Carlos Gonzalez: Why We Should Curb Our Enthusiasm for 2016

Carlos Gonzalez sure hits his home runs in bunches. Of course, all power hitters do for the most part. But there aren’t too many players who can throw up a multi-homer game or go on a consecutive HR-per-game streak the way CarGo does, with Nelson Cruz, Bryce Harper, Edwin Encarnacion and Chris Davis serving as other prime examples of that special breed of hyper-slugger who, when locked in, can go yard 20 times a month or five times in a weekend. This contrasts to the Mike Trout/Miguel Cabrera types who, while certainly still prone to seasonal spikes and dips, tend to spread out their elite production more evenly throughout the 162-game MLB season.

CarGo’s recent homer binge is a perfect example of the dynamic slugger’s penchant for concentrated torrid streaks. On Wednesday night at Coors Field against the Diamondbacks, the Colorado Rockies‘ slugger went 2-for-4 with 2 HR and 7 RBI (a decent week for most major leaguers). The very next night at Coors against the Giants, CarGo hit 2 HR again, this time going 4-for-5 with 4 RBI. It was the seventh time this year that a player had consecutive two-homer games. Particularly impressive is that he had already accomplished the feat earlier this season, with back-to-back double dinger games achieved on July 26th and July 27th, compiling 10 RBI in those two contests. Include a two-homer game a mere two nights before that on July 24th and you begin to see the kind of production CarGo can put up when’s locked in at the plate. All in all, CarGo’s had six multi-homer games this year and has hit home runs in consecutive games a remarkable nine times to date.

Obviously, it takes a very special type of talent to accomplish this. CarGo’s 2010 season showed us what he’s capable of, as the star outfielder compiled a scintillating .336 BA, 34 HR, 117 RBI, 111 R and 26 SB with a 5.8 WAR. And he did all that while missing 17 games.

This seemed like the arrival of a slugger who might even match Miggy, but it didn’t quite turn out that way. In the four seasons following that amazing 2010, CarGo did not have a single 30-HR season, nor one where he reached 100 RBI or 100 R. The culprit, of course, was missed time. He never played more than 135 games in any of those four seasons and only appeared in 70 games in 2014, en route to an unCarGo-like line of .238-11-38-35-3.

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We should ignore CarGo’s 2014 season altogether when assessing the player’s value going forward. He had a tumor in his left index finger early that season and eventually a torn patella tendon in his left knee that ended his season in August. The production levels were so uncharacteristic that something was clearly very wrong.

When you look at CarGo’s production on a per-game basis when healthy, you clearly see a player who has the potential for a .300+ BA with 40 HR and 120 RBI. The problem is that while the talent is unquestionably there, the durability and consistency are not. After the first two full months of this season, CarGo was hitting just .219/.296/.331 with only four home runs.

How do you rate a player like this against the other top hitters around baseball?

Let’s say you have the 15th overall pick in your draft next season. It’s the second round, and of course the player you took first is relevant in determining who you pick second. For argument’s sake, let’s say you managed to snag Clayton Kershaw in the first round, so you need/want a hitter.

You look at the draft board and the Miguel Cabrera’s, Josh Donaldson‘s, Bryce Harper’s and Mike Trout’s of the world are obviously gone. You see CarGo and you see Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles. You take a look at Jones’ career stats.

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Of course, we don’t yet know how Jones will finish up in 2015, but at the moment he’s pretty much right on pace to match the above.

Who do you take?

Jones simply doesn’t offer the upside CarGo does, and putting up a season like CarGo’s 2010 seems out of Jones’ reach. But he’s about as safe a bet for .280+ with 30 HR, 90 RBI and 90 R as you’re going to find. Are you comfortable passing that up hoping for the stars to align for CarGo? One of the most impressive things about Jones? Check out his games played numbers from 2011 to 2014: 151, 162, 160, 159. He’s played 122 of the O’s 133 games to date this year, returning from this a mere day after it happened.

Now, this article isn’t about Adam Jones. But Jones serves as an example of the kind of high floor production that is absolutely precious in fantasy. Anything can happen, but track record counts. The longer you involve yourself in roto leagues or any kind of sports investing, the more you come to appreciate that volatility is scary, stability is your friend.

I don’t think anyone could be faulted for taking CarGo late in the 1st or early in the 2nd round of drafts next year hoping for a repeat or even an improvement on that monster season we all know he’s capable of producing, but how bankable is that kind of production given the player’s track record? There is a fair bit of the tortoise and the hare in this comparison.

On draft day, just remember what usually wins the race.