Why the Astros should stay away from Carlos Gonzalez
The Astros are reportedly interested in another outfielder. A contract may have already been offered.
Let me be blunt for a moment: the Astros should not sign Carlos Gonzalez.
Houston should not sign the veteran outfielder.
Our own Eric Huysman did touch base on the rumor involving the Astros offering a contract to Gonzalez. And I am bit confused why Houston would make Gonzalez an offer.
That said, I have been a fan of Gonzalez for quite some time. In his prime, well, Gonzalez was a driving force in the Rockies’ lineup along with Troy Tulowitzki.
Back in 2013.
This is 2018.
Gonzalez has often been cited as one of the better sluggers in baseball since his breakout season in 2010. And that is correct. The longtime Rockie outfielder had five consecutive seasons from 2009 through 2013 with a wRC+ better than 115. Gonzalez also has 215 career home runs. You don’t hit that many home runs without some talent.
Alas, Gonzalez is not the same hitter he was even just three years ago.
This most recent season, 2017, saw Gonzalez struggle at the plate like never before. For example, the 32-year old in 534 plate appearances hit just 14 home runs. Gonzalez’s isolated power also plummeted to .162. For context sake, Gonzalez posted a .269 isolated power in 2015 when he slugged 40 home runs. Not to mention that his wRC+ plummeted to 84 last year.
One aspect of Gonzalez’s game to improve in 2017 was his walk rate, which jumped from 7.3% in 2016 to 10.5% last year. Thanks to this increased walk rate, his on-base percentage didn’t suffer much as it dropped from .350 to .339 in the same time frame.
Listen to Talking Stros discuss the whole situation below.
The drop-off in its entirety, though, has been something else.
Believe it or not, but the veteran outfielder posted a higher defensive rating (-7.5) than offensive rating (-11.5) in 2017 per Fangraphs. The other times in Gonzalez’s career that he posted a higher defensive rating than his offensive rating was his debut season in 2008 with the Athletics and his injury-shortened 2014 season.
If you jump over to Baseball Savant and the Statcast data, you can search by expected wOBA minus actual wOBA based on the batted ball data. This data is one reason why Marwin Gonzalez has been viewed as a potential regression candidate in 2018. Focusing back on Gonzalez, the outfielder placed 99th out of all hitters with at least 100 at-bats last season in xwOBA minus wOBA. His xwOBA last season was .302, and his actual wOBA was .334. Basic subtraction leads to a difference of .032. Once again, he came in 99th place, so this difference isn’t outrageous. It is worth noting, however.
The struggles of Gonzalez appear to be linked to his lower fly ball percentage. This, in turn, is obviously connected to home runs as they fly balls by nature. And in 2017, Gonzalez’s fly ball percentage dropped to 31.7%. With today’s home run environment in Coors Field, this is quite frankly surprising.
The answer may actually lie in the launch angle of Gonzalez. For example, his launch angle in 2017 was 6.1 degrees. In 2016? A launch angle of 8.6 degrees. In 2015, Gonzalez posted a launch angle of 8.1 degrees. While his groundball rate per Fangraphs hasn’t fluctuated greatly, his line drive rate has increased. In conjunction with a slightly higher than usual groundball rate, it is understandable to see why Gonzalez’s power has dried up. Regarding home runs, anyway. The launch angle could be the, or one, or one of the culprits.
Lastly, the offensive performance away from Coors Field has been troubling.
Regarding wRC+ in 2017, Gonzalez was clearly a better hitter (111 wRC+) at home than on the road (57 wRC+). Along with the noticeable decrease in wRC+, Gonzalez’s strikeout rate jumped nearly nine percent on the road in comparison to home.
For his career, Gonzalez has a 95 wRC+ on the road. That’s just a hair below average. And while his overall fly ball rate is roughly the same for his career at home and the road, Gonzalez has seen more of his fly balls go into the stands at home (21.8% HR/FB) than the road (15.1% HR/FB). The park effect at Coors Field is still work-in-progress for me, but there is no doubt that it does factor into Gonzalez’s performance.
The Astros are interested in a 32-year old outfielder who is coming off a bad season as a hitter. Traditionally, Gonzalez’s outfield defense hasn’t been anything to write home about. If the launch angle and hitting mechanics are truly the root cause of Gonzalez’s issues at the plate, then I concede that there could be value there. And left field in Minute Maid Park isn’t exactly a terror for outfielders unless there is a wicked bounce off the wall.
As I said, there could possibly be value in Gonzalez.
At the same time, any contract better be a short-term one. If Gonzalez ends up as an Astro, this will likely take away playing time from Derek Fisher in 2018. I’m not keen on that idea. In fact, you can’t help but wonder about Kyle Tucker‘s potential debut in 2018 if he continues to impress in the minors. I do understand that 2019 is the likely debut timetable for Tucker, but it isn’t entirely outlandish for think the 2018 season could be an option.
Next: A look at Astros potential Opening Day pitching staff
In a way, Gonzalez could fill the role of Carlos Beltran in 2017. The only difference could be Gonzalez playing the field more than Beltran. The Astros are much smarter than I am, and likely have an idea what plagued Gonzalez specifically in 2017. If it is accurate that the franchise did offer him a contract, well, general manager Jeff Luhnow and the coaching staff must feel confident that Gonzalez could be fixed. I’m just not sure that I would sign him. Let’s see what happens next.
**Statistics and information courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Savant**