The Decline of Carlos Gonzalez: Star Player

It’s tough to admit that time has begun to pass you by. This is how we end up with middle-aged woman wearing Phat Farm sneakers at the mall or that 60-year-old dude who only shoots threes and never gets back on defense playing basketball at the rec with the college kids every day. And, hey, I’m not here to judge those folks. Matter of fact, I respect the hell out of them. The old dude can really splash and the mom just values her children’s opinion and wants their adoration. I’m sure she’s a wonderful parent, albeit one with a very questionable fashion sense. At the end of the day, it comes down to whatever makes you happy, and if wearing Phat Farm sneakers or being the local wellness center’s version of Mike Miller is what makes you happy, then do it up!

Take the Rockies, for example. Following Tuesday’s acquisition of Gerardo Parra, it’s a near-certainty that the Rockies will be trading an outfielder. The most probable outfielder to be moved is Carlos Gonzalez, at least if the rumors we’ve heard over the last year-plus are any indication. And so if they want to ask for two top-100 prospects in exchange for Gonzalez, then, sure, more power to ’em! If that’s what makes them happy. They’re never going to get two top-100 prospects for Carlos Gonzalez, but there’s no harm in hoping.

There used to be a time when Gonzalez would have commanded two top-100 prospects or better. From 2010 to -13, Gonzalez was a top-25 hitter and a top-25 overall position player, according to WAR. He was a legitimate star. He hit both lefties and righties, he ran the bases well, he was a lock for 20 homers as well as for 20 steals, and the defense graded out fine in the corners. The only thing that ever kept from CarGo from elevating himself from star to superstar status was that he had trouble staying on the field. When he wasn’t hurt, though, there weren’t many better than CarGo.

Thing about injuries, though, is that they’ll take a toll on you quick. Gonzalaz fractured his right wrist way back in the minors, and in 2011, it started hurting again, sending him to the disabled list. The next year it was a hamstring. Then it was a finger sprain in his right hand, then a tumor on his left hand the following year that required surgical removal. The big one came later in 2014 — left knee surgery to repair a torn patellar tendon. Gonzalez remained mostly healthy in 2015, aside from the occasional day off due to “tired legs,” “right knee discomfort,” “sprained left hand,” or the ever-present “flu-like symptoms.” But these last couple years, after the hand surgery and the knee surgery, Gonzalez hasn’t looked like himself.

Two Versions of Carlos Gonzalez
Years PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ HR* SB* BsR* Def* WAR*
2010-13 2193 .311 .370 .556 134 30 24 4.7 -4.9 4.4
2014-15 889 .260 .314 .505 104 34 3 0.2 -9.7 1.3
*HR, SB, BsR, Def and WAR figures prorated to 600 PA season

The power is still there, but at the expense of more than 50 points of average and on-base percentage. Even with 51 homers over his last 889 plate appearances, Gonzalez has barely been a league-average hitter, due his home park inflating home run totals. Gonzalez is striking out more, and walking less. There’s an argument to be made for BABIP influencing some of the on-base decline — it was .358 from 2010-13 and just .284 the last two years. But there’s also an argument to be made for Gonzalez’s true-talent BABIP having declined — we know that BABIP doesn’t age well, and there’s evidence that Gonzalez has been compromised physically in his rapidly declining stolen base, baserunning and defense numbers. Where Gonzalez used to run a speed score between six (“great”) and seven (“excellent”), it’s been between three (“poor”) and four-and-a-half (“average”) the last two years.

The Gonzalez who gets on base, runs and plays just slightly below-average defense, along with the power, is a four-win player. A star. The Gonzalez who no longer gets on base, and can’t run, and has become an actual liability in the field is just a guy with power. One who’s expensive and now on the wrong side of 30, and who still represents an injury risk.

