We’ve seen names like Francisco Lindor, Yonder Alonso, and, of course, Josh Donaldson associated with the fly-ball revolution constantly. But one of the most underrated breakouts of 2017 has come from the launch-angle craze: Marwin Gonzalez.
If you were familiar with him before 2017, it was almost certainly because of his defensive versatility. Gonzalez has never been much of a force, but the ability to play the entire infield and outfield corner spots earned him consistent playing time in the past. He’s no longer lacking in the offensive department.
Gonzalez is slashing .302/.371/.531 and has more than doubled his 2016 walk rate, while keeping his strikeout rates steady, en route to a 142 wRC+. Names like Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, and Josh Reddick are the first that come to mind with the Astros. But Gonzalez ranks 3rd in batting average, 2nd in wOBA, and 2nd in wRC+. He leads one of the best offenses in major-league history in runs batted in, despite six players having more plate appearances.
Here is his exit velocity and launch angle by year, stretching back to 2015 (when Statcast started measuring):
|Year||Avg. Exit Velo||Launch Angle|
Gonzalez has seen a massive uptick in his launch angle this season, and, like the other successful members of the launch-angle increase, has seen a massive uptick in power. With 23 home runs, he has ten more than last season.
Interestingly, with the home-run increase, Gonzalez has increased his use of all fields. His Oppo% is up to 25% from 18% in 2016. But only two home runs have been to the opposite field (he’s a switch hitter, so a basic spray chart won’t show this). He’s displaying the ability to turn on the balls he can crush and adapting better to the ones he cannot.
Just Monday night, September 25th, Gonzalez put this on full display in a four-hit night against the Texas Rangers. Here’s a two-run single:
Gonzalez gets low and adapts to the pitch location, sending it straight back up the middle. Now here he is, a couple at-bats later:
Gonzalez sees a pitch he can hit hard, and does just that, obliterating this ball (sending it 443 feet at 108.1 mph, exactly).
Using all fields while maintaining pull power is a hard skill to master, but one Gonzalez has mastered no less. He has mastered hitting the balls well that he can hit well. His 19 line-drive base hits are tied for 24th in the league, but his 19.8% LD% ranks 98th. He is 287th in average ground-ball exit velocity at 82.3, but 110th in average line-drive/fly-ball exit velocity at 93.9 mph. This is likely what skews his xwOBA-wOBA numbers, which peg him for a much less impressive performance. He’s not hitting everything harder, but he is hitting what he should hit hard harder. And with the increased launch angle, he’s only hitting more and more line drives and fly balls.
Gonzalez has stayed out of the national spotlight despite being one of the most consistent and best players on the league’s best offense. Don’t be surprised to see him explode in the national spotlight.