Mysterious CarGo

Gonzalez starting his swing before he even knows where the pitch will be. (Icon/SMI)

If Jose Bautista ranks first, then Carlos Gonzalez is a close second for hitters with the most surprising season in 2010. In his first full season, CarGo (as he is sometimes referred to) compiled numbers that make up a fantasy line for the ages. In 636 plate appearances, Gonzalez managed to score 111 runs, blast 34 home runs, drive in 117, swipe 26 bases and hit an NL-leading .336. If that type of production doesn’t satiate you then you must be insatiable.

Those numbers are even more appealing because they were so accessible, requiring, at the earliest, probably a fifth round pick, and around a ninth rounder if you were especially lucky. Fantasy baseballers are a quick bunch though, and CarGo’s services won’t come cheaply in 2011. In all likelihood he will be gone by the end of the first round in most drafts, and will be a 40+ dollar bid for all you auctioneers out there. If it was guaranteed that I’d be getting those same numbers again, I’d happily spend my first round pick or 40-something auction dollars for his services. However that is far from guaranteed.

First off, striking out in 23 percent of your plate appearances is not the path to sustaining a .330+ batting average. Making his average possible was a .384 BABIP, which exceeds his xBABIP of .344 by 40 points. A degree of regression should be expected next year, but even with his sub-par contact ability, CarGo is capable of batting in the .310s given his speed and line drive-hitting capabilities.

As with most players who experience jumps in power, common opinion is that CarGo will not continue to be a 30+ home run hitter. Still, in 953 PAs with the Rockies he has hit 47 home runs—or one in every 20 plate appearances. His HR/FB rate was an elite 20.4 percent, so if you feel inclined to regress that down to around 16 percent, he would still hit around 27 home runs. And if he sacrifices average by hitting more flyballs, that number could easily jump above 30 again. It is impossible to predict large swings in home run totals given the data available, so while it is possible CarGo drops to 15 homers for the year or explodes to mash 40, the most reasonable estimate is still somewhere around 25. For someone who doesn’t impress with his power first, a mid-20s total as a conservative estimate is commendable.

Last year (yup, 2010 is last year already) the number of bags CarGo swiped was 26, a number that is likely to remain unchanged in 2011. Given his place in the heart of the Rockies lineup, his run and RBI totals should approach the 100 mark again. There is no question CarGo is an across the board producer and when everything clicks like it did in 2010, he can be the most valuable fantasy asset. The question is where are you willing to take this heralded free-swinger?

CarGo seems destined to be a late-first round pick, which in many cases means taking him above more established players such as Robinson Cano or Ryan Braun. The easy stance to take is to let some other daydream believer in your league take him, then laugh when he spits out a .280 batting average with 20 homers and steals. Despite his (lack of) plate discipline, I enjoy believing he can continue to be a happy-go-lucky free-swinger who hacks his way to a high average and decent home run totals.

Thinking rationally though, you are better off with David Wright or Carl Crawford more times than not.

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Thoughts on CarGo’s ridiculous home/road splits last year, and do you see any regression at home? It is almost inevitable no? I just can’t get past the feeling he will be an overdraft in R1 next year. I think low to middle third is a comfort pick for me. Of course CarGo is going to be kept as a R9 keeper, so no dice for me next year…