2010 Rockies Player Review: Carlos Gonzalez

Arguably no player in baseball has had every aspect of his 2010 season dissected as much as Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. After being traded twice in high-profile transactions, the former top prospect in the Diamondbacks' system finally found a home in the big leagues after posting a .284/.353/.525 line in 317 plate appearances over the course of the 2009 season. That alone made many people proclaim CarGo as a breakout candidate for the 2010 season, but his performance in the '09 NLDS (.588/.632/.882) solidified him in the minds of baseball people as the real deal.

Gonzalez did not suffer a letdown in his first full season as a big leaguer, as he finished with gaudy numbers (.974 OPS, 26 stolen bases), a Gold Glove, and a Silver Slugger award. With those accomplishments, CarGo earned himself a 7-year, $80 million extension, which almost assuredly will give the Rockies one of baseball's best middle-of-the-order duos for years to come. However, there has been a lot of discussion about how CarGo arrived at those totals - and whether or not he'll be able to sustain them in the coming years.

Much has been made about Carlos' home/road splits. I don't want to beat a dead horse, so I'm not going to dive too far into those. If you want to read about them, simply click here. However, I will point out a couple of things. One is that while the splits may seem egregious, he was still well-above average (118 sOPS+) compared to how other players in the league perform away from their home park. Also, he seems to have a more aggressive approach on the road than at Coors Field (15 walks on the road compared to 25 at home), and fixing that could go a long way toward evening out his splits in 2011.

Concerns have also arisen about CarGo's healthy .384 BABIP from 2010 - most of which revolve around the assumption that he will not be able to repeat that going forward, hence lowering his batting average and making him less valuable. However, Carlos obviously has the speed (as evidenced by the aformentioned stolen base total) and the power (34 home runs is certainly nothing to frown upon) to retain a ton of value regardless of inevitable spells of bad luck. In addition, his improved plate discipline - he drew 29 of his 40 walks from July 1st on - will increase his chances of not having to rely on a high batting average to get on base. Simply put, it's not like Gonzalez has an empty batting average (no power, no walks, etc.). Rather, he appears to have the hit tools necessary to avoid a complete statistical plunge due to BABIP regression.

Finally, people forget that Gonzalez spent nearly a quarter of the season in the leadoff spot in the Rockies' lineup. It's tough to speculate whether or not his numbers would have been better or worse than they ended up had he been in the middle of the order during that time (as he possibly could have heated up like he did regardless of his spot in the order). However, the stats themselves (.290/.318/.466, 6 BB/47 K) suggest that he was hurt by the lack of protection and/or suffered from a different, more aggressive approach at the plate that comes with the territory of being a leadoff hitter.

Defensively, CarGo was excellent in left field (where he figures to play for the majority of 2011, unless Dexter Fowler fails to hold down center) for a second straight year, posting a 12.6 UZR/150 and making a plethora of highlight-reel plays. While he's not as loved by the UZR metric in center and right field, he certainly passes the eye test with his ability to cover a lot of ground combined with an above-average arm. He has been known to take a questionable rout or two to the ball, but he's definitely no Brad Hawpe, either.

Grade: A. Not sure there's any other grade that would be applicable here (as I don't believe in the "A+').

2011: It will be interesting to see how Gonzalez counters the inevitable adjustments that opposing pitchers will make when facing him. It will also be worth watching how he performs with better lineup protection (i.e. starting and staying in the 3-hole and *knock on wood* having Troy Tulowitzki around for a full season). If CarGo is able to continue improving his plate discipline while retaining his uncanny ability to hit lasers, the National League had better watch out.

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