and power, by June. He entered Saturday's game hitting .282 with a .763 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 18 home runs and 67 runs batted in.
But it's on the defensive side where he has been off-the-charts.
Gutierrez's score of 27.1 runs saved in the newfangled Ultimate Zone Rating stat is the best of any player in baseball by a huge margin.
He also is the leader in one of Blengino's preferred stats, Revised Zone Rating. The stat is split into two parts — identifying plays a fielder makes both inside and outside his specified zone of coverage. As of Saturday, Gutierrez led the majors with a .965 success rate on plays made inside his zone while also topping all-comers with another 112 plays outside of it.
Blengino said that while Gutierrez's plays made inside his zone indicate a high degree of "reliability," the plays outside his zone are something that can't be taught.
"At the skill positions, it's that highlight-film quality you see in him," Blengino said.
Gutierrez admits he doesn't know all that much about the new stats. But he's aware of all the accolades directed his way.
"You feel it," he said. "When you do something good, you can feel it. You hear people talking about it. Everybody talks about it. The coaches, your teammates, the media, everybody. So, it's a good feeling."
The Mariners get the bulk of their stats analysis from two people, longtime Mariners consultant Mat Olkin and newcomer Tom Tango. There is one full-time employee, Andrew Percival, in charge of advance scouting data.
Instead of having their scouts do advance-data compilation on teams they are about to play, the Mariners leave that to Percival and their four interns. They sit in what Blengino calls a "quiet and private area" of team offices and watch videotape of nearly every game played previously by Mariners opponents.
They break it down into various statistical components from there. A stat package is given to coaches before each series, while other evaluative information is passed on to the front office for trades or free-agent signings.
That frees up the team's scouts to work on other things while on the road. It also gives the Mariners potentially more information.
"With scouts, they're getting five days of information," Blengino said. "With our video guys, they're getting 162."
The team screened about 100 applicants for the four internships. They were quizzed on their ability to recognize the type of pitches seen on video and on their speed in breaking down data.
Three of the interns chosen had college baseball experience, while the other had worked for STATS Inc.
The addition this month of assistant GM Kingston, who did ample data integration work for the San Diego Padres, is expected to boost the department as well.
"He's got a real great [computer] systems background," Blengino said. "His systems experience and my analytical experience are going to work very well together."
Blengino cautioned that the department is not meant to replace the work of traditional scouts. Instead, it's merely a way to cross-check and verify information being gathered in the field and help the team operate more efficiently.
"It's one tool among the others we have," Blengino said. "But as we've already seen, it's something that, if we use it wisely, can bring good things to us."
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or email@example.com
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