Four Factors: Carlos Gonzalez

Previous Four Factors Entries:
Joe Morgan
Brennan Boesch
Martin Prado

After dealing with some current events over the last couple of days, we’re back with another entry in the Four Factors series, this time a request: Colorado Rockies uber-outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. Gonzalez is in his third season in the majors, and this is the first in which he will likely approach 600 plate appearances. Even in limited duty, though, Gonzalez has posted 5.2 WAR in just under 1000 plate appearances. His glove has always been solid, but his bat has really taken off in the last two seasons. In just under 700 plate appearances between 2009 and 2010, Gonzalez has slugged 30 home runs and posted a .377 wOBA. Let’s examine his progression through the four factors of hitting.

As a reminder, the four factors are BB%, K%, POW, and BABIP. As Julien Headley pointed out, I was using an incorrect form of POW. I was using XB/H instead of XB/(AB-K). The latter actually measures XB on balls in play, including HRs. League average is currently .185.

First, Gonzalez’s 2008, with Oakland:

Two thousand and eight was a poor season by basically any measure. Gonzalez excelled at nothing, and only a solid BABIP kept it from being a complete failure. He showed little discipline and little contact, and when he did make contact, nothing much came of it. The result was a 69 wRC+, showing little potential, and this season likely resulted in his inclusion into the Matt Holliday trade, sending him to Colorado for the 2009 season.

Everything came together for Gonzalez in 2009. The walk rate nearly came up to average; his power spiked; his strikeouts fell a bit, and, to top it all off, Gonzalez had good results on balls in play. The particularly striking factor here is Gonzalez’s power, rising from 86% of league average to 173% of league average. It’s important to remember that Gonzalez moved from McAfee Coliseum to Coors Field- a pitcher’s park to a hitter’s park. According to Statcorner’s park factors, however, Oakland isn’t as tough on left handed batters as it is on righties, and Coors doesn’t help lefties as much as it helps righties, making the boost in power much more significant, although the small sample means, at this point in Gonzalez’s career, it must be regressed heavily.

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. Cutting down on the strikeouts each of the last two seasons has helped mitigate that damage, although not as much as an unsustainable .360 BABIP disguises the issues.

Over all, Gonzalez’s more controllable skills have gone down this year. Obviously, half a season can only tell us so much, but without a walk rate rebound in the second half we would have to expect a drop in Gonzalez’s offensive production, and even 980 plate appearances into his career, there is still moderate regression necessary on his power. At this point, however, it looks like he indeed has more than enough power to be an above average hitter, and as a good defensive outfielder, that makes him an extremely valuable asset going forward, and good enough to earn him a spot on Dave’s honorable mentions for highest trade value in the league.

(Note on POW: I’m not sure if I like XB/H or XB/(SO-AB) better for this exercise, but the difference isn’t huge in this case. I’m not sure if I like the idea of equating an out to a single, as XB/(SO-AB) does, and I may want to take outs out of the equation. For now, though, I trust Julien, the creator of the statistic.)

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Jack Moore's work can be seen at VICE Sports and anywhere else you're willing to pay him to write. Buy his e-book.

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