Damaged CarGo

CarGo

Para la traducción al Español, haz click aquí.

Carlos Gonzalez’ value has been below replacement level this year. Yes, that’s the same Carlos Gonzalez that has averaged more than 4 wins above replacement (WAR) for the last four years, even in seasons where he’s missed considerable amounts of time due to injuries. With his current WAR of -0.1, can this be considered just a slump or is there something wrong with him?

Technically, it is a slump. According the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the noun slump, when referring to sports, it’s “a period of time when a team or player is doing poorly”. CarGo is definitely doing poorly, and he hasn’t been hurt enough to be put on the Disabled List (DL). However, sometimes players try to grind through an injury, downplaying the actual impact it’s having on their game. And I think that is the case with our beloved outfielder.

Gonzalez has been dealing with left knee tendinitis for more than a month, and while I honestly appreciate his effort to stay on the field, it is my humble opinion that his presence on the Rockies’ line-up may actually be hurting the team more than it is helping it. I know this might sound harsh, but I’ll go over some of the evidence and try to explain why I think is best for everyone to, at the very least, use him as a bat off the bench for now.

Just by looking at his slash line of .276/.321/.477 it’s pretty evident he’s not the CarGo we know. Taking out his rookie season with the Oakland A’s, all three of those numbers would be career lows.  His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is also at a career-low .311, which would suggest that a positive regression is due to happen, especially since his career BABIP is an impressive .348. However, his batted ball data tells the story behind the low BABIP.

In general, line drives are good for BABIP, as they fall for hits approximately 70% of the times. On the other hand, close to 25% of all grounders go for hits, while flyballs generate hits at a rate of about 17% (that is excluding home runs). The following table shows yearly batted ball data for CarGo, along with the performance of each type of batted ball using BABIP and wRC+.

Line Drives

Grounballs

Flyballs

HR/FB %

 Year Rate (LD%) BABIP wRC+ Rate (GB%) BABIP wRC+ Rate (FB%) BABIP wRC+

2008

18.00%

0.800

453

49.30%

0.226

24

32.70%

0.164

71

5.60%

2009

23.40%

0.711

440

37.80%

0.237

15

38.80%

0.164

159

16.70%

2010

20.80%

0.777

412

42.50%

0.294

54

36.60%

0.231

278

20.40%

2011

18.00%

0.727

386

48.40%

0.261

31

33.60%

0.150

252

20.80%

2012

21.70%

0.774

407

48.90%

0.227

8

29.50%

0.206

249

18.80%

2013

21.60%

0.807

461

37.90%

0.245

26

40.50%

0.202

328

23.90%

2014

15.20%

0.600

361

50.00%

0.275

39

34.80%

0.214

200

14.60%

Total

20.20%

0.759

418

45.00%

0.254

29

34.90%

0.193

238

18.50%

The most important number of this table is the line drive rate or LD% for this year. At 15.20%, well, you guessed it, it’s also a career low. Miles away from his career average of 20.20%, which is very close to the league average. To make things worse, the liners he’s actually hitting are doing far less damage than usual. The 361 wRC+ in line drives is his lowest mark for any year, but the .600 BABIP is very likely to go up near his career mark of .759, probably giving a boost to the wRC+.

He’s hitting groundballs at an alarming rate of 50%, and I say alarming for two reasons. First, groundballs are generally not an effective way to produce runs, and I’ll talk about that in a bit. Second, the league average groundball rate is close to 45%, so he’s hitting a lot more grounders than most players. CarGo’s career wRC+ on grounders is only 29, which does not mean he’s the worst groundball hitter in baseball. In fact, the league average is near 28, so he’s actually above average. What these numbers mean, is that as I mentioned earlier,  groundballs don’t translate well into runs.

When it comes to flyballs, Gonzalez is hitting them this year at almost exactly his career average of 34.90%. And even though his BABIP on flyballs (again, not including homers) for 2014 currently stands above his personal average, his wRC+ on those balls is the second worst in his career at 200. How is that possible? That’s when that last column comes into play. HR/FB% represents the percentage of flyballs that go for home runs. League average usually revolves around 10% so his 14.60% for this year is not that bad, but we’re talking about a player with a career mark of 18.5%. Going below 15% is what really puts a dent on CarGo’s production on flyballs.

