Carlos Gonzalez has been off to a slow start in what's been an extremely frustrating season for the Colorado Rockies. It's impossible to analyze the apparent psychological aspects of the issue — he seems way too inside his own head — but there's data available that points towards some worrying trends.
CarGo's first five seasons with the Rockies ranged from good to great. He was a two-time All-Star in 2012 and 2013, won the NL batting title in 2010, and was a Gold Glove winner in 2010, 2012, and 2013.
CarGo, when on, is a legitimate five-tool player. He can hit for average, hit for power, won three Gold Gloves in the five year period, and was good for at least 20 steals over a full season. CarGo was a guy who could consistently hit at or above .300 and go 20/20 on the year, all of which makes his fall from grace that much more frustrating. Here was a star player who could compliment Tulo nicely and help carry the Rockies when the rest of the pieces weren't clicking, but the past two seasons have seen a massive reversal.
Yikes. I realize a few injuries hindered him last year, but those numbers are still tough. Regardless, heading into this season the word from CarGo and the Rockies was that he felt great and was ready to roll. So far, he's looked awful and it's honestly cringe-inducing to see him struggle so badly at the plate. For a guy who has the ability to play so well, I'm sure it is equally as frustrating for him that's he is doing so poorly. I didn't need to include his numbers over the past two seasons to tell you he's struggling, as it has been obvious just by watching him. But what I did want to look at, however, is a possible reason why he might be doing so badly.
His BABIP is way down over the past two seasons compared to the first five, which suggests that he's probably making worse contact. Looking at contact statistics, however, doesn't really help shed much light on the situation. While his percentage of hard contact is a career-worst 26.4% this season, his 34.6% number in 2014 was near career-best. Because his BABIP dropped so much in 2014 and 2015 compared to his first five years in Colorado, I went to look at stats to see where in the field he was hitting the ball to determine how much the shift might be hurting him.
Interestingly enough, with the exception of 2013 CarGo is actually hitting the ball to opposite field more this year than in any season since 2009 with an Oppo% of 26.4%. He's actually done a good job hitting the ball to opposite field or up the middle. I found an interesting picture on an ESPN article regarding the shift; while he's definitely making softer contact this year as opposed to his better days, CarGo's numbers from 2014 weren't really any different than previous years. He's also done a fine job in hitting around the shift. Really, all of his batted ball statistics tell a similar story; 2015 is just an awful year in general for him, but his 2014 numbers aren't really any different than his numbers from 2009-2013.
Moving on from batted ball numbers, I next wanted to look at what sort of pitches he's seeing. Looking at what sort of pitches were coming his way, what sticks out to me is that he's seeing less sliders than ever. I would've guessed before writing this article that he was seeing more sliders, because when I see him play it looks like the pitch gets him so often. But this year, FanGraphs says that pitchers are throwing him less sliders and more changeups. PITCHf/x Pitch Values are all down over the past two seasons, but that seems intuitive given his declining average.
Finally, let's take a look at swing statistics. Although he swung at a career-high percentage of pitches outside of the zone in 2014, he's swung at pitches out of the zone at a near career-low percentage this year. His pitch recognition seems fine in general, as the past two seasons have seen him actually swing at more pitches inside the zone than he ever has. It's not like he's just up there hacking away either according to the numbers, as his total swing percentage has remained relatively consistent over his career. His numbers over the past two seasons regarding contact are down in general, but they're still pretty similar to his better years. It should be noted, however, that he is making less contact with the balls he does swing at.
Honestly, I expected to see something in the data that would be a huge indicator of an area that's bringing him down. But looking at the numbers on swing stats, pitch data, and contact statistics didn't tell me too much. It's very possible I'm not reading them correctly and I'm also no expert in sabermetrics. With that in mind, I'll leave you some tidbits from a FanGraphs article on whether the Rockies missed their chance to deal CarGo. It includes some good info on CarGo's recent struggles that I'll include below, but it is definitely a good read.
According to Jeff Zimmerman's Heat Maps, CarGo's batted ball distance has declined over the past two seasons. Something else FanGraphs mentions that I failed to notice was something regarding plate coverage. His contact numbers in most areas are pretty similar on a yearly basis, but he's struggled recently at hitting balls on the outer part of the plate. Paul Swydan thinks that his knee injury might be preventing him from extending to cover the outer third of the plate. He does mention, however, that pitchers haven't really caught on to this yet and aren't punishing him for it. I'll include the graphs here for easy viewing that's all in one place, but check out the link above because the guys over at FanGraphs are much better at explaining these things than I ever will be and they always do a stellar job.
In conclusion, I'm not really sure why his numbers are so bad. The discrepancies in swing data and batted ball data are present and definitely tell some of the story, but in my opinion they aren't so drastic as to explain such an awful slash line this year and such a mediocre one last year when the numbers aren't that far off from his better seasons. Thought? Please leave them below!