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Rockies outfielder Carlos González’s hot streak is small comfort in a tough season

What recent hot streak tells us about the former batting champ

Carlos González has had a memorable year for the Colorado Rockies. Except, it’s been memorable for the wrong reasons—flailing swings at strike three or rolled-over groundballs to second. These things have burrowed themselves into my memory right next to all those bat drops.

There’s really no way around how bad it’s been. His .239/.305/.354 line is the worst since his rookie year with the Athletics and his -1.8 fWAR is the worst in baseball. The same player who just two years ago hit 40 home runs currently has seven. Almost two weeks ago, Paul Swydan at FanGraphs took a deep dive into the numbers to try to figure out what has been going on and it wasn’t pretty. He concluded:

Gonzalez has started each of the past six games, and 14 of the last 15. He’s not going to go to never playing again overnight. But it’s time for the Rockies to start cutting into his playing time. Whether it’s Raimel Tapia, Ian Desmond, Ryan McMahon or someone else...

But wait! Heading into Wednesday’s games, CarGo has a .764 OPS in 28 plate appearances since that article appeared. Could he be “figuring it out”?

By using Baseball-Reference’s tOPS+ tool, which compares how well a player has done in a particular split compared to his overall output, we can see that not only is González hitting better than he has all season, but he’s also trending in the right direction.

Carlos González, 2017

Last 7 days 5 20 5 1 .368 .400 .474 165
Last 14 days 11 44 11 1 .311 .318 .405 119
Last 28 days 21 86 18 4 .309 .337 .420 129
Season 99 397 87 35 .239 .305 .354 100
Stats as of 8/16/2017

He’s also hitting the ball better. Over his career he has a 34.7 percent hard contact rate; that’s part of what’s made CarGo CarGo. This season he has a hard contact rate of 28.8 percent, hardly what you want to see out of a slugging corner outfielder. But over the last two weeks, CarGo’s hard hit rate is 35.9 percent, right around his career norms. Perhaps we are seeing the CarGo we all know and love?

Which brings us to the answer about CarGo figuring it out: yes, but only against the extremely low bar he’s set himself. Leaving aside the small sample size concerns, those sOPS+ numbers are only in comparison to CarGo himself, not the whole league. Being 65 percent better (tOPS+ of 165 over the last week) than a 62 OPS+ hitter still results in a barely league average hitter. And that’s the best he’s been over an extended stretch this season.

Not only that, but CarGo’s sOPS+ numbers above show that while he’s been getting much better results, especially over the last week, the process has still been lacking. Over those same two weeks, his soft contact rate, which is 18.9 percent for his career, is sitting at 28.2 percent. It’s part of what has been plaguing González all season: all those grounders to the right side of the infield and the lazy pop ups to shallow center.

The unfortunate truth remains: Carlos González isn’t hitting like a full-time player anymore. While he’s been able to produce plenty of highlight reel catches, he’s at -3 DRS for the season, meaning he’s not providing so much value with the glove either (like, say, Trevor Story is, despite his well-below league average bat) that he absolutely must be in the lineup.

As Swydan pointed out, the Rockies seem loath to outright bench him in what may (and probably should) be his last year with the team after nine seasons. Maybe the team would be more amenable to using him as the strong side of a platoon (say with a healthy Ian Desmond, or, if that’s not a possibility, Noel Cuevas), but that doesn’t seem to be part of the Rockies’ plans.

It seems that the best Rockies fans can hope for would be for González to perform as a league average hitter the rest of the way. It wouldn’t mean that Cargo had a good season, but it might be enough to plug what has been a black hole in the lineup.