Summarizing, Gonzalez is hitting less line drives, more groundballs, and less homers per flyballs than ever before in his career. In short, he’s hitting for less power.

As much as he has struggled with the bat this year, he still has an overall 103 wRC+, which means he’s been barely above average at the plate. Unfortunately, that’s only half the story, since he still has to play defense on left field, and run the bases when he does get on.

I’ll be honest in saying that I have my reservations about advanced defensive metrics as well as base-running ones. That is not to say I think they’re useless. The logic behind them is sound, and they’re usually pretty good at telling what has happened. In the case of CarGo’s 2014, they really tell us something. UBR and UZR are cumulative stats that represent runs above or below average for base running and defense, respectively, where zero is average. Carlos Gonzalez has never had a season in which his base-running performance is below average, but so far this season, he’s doing just that, as shown by his UBR of -0.2. Furthermore, he’s on pace to having the worse defensive season of his career. UZR/150 meassures runs above or below average on a per-150 defensive-game-played basis. For this season, CarGo has a -23.3 UZR/150. To put that in perspective, his previous worse was -8.0, and his career average stands at 1.6.

It’s easy to make a connection between a lingering knee tendinitis and bad defensive or running performance. Such an injury would logically slow him down and there is certainly evidence that shows that he has in fact slowed down. The impact on the hitting side, however, is harder to pinpoint.

CarGo has not been himself this season, offensively or defensively (US Presswire)

CarGo has not been himself this season, offensively or defensively (US Presswire)

Joey Myers from the Hitting Performance Lab, recently compared CarGo’s and Nolan Arenado’s swing. He points out similarities between them, but also mentions that unlike Arenado, Gonzalez’ smaller Spine Angle (which is the angle between the ground and the batter’s torso at the moment of contact) is the key for his consistent power.

I emailed Joey to get his thoughts on Carlos’ swing possibly being affected by the knee injury and this is what he had to say:

“…The central nervous system has a great survival mechanism for protecting the body.  The brain tightens muscles surrounding an injured joint in order to protect it.  Tightening muscle slows human movement down.  In the case of tendinitis, this is an inflammatory process that is the canary in the coalmine.  Meaning that there’s either over-use to a particular area, or that a joint up/down stream of the inflamed area is causing it.”

All of this is just circumstantial evidence, of course, but there’s a really good chance that in making those involuntary tightening of his muscles, CarGo is diminishing his power-generating abilities by trying to play through his injury.

Taking a look at the numbers Corey Dickerson is putting up, and given the recent return from the DL of Michael Cuddyer, there is really no reason to have Carlos Gonzalez start in left field virtually every game as he has. Considering the fact that the Rockies have once again decided to keep six outfielders on the active roster, sacrificing a spot that usually goes for a much needed arm in the bullpen, it is really surprising to me that they haven’t put him on the Disabled List yet.

A lot of emphasis was put throughout the off season on the fact that Colorado needed Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez on the field in order to be successful. Now that a quarter of the season has gone by, and seeing the young group of Rockies’ outfielders have done very well, it seems like the team would be in a better position to handle an absence from CarGo. Letting him nurse that left knee while adding another arm to the bullpen, would only better the team’s chances for the long run.

We all know what Carlos Gonzalez is capable of doing if healthy, and we know how valuable he could be for the Rockies. For now, though, he does not seem healthy, and he is definitely not being valuable for the team. If the Rockies are seriously thinking of contending right until the end, my advice would be to give him some rest, and let him get back to a position where he can be once again that driving force he’s been in the past.

About Juan Pablo Zubillaga

Venezuelan die-hard Colorado Rockies fan. In addition to watching and analyzing as much baseball as I can, I'm also a Chemical Engineer // Venezolano, fanático de los Colorado Rockies. Además de ver y analizar la mayor cantidad de béisbol posible, también soy Ingeniero Químico.
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