Colorado Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez has been a popular subject around these parts lately. First, Gonzalez just missed making Dave Cameron’s list of the 50 players with the highest trade value in the game. As a plus defender with power who won’t reach arbitration until after the 2011 season, Gonzalez has considerable appeal. Here’s what Cameron said about him:
There aren’t many guys who can play a legit center field and hit the baseball a long way, but Gonzalez brings both skills to the table. Unfortunately, the rest of the game isn’t quite as refined, and his approach at the plate is a problem. His aggressiveness can and will be used against him, and when pitchers adjust, he’ll need to as well.
Jack Moore used his “Four Factors” to break down Gonzalez’s offensive game. While noting CarGo’s ability to drive the ball and praising his wide array of skills, Moore also voiced concern about the 24-year-old’s plate approach:
Two thousand and ten showed more of the same on the power front, certainly an encouraging sign for Rockies fans. But Gonzalez’s BB% has dipped back to where it was in Oakland, which is obviously disappointing after the 2009 season, as his minor league track record – no extended stints with double digit walk rates – doesn’t particularly suggest an ability to walk at a high rate, and this start to 2010 is dashing some of the hopes that Gonzalez’s on-base skills would approach average.
Today, I want to take a closer look at Gonzalez’s offense over the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Last year, Gonzalez began the season by annihilating pitchers at Triple-A Colorado Springs — in 223 plate appearances in the PCL, he batted .339/.418/.630. Gonzalez walked 9.9 percent of the time and boasted a .292 ISO. Despite taking his cuts in a favorable hitting environment, his major league equivalent line was .281/.343/.474, according to Minor League Splits.
Once Gonzalez reached Colorado, he authored a .284/.353/.525 triple-slash in 317 PA, with a 125 wRC+. In addition to posting a .241 Isolated Power, CarGo walked in 8.8 percent of his trips to the plate (his unintentional walk rate was 7.9 percent). This season, it looks as though Gonzalez picked up where he left off — his wRC+ is 126 in 347 PA. But, as his .314/.346/.532 line suggests, the distribution of that production has shifted. He’s still lashing lots of extra-base hits (.218 ISO), but his walk rate has dipped to 4.6 percent (3.5 percent unintentional walk rate).
Compared to last season, Gonzalez is chasing more pitches thrown off the plate and going after more in-zone offerings as well. His first pitch strike percentage was around average (58-59 percent) in 2009, but it has climbed in 2010:
Courtesy of Dave Allen, here are Gonzalez’s swing contours over the 2009 and 2010 seasons. The dotted line indicates CarGo’s 50% swing contour — in other words, inside the contour his swing rate is greater than 50% and outside it is less. Same deal with the solid line, which is his 75% swing contour — he swings more than 75% of the time a pitch is thrown within that area, and swings outside of it less. The black lines represent Gonzalez in ’09, and the purple lines are Gonzalez this season.
Both his 50% and 75% swing contours have expanded considerably in 2010, particularly on low pitches. When an opponent throws him something below the knees, Gonzalez goes golfing.
So far, Gonzalez’s hacking hasn’t hurt him — the drop in walks has been offset by a spike in BABIP (.333 in ’09, .360 this year). While he has a history of high BABIP marks in the minors (.344 since 2005, per Minor League Splits), .360 probably isn’t sustainable. Gonzalez’s expected BABIP, which is based on his number of home runs, strikeouts, stolen bases, line drives, fly balls, pop ups and ground balls, is .340.
Every team in the majors would love to have a fly catcher with Gonzalez’s present talent and even higher ceiling. But if he’s going to keep up this sort of pace offensively, he might want to leave the nine iron in his bag and show a little more restraint at the plate.
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