Astros News

Was Astros’ Marwin Gonzalez a One-Year Wonder?

rsweeney
HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 04: Marwin Gonzalez
HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 04: Marwin Gonzalez /
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Astros super-utility player Marwin Gonzalez is a living, breathing trivia bonanza.

Who was the first player general manager Jeff Luhnow acquired after being hired by the Houston Astros? Marwin Gonzalez

Who led the 2017 World Champion Houston Astros in RBI? Gonzalez

Which Astro hit the series-changing home run in game 2 of the 2017 World Series? Yep, you guessed it: Gonzalez

No shortage of unheralded Astros impacted their championship season, from Mike Fiersspectacular twelve starts in early summer to Jake Marisnick mowing down the Yankees right up to game seven hero, Charlie Morton, permanently carving a place in Astros’ lore.

But no player broke out quite like Gonzalez.

He went from a dependable if unspectacular, role player to a borderline superstar. By every available measure, Gonzalez’s bat erupted in 2017. A career 2.1 fWAR in his first five seasons, Gonzalez totaled 4.0 fWAR in 2017 alone, posting a career-high wOBA (.382), wRC+ (144), and OPS (.907, which bested every other Astro not named Altuve or Correa).

Gonzalez would credit separate changes to both his left- and right-handed swings as the key driver behind his ascension, augmented by greater plate discipline and, like many current players, a greater focus on hitting the ball in the air. And sure enough, a deeper dive into Gonzalez’s 2017 season showed a more patient batter hitting more fly balls.

Gonzalez’s strikeout rate fell from 22% the previous two seasons to 19% last year. His swings at pitches outside the strike zone decreased, too, from 36% in 2015 and 2016 to just 29%. Unsurprisingly, Gonzalez’s increased patience led to more walks; after totaling 55 the previous three seasons combined, Gonzalez drew 49 in 2017 alone as his on-base percentage exploded from .293 all the way to .377.

Given his frigid start to this season (.164/.277/.273; .550 OPS), it’s understandable if fans are starting to wonder (wonder? More like worry, amirite?) that Gonzalez’s 2017 season was a one-year fluke.

Unlikely.

While Gonzalez has seen his strikeouts spike back to his 2016 career-high level of 23%, he’s also seen his walk rate explode, up +4% from his career-high of 10% last year. And he’s continuing to not swing at pitches outside the strikeout zone (just 27% so far). At his current pace, if Gonzalez totals 515 plate appearances again this year as he did last year, he’ll obliterate his career high in walks.

And while his fly ball rate is down slightly (34%), it’s still higher than any previous season before ’17. His exit velocity remains steady (87.5 MPH average this year; 87.7 MPH last year) while his launch angle has slightly increased (12.2 degrees this year; it was 9.1 last year)

Peripherally, everything looks a lot like last year. So what’s changed?

Luck.

Gonzalez’s career batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .311 has plummeted to .200 thus far this season. Whenever there’s a drop in BABIP that drastic, it usually means a player has been plain ol’ unlucky.

And that’s good news because it means Gonzalez will likely see an overall seismic increase in his productivity once those balls that are currently finding more gloves than grass start to find holes and break his way with greater frequency.

Next: Astros: Three Players Trending Up Following A Rough Stretch

And if Gonzalez does rebound in 2018 – maybe he’ll continue to be terrific trivia fodder.

Which Astro did fans write-off in 2018 before he exploded with an All-Star worthy second half?

***Stats from Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference***

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