Maybe there was some luck or coincidence involved, but one thing held true for the Colorado Rockies last season: They won games with Carlos Gonzalez in the lineup. The Rockies were 53-17 (75.7) in games Gonzalez started, which was far and away the best win percentage for any player with 70+ starts. Consider that Alex Rodriguez was next on the list at 81-42 (66.4).
In just 89 total games, Gonzalez had 13 home runs and 15 stolen bases, while sporting a .878 OPS. That’s after a relatively slow start. Over his last 58 games, Gonzalez had a 1.013 OPS. Anyone putting up those numbers at age 23 would qualify as One2Watch4, but it’s what Gonzalez failed to do that makes him even more intriguing.
With only 29 RBI to go with those 13 homers, Gonzalez was one long ball shy of tying the MLB record for most homers by a player with fewer than 30 RBI. In 1984, Brewers catcher Bill Schroeder had 14 HR and 25 RBI. That year, Schroeder hit just .122 with runners in scoring position. As your might have guessed, Gonzalez suffered from a similar futility.
The league average for a player with RISP is .263 with an RBI per 3.2 plate appearances. Gonzalez hit just .185 with an RBI everay 5.2 PA. Only two of his 13 HR were with men on base, the same number as Josh Johnson. Even worse, Gonzalez was just 2-for-25 with 10 K with a man on third. Just imagine what his numbers could look like if he’s just league average in run-producing situations.
So what went wrong last year? Based on data from Inside Edge, it appears the young Gonzalez was simply trying to do too much. With runners in scoring position, he had a 35.2 chase percentage, meaning he swung at 35.2 percent of balls outside the strike zone. Compare that to without runners in scoring position, when his chase percentage was just 21.7.
The problem was particularly apparent on pitches low in the zone. With no one on second or third, he had a 28.9 chase pct. But with RISP, it exploded to 47.4 percent. In other words, in run-producing situations, Gonzalez swung at nearly half of pitches below the strike zone.
CUTTING TO THE CHASE
Carlos Gonzalez, chase pct in 2009
Gonzalez still has a long way to go before he makes Rockies fans forget RBI machine Matt Holliday, the player for whom he was traded. But consider that Holliday didn’t even make his MLB debut until 24, an age where Gonzalez has already proven he belongs.