The Coors Effect

July 12, 2009 11:27 AM

What will the Rockies do with Carlos Gonzalez?

Since being recalled from Colorado Springs on June 5, Carlos Gonzalez just hasn't been very good.

Gonzalez is hitting .205/.283/.337.  The OBP and SLG are obviously being weighed down a lot by his batting average, but they're both terrible.  The main problem is that Gonzalez is striking out in more than a quarter of his plate appearances.  He's hitting the ball with some authority (seven of his seventeen hits have been for extra bases) and he's showing some patience (nine walks.)

It's hard to tell what's going on here.  Gonzalez may be trying to do too much to justify his inclusion on the team; that could explain the strikeouts.  Or, it's just possible that he's getting unlucky.  Gonzalez is hitting line drives -- 25.9 percent of his balls in play have been line drives -- which should translate to a good batting average.  But his BABIP is just .276; Chris Dutton's expected BABIP calculator says that Carlos's BABIP should be around .349.

Because he's striking out so much, though, even with a higher BABIP his overall average would still be .253.  Still, that would give him an overall line of .253/.326/.386 -- not great, but he wouldn't be that much of a drag on the lineup.

But what complicates matters for the Rockies is the performance of Seth Smith.  In a part-time role, Smith is hitting .289/.407/.493, and it's hard to justify playing Gonzalez over him -- particularly now that the Rockies have real playoff hopes and should be playing for this year.  Smith should be playing every day, yet he's started just two of the last nine games -- Gonzalez has started the other seven.  Although we're dealing with such a small sample for Gonzalez (I could live with .253/.326/.386), there's very little to suggest that Carlos Gonzalez is a better player than Seth Smith right now.  Yes, Gonzalez has a chance to be a better player than Smith a few years from now, but right now it's 2009, not 2013.

Further complicating matters: Gonzalez is still young enough to be a prospect.  The Rockies want him to play every day, somewhere; that means, realistically, that Gonzalez will not be a bench player on the major league club.  He will start either for the Rockies or in Colorado Springs.  But the problem with the latter option is that, frankly, Gonzalez has nothing left to learn in the minors.  Before his callup, Gonzalez was hitting .342/.417/.626; he'd drawn 20 walks and struck out only 32 times in 190 at bats.  The Rockies could send him down to get his confidence back; but at this point, all sending him down would accomplish is to frustrate him.  After all, he's done everything he can do in the minor leagues.  Get called up, hit .205 for a month, and you get sent back down?  That might actually wind up hurting his confidence more than it helps.  And, of course, there's the fact that Gonzalez was the centerpiece of the Matt Holliday trade.  Sure, Huston Street has done well as the Rockies' closer, but Gonzalez was the reason that the Rockies made the trade.  That means that the Rockies will do everything they can to ensure that Gonzalez gets his chances (although some Rockies fans are probably already saying "we traded Holliday to get this guy?") 

But since we're in "win now" mode, Smith should be playing.  Smith should be starting every day in left field, with Gonzalez getting a couple of starts a week until he shows that he can hit major league pitching.  I think this situation is not unlike the situation the Rockies had with Ian Stewart earlier this year: the Rockies weren't about to bench Garrett Atkins (at the start of the season, anyway) for a young player who was still relatively green.  But Stewart, like Gonzalez, was at a point where sending him to the minors might actually have been counterproductive.  So the Rockies gave him the occasional start, until Atkins stopped hitting and there was no longer any excuse not to play Stewart.  If Smith starts playing every day and doesn't hit, sure, bench him for the young player with upside.  Until then, though, Smith deserves as much of a shot to show what he can do as Gonzalez does.

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