by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
It isn’t a surprise that the Pittsburgh Pirates went searching for help in the middle infield, with both Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer potentially leaving via free agency. The decision to target Erik Gonzalez, who was acquired as part of a five-player trade with the Cleveland Indians, may catch some people off guard however. He certainly hasn’t produced impressive numbers in the Majors thus far:
.263 (69-262), 5 HR, 27 RBI, 37 R, 4 SB
It’s not like the stats were significantly better during his time at Triple-A, where he hit .267 with 20 HR and 25 SB over 827 AB. Of course there was at least a 10/10 player there, and it would be easy to see why someone may expect a little bit more power (he added 41 doubles and 7 triples). That has never been a question, instead it’s been his approach that’s been an issue.
Just look at his strikeout rate // walk rate at Triple-A over each of the past three seasons:
- 2015 (261 PA) – 18.0% // 5.7%
- 2016 (460 PA) – 19.1% // 4.1%
- 2017 (160 PA) – 31.2% // 4.1%
Obviously the lack of walks is alarming, and he posted a SwStr% of 15.8% in 2017 and 14.2% in 2016. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that he’s continued to struggle to make contact in the Majors (16.2% SwStr%) while chasing outside of the strike zone far too often (37.6%). Those marks have led to a miniscule 3.3% walk rate and a 28.7% strikeout rate, which easily could be even worse (“just” 23.8% in 2018).
Gonzalez has particularly struggled with breaking balls, posting a 23.46% Whiff% against them last season. It makes sense that opposing pitchers began throwing the pitch more and more against him (32.08%), and that’s a trend that should continue until he makes an adjustment… If he makes an adjustment that is.
It’s not like Gonzalez is extremely young, entering the year at 27-years old. While that is often considered the “magical” age in a hitter’s development, it’s not something that we are willing to fully buy into here.
It will be interesting if the Pirates actually enter 2019 with Gonzalez penciled in as a starter, but chances are he’s more of a safety net and ultimately a utility option. Even if he does have the job, that doesn’t mean he’s a breakout in the making.
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball
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