by Ray Kuhn
One game… That is how close Marwin Gonzalez was to being eligible at five positions for the 2018 season. The super-utility man eclipsed 500 plate appearances for the second straight season, 515 compared to 518 last season, and saw regular playing time in the outfield and across the infield (including “just” 19 games at third base).
We note this first because that is where a great deal of Gonzalez’s value comes from. Having a player that you can plug in just about anywhere can’t be understated, especially considering the overall increase in injuries, disabled list stints and players being rested.
That versatility is mportant, but at what cost? Gonzalez received regular playing time last season at shortstop thanks to Carlos Correa’s thumb injury, and then settled in left field. This season I would expect to see Gonzalez return to more of a traditional utility role and a repeat of 500 plate appearances might not be likely; a total between 400 and 450 appears to be more plausible.
So what can we expect from Gonzalez at the plate?
I’m not sure we see Gonzalez hit .303 again as there was some luck involved. He registered a BABIP of .343, and his previous career high batting average was .279 in 2015. With a solid contact rate, 78%, and a 20% line drive he has solid plate skills making a .280 batting average a legitimate expectation. It’s important to note is that he more than doubled his walk rate from 2016; 4.2% to 9.5%.
Given all the All-Star’s and top prospects the Astros have, Gonzalez might have been the most unexpected RBI leader on a 101-win team. He drove in 90 runs as a consistent contributor throughout the season, setting a career high. He’s proved himself as a run producer and that will continue into 2018.
But can he hit 23 home runs again? He increased his fly ball total from 2016 by 4%, with the trade-off coming from his ground ball rate. He also benefited from an 18.1% home run to fly ball rate after 2016’s rate of 11.6%. Per Baseball HQ, there was a vast difference between his Power and Expected Power rates, and his Hard Contact rate is only barely above average. I wouldn’t write off his 23 HR as a fluke, but that will likely go down as his career high.
All of Gonzalez’s success last season wasn’t attributable to luck, as he also adjusted his stance and hand positioning. A safe expectation, as a floor, for Gonzalez is a .280 batting average with 15 HR and 70 RBI. There is value in that, I’m just not sure he is worth an ADP, per Fantrax, of 116.
Make sure to check out all of our 2018 Projections: