Projecting Carlos Gonzalez

There’s nothing more exciting than a breakout star both in reality and in fantasy, and that’s what Carlos Gonzalez was last season. He took home the National League batting title with a .336 AVG, finished second in the circuit with 117 RBI, third with 111 runs scored, and fourth with 34 homers. Because that wasn’t enough, he chipped in 26 stolen bases as well, tied for eleventh most in the league. Players that can impact all five traditional scoring categories are rare breeds, and that’s why CarGo figures to go in the first five-ish picks of drafts this spring.

At the time of this writing, 46 fan projections have been submitted for Gonzalez (click here to submit yours). The FanGraphs faithful have him hitting .304/.358/.544 with 30 homers, 105 RBI, 99 runs scored, and 25 steals next season, production that’s down a tad from 2010 but still qualifies as elite. For what it’s worth, Bill James has him at .308/.357/.545 with 28 HR, 101 RBI, 101 R, and 22 SB, so everyone’s pretty much in agreement about what they think he’ll do next season. As good as CarGo is and as good as we think he’ll be going forward, there are some warts in his game worth mentioning…

He made sweet, sweet love to Coors Field last season.

At his home ballpark, CarGo hit a whopping .380/.425/.737 in 2010, a .487 wOBA that trailing only Josh Hamilton’s .506 mark among hitters in their own park. Just eight of his 34 homers came away from Coors, unsurprising when you consider that he produced 60.2% non-ground balls at home and just 54.1% on the road. Can’t hit homers if you’re beating the ball into the dirt.

The Coors Field effect is nothing new here. Troy Tulowitzki has a considerable home/road split (.440/.377 wOBA), as has Todd Helton for most of his career. It’s just the way it is. I don’t buy for a second that 287 road plate appearances in 2010 is enough to tell us that CarGo is a product of Coors that would be not much more than a slightly above average hitters elsewhere.

He doesn’t like to walk.

Gonzalez drew just 32 unintentional walks in 587 plate appearances last season, or one for every 18.3 trips to the plate. He offered at 37% of the pitches he saw out of the strike zone, 18th most in the game. His OBP will be tied rather closely to his AVG, so keep that in mind if you’re in an on-base league.

He can swing and miss with the best of ’em.

CarGo whiffed on 11.1% of his swings in 2010, essentially matching his 11.5% career mark (yes, I know it’s a brief career). It’s a rate that was on par with noted hackers like Jeff Francoeur, Vladimir Guerrero, and Kevin Kouzmanoff. Strikeouts are fine if he makes up for it in other facets of the game, which Gonzalez certainly does, but I’m always skeptical of players that don’t walk often and swing and miss a bunch. That’s not to say he’ll turn into Frenchy 2.0, but pitchers are going to give him less to hit going forward if they know he’ll chase.

* * *

The Rockies have a pair of bonafide, young superstars on their hands, and both CarGo and Tulo figure to come off the board early when drafts begin in a few weeks. The projections favor Gonzalez going forward and there’s very little reason not too. I wouldn’t obsess about the Coors Field factor, but part of me is slightly concerned about the lack of plate discipline. Maybe I’m just paranoid after watching Pablo Sandoval swing through pitches at his eyes all season long…

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Mike writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues and baseball in general at CBS Sports.

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Jeff Z
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Jeff Z

The walk rate will scare me off. Anything below a 6% walk rate scares me off.