Carlos Gonzalez Has a Lot of Work to Do
Since landing with the Colorado Rockies in advance of the 2009 season, Carlos Gonzalez has been a crucial part of the organization. He and Troy Tulowitzki were not only the faces of the franchise, but also viewed as the cornerstones when it came to the Rockies getting back into October.
After finishing 92-70 in 2009 and 83-79 in 2010, that hasn't exactly happened -- Colorado had endured six consecutive losing seasons entering 2017. Things have looked a lot different this year, though.
First-year manager Bud Black is likely kicking his feet back during this week's All-Star break, as his squad is currently 52-39. And sure, they're 9.5 games off the Los Angeles Dodgers' pace in the National League West, but they have a firm 7.5-game lead on the final NL Wild Card spot.
However, what's puzzling is that their longtime cornerstone in Gonzalez hasn't really been a part of it. He's slashed just .221/.299/.338 with a mere 6 home runs and 22 RBI through 298 plate appearances, but it gets worse. Not only is his 49 wRC+ the second-worst among qualified hitters this season, but his -1.5 fWAR is actually the worst.
This is the worst time imaginable for Gonzalez to have what's on pace to be the worst year of his career -- not only would the Rockies benefit from a productive CarGo, but the 31-year-old undoubtedly would like to end things on a high note before entering free agency this winter.
If he's going to turn things around in the second half, the veteran outfielder needs to find a way to improve in the following four areas.
More Fly Balls, Fewer Ground Balls
Obviously, something like this is easier said than done, but this is also a trend that's been going on since Gonzalez's best overall season, which was in 2013, when he produced a 146 wRC+ through 436 plate appearances. If we throw out his 2014 season (which was limited to 70 games and just 281 plate appearances), we can see that what his batted-ball profile currently looks like isn't very shocking.
The below table compares his line-drive rate (LD%), ground-ball rate (GB%), fly-ball rate (FB%), and hard-hit rate (Hard%) over the last few years (with his '14 campaign excluded).
It's also worth noting that the outfielder's Isolated Power (ISO) has decreased in each of these years -- it's gone from a career-high .289 mark in 2013, all the way down to his current .118 mark this season. And this decrease has happened despite a 40-homer campaign in 2015.
The other obvious red flag here is the drop in hard-hit rate, which was rather consistent until recently. It also doesn't help that Gonzalez has gotten worse in this department as the year as dragged on.
After posting a 32.4% hard-hit rate during April, it dropped to 29.9% in May and 21.4% in June before his current 23.1% mark in July.
Again, this isn't exactly an easy thing to fix, but taking better advantage of pitches that he's historically done a lot of damage with would be a good place to start.
Jump on That Fastball
Since 2013, four-seam fastballs have been the most common pitch that Gonzalez has seen upon stepping into the box, per FanGraphs. And for the most part, his performance against that particular offering from opposing hurlers has been above average...except for this year.
Check out the drop off in Gonzalez's OPS, ISO, wOBA, and wRC+ since 2013 (once again, we'll be excluding 2014).
There are other pitches CarGo needs to improve against, but it's hard to have success when he's struggling this much against the one he sees more than any other -- especially since it's one he's historically performed well against.
Enjoy Coors for What It Is
Not surprisingly, Gonzalez has enjoyed hitting in the thin air of Denver. Entering this season, he produced a wRC+ below 120 just once (and it was 119 in 2013) and a wOBA below .400 just once (.393, which also happened in '13) since joining the Rockies. But this year is a different story -- through 147 plate appearances at Coors, he's posted an eye-popping (in the worst way imaginable) 54 wRC+ to go along with a .309 wOBA.
His 34.0% hard-hit rate isn't much different from what he's done in recent years at home, but his 54.0% ground-ball rate and 28.0% fly-ball rate in this situation are both on track to be career worsts as a member of the Rockies, as is his 14.3% home-run-to-fly-ball ratio.
What's interesting here is that CarGo isn't the only Colorado player struggling at Coors. They'e produced an 82 wRC+ at home this season as a team, which is only better than the San Francisco Giants, who have produced a 75 wRC+ while playing at the notoriously pitcher-friendly AT&T Park. Of those with more than 100 plate appearances at home for the Rockies, only Charlie Blackmon (182), Mark Reynolds (144), and Nolan Arenado (113) have a wRC+ that's considered above average.
So, Gonzalez isn't alone with regard to these particular struggles, but taking advantage of this park like he has in the past would go a long way in helping him get back on track.
Have Success Against Righties Again
While having a 67.3% ground-ball rate and a 21 wRC+ against lefties is awful, Gonzalez hasn't experienced a ton of success against southpaws throughout his big league career. This situation has yielded a wRC+ above 100 for him in a single season just three times since 2009, and 2013 was the last time it occurred.
Facing righties is normally where he does most of his damage, and as you can imagine, he's done it in virtually every year of his career. Until now.
From 2010-16, Gonzalez posted a wRC+ against righties under 140 just twice (95 in '14 and 116 in '16). That number is currently sitting at 59 so far this season, which would be the worst of his career. His batted-ball profile doesn't look as troubling in this particular instance, but his 26.5% hard-hit rate against righties is nearly a 10-percentage-point drop compared to his career average.
Any way you slice it, CarGo is having a miserable year. This is somewhat ironic because his presence in the Rockies' lineup was always viewed as crucial toward the organization's ultimate success.
Still, the fact that Colorado has played well despite Gonzalez's offensive struggles -- and the team's struggles overall at the plate -- has to at least be somewhat encouraging since one can imagine it can only get better from here.
When it comes to their veteran outfielder, it's not crazy to be confident that he'll also improve based off his history in various areas where he's typically performed well offensively. After all, it would be awfully rare for someone that's been as good as he is in recent years to just completely fall off the map with regard to any semblance of production.
Either way, with another half of baseball to be played and a playoff race to take part in, the Rockies need Gonzalez to at least get back to some version of his old self moving forward.