Earlier this winter, The Hardball Times offered prospective fantasy baseball writers the opportunity to compete in a Hardball Times fantasy league. Entrants wrote fantasy baseball articles, the best of which would be chosen as our winner. While we could only choose one winner to play in the league (congratulations, Dave Chenok), we had so many great articles that we have decided to publish some of the best. This is the final one of those submissions.
Last season, Carlos Gonzalez delivered on the promise he showed in 2009, and led a lot of make-believe teams to championship glory. Fresh off a batting title and the major leagues’ only 30/20 season, CarGo (will be a popular first-round draft choice in 2011. If you managed to acquire him in a keeper league, you’re surely the envy of your competitors—but you may want to consider selling high.
Regardless of your league’s keeper rules and format, it is understandably difficult to give up on a 24-year-old center field-eligible player coming off a season that garnered him MVP consideration, even knowing the king’s ransom that many owners would gladly pay. There are several red flags surrounding Gonzalez’s breakout year, however.
First, consider the type of hitter Gonzalez is. There’s no disputing his ability to drive the ball or his speed on the basepaths, but his plate discipline leaves much to be desired. Gonzalez walked in only 6.3 percent of his plate appearances, and when you remove intentional passes, that figure drops to 5 percent, well below the 8 percent major league average. Only 14 players swung at more pitches outside the zone in 2010. Of the last 30 NL batting champions, only Freddy Sanchez had a lower spread between his batting average and on-base percentage than CarGo’s 40 points.
This free-swinging approach leaves Gonzalez vulnerable to poor luck on balls in play. His BABIP last season was .384, trailing only Austin Jackson and AL batting champ Josh Hamilton. Using Chris Dutton’s xBABIP calculator, Gonzalez’s figure “should” have settled in at around .350, reducing his .336/.376/.598 slash line to approximately .311/.352/.564*. While still a fantastic showing for a fantasy center fielder, a 60-point drop in OPS is nothing to sneeze at.
Of course, we know that hitters have a degree of control over their BABIP, especially those blessed with speed like CarGo’s. The possibility of him sustaining a mark that high exists, however remote it may be. But what about his career best marks in isolated power and homer-per-fly ball percentage? Addressing that concern is trickier. Gonzalez’s minor league numbers suggest that his power may be in line for regression, and HitTracker data would seem to support this conclusion: 13 of his 34 home runs were classified as “just enough.” However, keep in mind that at this stage of their careers, many hitters have experienced leaps in power that proved sustainable.
Aiding in the power process is Gonzalez’s home park, Coors Field. Its effect is well known, and all caveats about using home/road splits as an analytical tool aside, the results to this point cannot be ignored. Outside of Denver, Gonzalez has posted significantly less impressive, if still above-average, offensive numbers. The 386-point difference between his home and road OPS was by far the highest in baseball.
Is this paranoia? Is this nitpicking? Is this looking a gift horse in the mouth? The answer is probably yes to all three. But as Pablo Sandoval taught us yet again in 2010, there’s a dark and tragic side to any free swinger.
*difference in slugging percentage calculated by multiplying difference between actual and expected hits by total bases per hit in 2010, with home runs removed from both.