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Destroyer of Worms

Last season with the Royals he hit 63.4% ground balls, and with the Orioles he hit 56.5% ground balls.

Kelvin Gutierrez in spring training.
Kelvin Gutierrez in spring training.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Rarely, if ever, do I throw out vegetables. Yes, I eat a lot of vegetables, but that’s not the reason. There are many reasons. They are my noble compost worms. I have a worm bin in my back yard under a palm tree. When vegetables turn brown, or even start to mold, they go into the bin for the grateful compost worms.

What does that have to do with baseball? Here’s the story. It starts with my concern for the Diamondbacks performance at third base. When the heir apparent, Josh Rojas, was injured prior to opening day, I wrote about who could play third base. And I asked for suggestions. I tip my hat to Xerostomia for mentioning Jose Ramirez as a possible trade acquisition. On 5 April, the Guardians signed him to a 5 year, $124 Million extension.

Strangely my research of him led me in a different direction to Kelvin Gutierrez. My curiosity was unstoppable when I read this SB Nation article that called Kelvin Gutierrez “The Destroyer of Worms.”

He is absolutely powerful enough to make strong contact, and moreover he is already doing so, just seemingly with the intention of turning worms into an endangered species along the way. — Matthew LaMar

Let’s look at Kelvin Gutierrez, Destroyer of Worms.

Do you remember when Isaiah Burrows wrote for the AZ Snake Pit? His last piece was posted in August 2021 when he wrote that he was moving on to other opportunities. Finding his scouting report was like finding a lost friend! In August of 2021 it included great, blah, and ugly. Great was his defense: above average fielding instincts & range coupled with his powerful and accurate arm. Blah was his hitting: glimpses of in-game pop, searching for more. Ugly was his below average run skill: slow and lack of athleticism. He rated Gutierrez as emergency depth.

Another view is Gutierrez hides his athleticism (surprisingly athletic per Alex Cuvall). He may be surprisingly speedy, too. In 2021 he entered a game as a pinch runner, he stole second base on a wild pitch, he advanced to third on a grounder, and he stole home on a wild pitch.

In July of 2021, the Royals DFA’d Kelvin Gutierrez so they could call up Emmanuel Rivera, a bat-first third baseman with below average mobility and range per this SB Nation article. The Orioles acquired the DFA’d Kelvin Gutierrez. Let’s see how that move worked out by comparing Gutierrez with the Orioles to Rivera with the Royals.

  • Gutierrez hit better (82 OPS+ vs 76 OPS+)
  • Gutierrez defended third base better (+5 OAA in 358.2 innings vs negative 3 OAA in 222.1 innings)

Why is Gutierrez the Destroyer of Worms? Although his sometimes powerful contact played a role, his power was not the reason. The leading reason was his standout high percentage of ground balls. Last season with the Royals he hit 63.4% ground balls. That’s impressive! Last season with the Orioles, he hit 56.5% groundballs (better but still very high).

Instead of less groundballs, my view is line drives explained his batting improvement with the Orioles. His line drives increased from 19% to 25% of balls in play. That was huge because his wOBA was better for line drives than ground balls (.830 wOBA vs .254 wOBA).

This season, Kelvin Gutierrez made the opening-day 28-man roster! Although he remains a defense-first third baseman, his batting split is something the Diamondbacks are looking for. His batting was better against left handed pitchers (.709 OPS vs .569 OPS in 2021). My view is he will exceed expectations!

“A good year for Gutiérrez probably looks like a batting average over .250 and solid defense at third. Expectations aren’t great.” — Harrison Jozwiak

Which Diamondbacks are top candidates for Destroyer of Worms?

Although not a candidate, honors go to Carson Kelly for his 31.9% grounder percentage which was the lowest in 2021 (10 BIPs minimum). Not bad!

Looking at balls in play (Baseball Savant) two current Diamondbacks had top percentages of grounders in 2021. Highest was Jake McCarthy with 59.5% grounders. Second highest was David Peralta with 54.9% grounders.

In a recent roundtable, David Peralta was my breakout candidate. Perhaps saving worms is a significant benefit of his breakout. In the first 3 games of this season, his percentage of grounders was 17%. Although it’s a very small sample size, it appears his percentage of ground balls is tremendously lower.

David Peralta is my breakout candidate. And more germane is that he likely reduced his groundball percentage. Perhaps my compost worms whispered that he is their favorite Diamondback. Stanger things have happened.