Carlos Gonzalez burst onto the scene with his first full season in 2010 with a monster year, hitting .366/.376/.598 while clubbing 34 home runs and swiping 26 bases. Over the past two years, there seems to have been an overarching “What happened to Carlos Gonzalez?” sentiment in the general public. Part of it is the Rockies’ general futility, having not made the playoffs since 2009, the year before CarGo’s breakout season.
But why haven’t we heard much from Gonzalez, and why is he all of a sudden demolishing the baseball again and depositing home runs into the Coors Field bleachers at the most impressive rate of his still-young career? Well, let’s take a brief look at his triple-slash numbers, as well as his home runs and steals over the past three-plus seasons.
|2013 (69 gms)||.311||.386||.640||20||13|
Notice the abnormally high-average/low-on-base numbers in 2010. Meaning this: Gonzalez had a ton of hits, but not a lot of walks. In fact, CarGo’s 2010 walk rate was just 6.3%, easily the lowest in his career. His slugging percentage was the highest of his career in 2010 as well, as evidenced by the .598 mark and 34 home runs.
So what happened, and why did we forget about him? Despite Gonzalez’ .041 drop in average from 2010 to 2011, his on-base percentage only dropped .013. Teams pitched around him a little more beginning in 2011, but Gonzalez was also much more selective as a hitter. This trend continued in 2012, as his walk rate continued to climb, from 6.3% in 2010 to 8.9% in 2011, to 9.7% in 2012 and an 11.2% mark thus far in 2013.
So that’s part of it. Walks aren’t exciting and they never make highlight reels. Also, his home run and stolen base totals have slipped each year since 2010, all while his walk rose. This would be normal for a player in his early-thirties, but Gonzalez is still just 27 years old. While he has missed 17, 35, and 27 games over the past three seasons, he’s never spent more than three or four weeks on the disabled list in a season.
As Gonzalez has steadily improved his approach at the plate over the past three-plus seasons, the Rockies have steadily gotten worse, bottoming out at 64-98 with the third-worst record in the majors in 2012. Also contributing to Gonzalez’ improvement in walk rate is the lack of protection in the Rockies’ usually horrendous lineup, allowing opposing pitchers to approach Gonzalez as carefully as they please.
Of course, this is also why and how people have managed to overlook CarGo’s continued superstar performance, as a .312/.373/.561 line since 2010 is absolutely nothing to sneeze at. Nobody pays attention to solid players on bad teams that play in the middle of the country, which is more or less why Todd Helton was overlooked for quite some time.
In 2013, the Rockies were expected to be just as bad as their 64-98 record in the previous season. They’ve been a pleasant surprise to this point, with a 37-35 mark and tied for second place in the N.L. West with the San Diego Padres. The Rockies, however, have a +36 run differential, easily besting the Padres’ poor -14 number and the division-leading Arizona Diamondbacks‘ +14. In other words, the Rockies have been a legitimately good team through the first 2 1/2 months of the 2013 season.
But back to CarGo — he’s crushed 20 home runs to this point and is on pace to easily eclipse his previous career-best of 34 home runs in 2010. His fly ball rate has sky-rocketed to 41.3%, despite a career rate of 34.7%. He’s also converting an unsustainably-high number of those fly balls into home runs, at an insane 25.6% clip. When that number eventually comes back to earth, his home run total will even out ever so gradually. Of course, if he maintains his impressive walk rate of 11.2%, he’ll remain an elite hitter for the foreseeable future, whether or not he hits 35+ big flies per season.
While we’re at it, take one more quick look at the above table. Carlos Gonzalez already has 20 home runs and 13 stolen bases. We’ve only had four 40-40 seasons ever, the last one being Alfonso Soriano in 2006. He’s on pace, although the steals will need to see a small bump and we need to hope that his body doesn’t break down too much moving forward.
As for the Rockies….hardly anyone would have dreamed that the Rockies would have a legitimate shot at winning the N.L. West crown, but it’s absolutely plausible. Of course, they’ve played eight more home games than road games to this point (23-17 at home and 14-18 on the road), helping to buoy their impressive run differential in the friendly confines of Coors Field. I would still lean towards San Francisco finding a way to squeak out the division title, with the Diamondbacks probably finishing in second place.
Gonzalez’ “resurgence” isn’t really a resurgence at all, but rather baseball fans’ reintroduction to one of the game’s elite hitters that really hasn’t gone anywhere. Here’s hoping for some continued success for Gonzalez and his Rockies, as CarGo is one of maybe a handful of legitimate power-speed offensive combinations in the big leagues today. And wouldn’t a 40-40 season be a ton of fun?