Injury-riddled down the stretch run, this Houston Astros team was held together by gum, duct tape, and Marwin Gonzalez.
Marwin Gonzalez made his big league debut with the Houston Astros in 2012 as a utility infielder. He spent most of his time trading time at shortstop with Jed Lowrie with occasional appearances at second and third base in 80 games. His plate appearances have continued to rise every year since then: 219, 222, 285, 344, 484 from 2012 to 2016 respectively.
As recently as three years ago Gonzalez was thought to be just above replacement level (.4 WAR in 2012 and 2013 combined), with his roster spot always facing contention from Jonathan Villar. Villar is now a Milwaukee Brewer while Gonzalez played in more games in 2016 than every Houston starter excluding George Springer, Jose Altuve, and Carlos Correa.
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Every Day Asset
Gonzalez hit for a .254 average with 13 home runs and 26 doubles in 2016. His .694 OPS was rather pedestrian and while he set a career high in walks (22), he also set a career-high in strikeouts (118), and double plays hit into (16).
He also had his fair share of durability issues throughout the season. Gonzalez had some scary moments in the batters box, fouling pitches off his ankles on multiple occasions. Then he was sidelined for several days in early September with a nagging hamstring. It looked like the grind of everyday baseball was wearing him down.
“The Glue” that held the team together
The versatile Venezuelan ballplayer played six different defensive positions in 2016. He failed to make an appearance in just right field, as a pitcher, and behind the plate. It wasn’t uncommon to see Gonzalez switch gloves midway through a game and move across the infield or out to the outfield, depending on the situation at hand. Gonzalez’ ability to play just about everywhere gave manager A.J. Hinch tremendous flexibility late in games.
"“Just a really good player to have [if you have to] troubleshoot, because not only can he play the eight different positions, he can play them very well. There aren’t very many players that can handle that kind of responsibility and be good at it, so I’m very thankful that he’s on our club.”– AJ Hinch on Marwin Gonzalez"
“Not only can he play eight different positions, but he can also play them very well,” remarked Hinch after an 8-4 win over the Texas Rangers on September the 15th on a night where Gonzalez played three positions. A player that is versatile enough to play anywhere like Gonzalez is certainly one of the more undervalued assets among baseball front offices.
Looking to the Future
The 27-year old took at least one at bat in every spot in the lineup except for cleanup. But he saw his most at-bats hitting second in the lineup. When he wasn’t hitting second, he saw more or less equal time hitting fifth, sixth, or seventh. American League hitters in the second spot in the order hit a combined .266 this season with a .757 OPS. Gonzalez’ production fits more in line with AL batters hitting eight, who held a .244/.307/.388 slash line compared to Gonzalez’ .254/.293/.401.
If the Astros intend to be a contending team, then Gonzalez would seem to fit best on their roster coming off the bench pinch hitting or as a defensive replacement (career .982 FLD %). This year, he was a staple in the Astros every day lineup, which brought some stability. Hopefully next year we’ll see him more sparingly. This would allow him to give Houston the flexibility late in games that few other teams in baseball can boast. Good or bad, Gonzalez is a special ball player.
***Statistics from Baseball Reference and Fangraphs ***