Hello readers! This is my first post on RotoGraphs. I’ll be writing a weekly column here focusing on hitters and chipping in wherever else I’m needed. I’m thankful for the opportunity from Eno and the gang, and excited to get cracking.
It’s somewhat understandable. Gonzalez is seemingly always hurt. Things were especially bad last season with terrible production in only 70 games. His Contact% and SwStr% have both been in steady decline since his massive 2010. And he’s already 29, making a season of good health seem less and less likely each passing year. I can definitely understand the Gonzalez fatigue. But when does his risk become worth taking?
Even while missing time with various injuries, Gonzalez produced at at least 20 home runs and 20 steals for four straight seasons before 2014. He never hit worse than .295 during that span.
I’m not trying to gloss over 2014. It was bad. He hit .238 with vastly decreased power and non-existent speed while he had his appendix removed, battled knee tendinitis, had a fatty mass with tentacles removed from his hand and never appeared to be healthy. I’m willing to attribute his poor production to those injuries and not a big decline in skill.
Gonzalez has averaged 110 games per season since his breakout in 2010. Two years ago Gonzalez hit 26 home runs and stole 21 bases in 110 games, so we know he can provide early-round production while missing time.
It’s clear where I’m going with this: Gonzalez is underrated. The RotoGraphs group rankings have Gonzalez at 20th among outfielders. How far can a player with his amount of risk climb up the ranks?
I think the best spot for him is at No. 9, where Michael Brantley sits. Brantley has stayed mostly healthy the past few years and provides a fairly moderate floor of production. The obvious concern is we likely just saw Brantley’s upside last year, and it looks a lot like Gonzalez’s usual production from 2010 to 2013, with less power.
As Eno Sarris found, the odds of Brantley continuing to pull balls at the rate which led to his power spike in 2014 is 50-50. He was successful on 70% of his career stolen base attempts before converting 96% last season en route to a career-high 23 steals. Even his .327 average was aided by a BABIP 20 points higher than his career rate.
So we have the risk that Brantley can’t repeat his 2014 production vs. the risk that Gonzalez can’t stay healthy. Considering Gonzalez has much higher upside, I’ll take him ahead of Brantley all day long.
More risky upside options to consider in the outfield:
Charlie Blackmon, RG group ranking: 23
What if it wasn’t totally a fluke? Mike Podhorzer broke down why Blackmon’s power may not be a one-hit wonder. Steamer projects Blackmon will produce almost exactly the same stats as Brantley, and considering his home park I rank him just ahead of Brantley. Blackmon made real improvements last season, reducing his swinging strike rate and raising his contact rate.
Jorge Soler, RG: 34
Soler may produce the same line as Justin Upton (no. 15) this year. That sounds a little optimistic, but it’s not so crazy. There’s nothing from Upton’s 2014 Soler can’t do immediately. Yes, he’s 22 and has 89 at-bats in the majors so some restraint is wise. If comes anywhere close to his .281 ISO and can keep his strikeout rate below 25%, he’s an awfully enticing player.
Leonys Martin, RG: 37
This involves a few “ifs.” Martin swiped 36 bags in 2013 and 31 in 2014. If he steals around 35 bases, if he gets some luck in BABIP and if the Rangers’ offense rebounds enough to drive his runs, he could provide a very nice profit. Even if he produces the same numbers as last year, he’s giving you a profit at this price.
Steve Pearce, RG: 42
Just like Blackmon, Pearce surprised last season when he hit 21 home runs in 102 games. Steamer believes he can be solid again with a projection of 24 home runs and a .271 average. Pearce’s average batted ball distance of 286.63 feet was a little short for players around his HR/FB rate of 17.5, so we’re likely looking at regression there. But that’s built into the projection with only three more home runs than last season in 202 more plate appearances. Pearce’s breakout is tougher to put complete faith in because it’s hard to pin down what changed. Still, that Steamer projection looks amazing for this price and once again it’s all about your appetite for risk.
Oswaldo Arcia, RG: 56
ESPN Home Run Tracker shows half of Arcia’s home runs were of the “No Doubt” variety and those 10 “No Doubt” shots tied him for sixth in baseball despite only having 372 at-bats. We know the power (and the strikeouts unfortunately) are here to stay. At 23 years old it’s not too late to hope he figures out how to hit lefties, potentially boosting his average and value even more. Lingering back issues are all that is limiting me from going all-in on Arcia and boosting him way up the rankings.
Joc Pederson, RG: 74
Steamer pegs Pederson for 21 home runs and 18 steals. And a .224 average. Pederson’s strikeout rate has escalated as he’s progressed through the minors, so average will likely be a problem in the short term. However, the upside here is outstanding. Pederson hit 33 home runs, stole 30 bases and batted .303 last season in Triple-A. He’s some BABIP luck or strikeout improvement away from being a star.
Adam McFadden contributes to RotoGraphs when he's not working as a sports editor at MSN. His writing has appeared online for FOX Sports and Sports Illustrated.