So, there’s all that, and then there’s this other thing that could really scare teams away from Gonzalez. There’s been another change in CarGo’s game the last couple years, a sudden and drastic change, and it’s the kind of change that turns someone in from a useful, everyday player to a strictly-platoon guy:

Largest Platoon Splits, 2014-15
Name wRC+ v sR wRC+ v sL DIF
Darin Ruf 23 183 160
Adam Lind 146 32 114
Alejandro De Aza 116 15 101
Carlos Gonzalez 133 33 100
Ryan Raburn 28 127 99
Enrique Hernandez 89 187 98
Jake Smolinski 61 154 93
Chris Johnson 56 148 92
Emilio Bonifacio 43 132 89
David Peralta 143 62 81
Minimum 100 PA vs. both lefties and righties

These last couple years, Gonzalez has been one of the very worst hitters against same-handed pitching in all of baseball. You’ll notice the names on that list are entirely underwhelming, because it’s almost strictly bench/platoon guys, and then Carlos Gonzalez. Now, granted, it’s a sample of 258 plate appearances against lefties the last two years, so the 33 wRC+ needs to be regressed to the mean a bit. But the point here is that it needs to be regressed from 33. If you’re wondering what a 33 wRC+ looks like, it looks like a .211 batting average, a .233 on-base percentage, and a .333 slugging percentage with eight walks to 69 strikeouts.

Based on BaseballSavant’s strike zone,  lefties have thrown nearly two-thirds of all pitches to Gonzalez since 2013 outside of the strike zone, a Josh Hamilton-esque rate that ranks among the highest in baseball for same-handed batters. Gonzalez has chased 48% of those outside-the-zone pitches, the very highest rate in baseball and yes, that includes Hamilton. Gonzalez has become overaggressive to a fault against southpaws, flailing at breaking pitches away and looking completely overmatched.

It’s one thing for a player with Gonzalez’s stat line of the last two seasons to run a normal platoon split and be a useful, everyday player. When you do it the way Gonzalez has done it, though, you start wondering when he needs a platoon partner, and that’s the kind of thing that diminishes a player’s value immensely. Gonzalez used to be a legitimate star player, but that just can’t be the perception of him anymore. He doesn’t have the same speed he once had, and, as a result of that, he’s become something of a liability in the field. What’s more, though, is that he’s not getting on base enough, and he’s developed a terrifying problem against same-handed pitchers that drastically reduce his role on a roster. He still has his value — great power, he can still mash righties, and the it was just two years ago he was one of the best hitters in baseball. But Gonzalez is owed nearly $40 million over the next two seasons, and that’s a hefty price tag for what, in a worst-case scenario, could amount to a bat-only platoon player. There are reasons why Gonzalez rumors have persisted for more than a year and a trade has yet to be finalized. Perception is key.

We hoped you liked reading The Decline of Carlos Gonzalez: Star Player by August Fagerstrom!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs




August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

newest oldest most voted
kevinthecomic
Member
Member
kevinthecomic

I bet the D-backs would give up 2 top-100 prospects for him.

jruby
Member
Member
jruby

Probably. From Dave Stewart’s point of view, he’d be giving up two guys he probably signed for $2 mil combined for a guy who’s gonna get $40 mil next year. It’s a $38 million dollar net gain for Arizona!

jpg
Member
jpg

All jokes aside, somebody will give up a package of good prospects for CarGo. And I could see them getting the top 100 prospects they’re looking for if they pay down a large chunk of the contract. He’s 30 years old coming off of a 40 HR season. Nelson Cruz is essentially an older version of the same guy – awful defender, injury prone, mediocre on base skills – and he got a fat multiyear deal to play the outfield, no less. At least CarGo, unlike Cruz, is pretty young and provides value with his legs when healthy even though he’s not base stealing threat anymore. And he only has two years left on his deal. Cruz was a free agent and didn’t require assets being traded to get him so the dynamics are obviously a little different. But still, it shows that at least some teams value bat-only sluggers.

Personally, if I was a GM I’d go nowhere near him. But I could see a team that’s desperate for a big bat but unwilling to go five or six years for Cespedes or Upton being interested enough to ignore the red flags.

Westside guy
Member
Member
Westside guy

Did Jack Zduriencik get a new GM job?

jpg
Member
jpg

Give me a break. Dave Dombrowski gave Prince Fielder $200M+. Billy Beane gave Billy Butler, a bat only player, hit hits like a middle infielder and runs like a Molina an eight figure AAV. Chris Davis supposedly has $150M+ on the table. David Ortiz hasn’t had any issues getting paid. Edwin Encarnacion would get big money if he was on the market. Teams would be falling over themselves to offer Jose Abreu nine figures if he hit the market tomorrow.