Meet Carlos Gonzalez, baseball’s newest star

Unless you live in a cave, Carlos Gonzalez is a name you’ve been hearing a lot lately on your TV set as you watch BBTN or MLBN. He has eight home runs in his past eleven games. His overall slash line is .327/.355/.579/.400/143. He has a 3.6 WAR and rocks some dirty swag. At the tender age of 24, he has the world in the palm of his hand…or does he?

The giant elephant in the room is his home/road split. He equally has 220 PA on the road and at home this season. His home line is: .375/.414/.730/.483/199. On the road it’s: .282/.295/.437/.317/88. Yikes. Yes, I know 220 PA is a SSS for both sets of numbers and yes, I know most hitters typically hit better at home than on the road, but that discrepancy is too big to ignore. Especially when you realize his home park is Coors Field. We all know about the launching pad that is Coors. So, is CarGo for real or a product of Coors Field?

A member of Athletics Nation on SBN recently published a post on pitches in Coors Fields. It’s a really good study that I highly recommend you read if you have the time. Here is one tidbit on the many things he found:

Quote:

  • Pitches move less in Colorado and overall dispersion is much smaller (the visible rectangle versus the washed out one). Therefore, the element of surprise due to the pitch movement is smaller.
  • Fastballs lose much more movement than curve balls and sliders

Keep that last bullet in mind. Fastballs, more than any other pitch, are affected by the altitude of Coors Field. Movement is critical on most fastballs, as everyone knows hitters love a straight fastball, regardless of velocity. So fastballs are not as effective in Denver as they are in other parks. Knowing that, Colorado pitchers throw less fastballs at home than they do on the road (42.5% home v 45.1% road). Despite this information, other teams throw more fastballs in Coors than on average (47.6% overall v 49.7%). So why am I bringing all this up?

Carlos Gonzalez struggles with the fastball on the road. According to the post on AN, at home against the fastball, he looks at a strike 40% of the time, puts the ball in play 33% of the time, and swings and misses/fouls  the ball 27% of the time. On the road, he looks at a strike 26% of the time, puts the ball in play 17% of the time, and swings and misses/fouls the ball a whopping 57%(!) of the time. WOW. On fastballs on the road he puts in the ball in play less than a quarter of the time. That is a terrible, terrible mark. He also sees more fastballs on the road than at home (39.37% road v 37.9% home).

So Gonzalez struggles with the fastball. But remember what Coors does to fastballs? Coors zaps movement making a pitcher’s fastball much straighter and thus, easier to hit. Gonzalez, a player who has trouble with fastballs, benefits from the fact that fastballs don’t play well at Coors. That means pitchers cannot exploit his weakness in Denver, so Gonzalez can basically mash all he wants. However, on the road he cannot be saved by the Coors affect and struggles mightily against a pitch he sees 39.37% on the road which is the overwhelming cause of his road troubles.

Until Gonzalez learns how to hit a fastball at level altitude, this will be an ongoing problem. He will mash at Coors, suck on the road- especially if he starts being thrown even more fastballs- and be an overall solid hitter as his 2009-2010 seasons indicate. As it stands now though, he is a product of the Coors Field affect. Yes, he has real power that plays anywhere and has hitting talent since he can hit secondary pitches home and away. But his home field hides his weakness against fastballs, so it’s true that he is helped a lot by playing in Coors. If he wants to fix the problem, he could try to develop some discipline.

Saying Gonzalez is a free swinger might be an understatement. His O-Swing% is 38.3%, his Z-Swing% is 70.9%, and his Swing% is 53%- all of which are above the league average. The result is a poor 4.3 BB% and .355 OBP which is mainly supported by his .327 BA. Because he swings too much, especially at pitches outside the zone, pitchers on the road can really exploit his weakness. Since fastballs keep their movement away from Coors, pitchers use that to get Gonzalez to chase pitches outside the zone. They cannot do that at Coors since the pitch loses movement. If Gonzalez can just make some improvement in his plate discipline, it could help him on the road. He will lay off pitches he otherwise would have swung and missed/fouled away. In turn, his road numbers will look better and there will be less of a discrepancy in his home/road splits. Moreover, he will just become a better hitter in general. He would be a better road hitter, and rake even more at Coors. With his power, Gonzalez might become an unstoppable force in the National League for a long, long time.

While he is a good hitter, his overall line is skewed by Coors Field and its affect on the movement of fastballs. His true talent level is not a 143 wRC+ like it is in 2010 because he is not a complete hitter yet. However, he isn’t quite an 88 wRC+ hitter on the road either (unless he starts seeing even more fastballs). What we do know though is that at home he is a monster hitter because his home park masks his weakness against fastballs. But on the road he is susceptible to that weakness. Until he improves his plate discipline and fastball hitting ability, he will remain that way.

Few hitters profit as much from their home field as CarGo profits from Coors. He does play 81 games a year there though, so his overall numbers should always be good. But keep in mind that until he develops his plate discipline, his home stat line will not indicate his true offensive talent since his weakness is concealed by the altitude. At the age of 24 though, Gonzalez has plenty of time to get things figured and become a complete hitter. If he does, watch out, because they’ll be no stopping him then. Carlos Gonzalez will have the world in the palm of his hands.

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