Let’s be clear, I don’t know, and really, I doubt if Ben Cherington knows with any level of certainty at this moment. So, what I think we can do successfully here is talk about the different paths they could choose using the new information we have from watching some choices the management has made.
First let’s discuss if this is real. It might be. Because of the serious injury Erik suffered last season when he collided with Starling Marte his 2019 looks a whole lot like a normal starting role in 2020 would. In 2019 he put together 153 plate appearances in 53 games. He started the season really badly before the injury and was possibly the Pirates best hitter not named Newman or Reynolds down the stretch.
Here’s the interesting thing about Gonzalez, the exit velocity and the xBA it generates.
To be fair, Erik has had an attractive exit velocity for quite some time and it’s exactly why Cleveland liked him and why Pittsburgh wanted to take a shot at using him. Gonzalez was going to rot in Cleveland and the Pirates didn’t believe in Kevin Newman after his poor September in 2018.
All this exit velocity adds up to an equally impressive hard hit rate. The problem for Erik has been an inability to combine this with launch angle. Remember with launch angle anything below a 20 is likely to be a ground ball, hard hit or not, ground balls equal outs more often than line drives or fly balls.
What you see there is how the expected slugging percentage goes up when Gonzalez finds the sweet spot. Now, this next chart is a very small sample size that 2020 has provided, and that actually is a reason to not get overly excited just yet.
What I’m trying to show here is when he gets this factor dialed in and adds it to what his natural exit velocity gravitates toward he becomes a much more dynamic and dangerous hitter.
Is this a fluke, well it sure could be, but the historical data says he isn’t without major promise and the really nice thing is some of the most important data is consistent. That means dialing in on improving launch angle won’t be done by also trying to fix another issue.
So now that we see what Gonzalez has been and what he’s done for a very short period of time. Let’s discuss what all this could mean for the Pirates should it continue.
Trade at the deadline
I’m tempted to dismiss this out of hand. I don’t think the league in general is going to be very active for starters. I just don’t think many teams make deadline deals to acquire potential unless they themselves are trying to rebuild, in which case why would the Pirates want that with where they are in the process? Let’s play House Hunters and eliminate this one.
Trade in the Off-Season
Maybe. Erik will be 29 at the end of this month. He only makes $725,000 so he can hardly be a salary dump. The Pirates own two more seasons of arbitration eligibility and even if he lights the world on fire every game the rest of 2020 it won’t be more than a 40-45 game sample size. Again, if you want potential, ok, but it might be hard to get a return as valuable as what he could provide even if he ultimately is a bench piece. He has one thing really going for him, the Pirates seem intent on letting him shoot his shot.
Is He a Future Starter
Here’s why I ask this question. Gonzo is arguably the best infielder on this club. I’m sure Hayes could give him a run for his money but right now it remains true, for that matter he can handle a multitude of positions, well. Again that age, even if he is good enough can he be more than a 2 or 3 season solution? Then again that was enough for Josh Harrison. I’m not going to name every other prospect who profile as capable middle infielders but you know there are a ton. It’s clear they think he is a better candidate than Cole Tucker, and while I don’t see Tucker as a bust, the Pirates obviously think he’s more valuable making room for others by moving positions than giving him the inheritance of short stop. None of that even mentions that Kevin Newman, while he’s made some mental errors this season is currently the starter, or is he? Gonzalez has just about caught him for playing time. I think the answer here is maybe for a while, but not to the point that Peguero or Gonzales (this season’s first round selection) need to move. I do question where they play Oneil Cruz, but he’s an athlete too. Bottom line, I believe him to be a short term solution. Maybe a guy who gets a year or two past arbitration before being dealt, and that all depends on just how real these numbers are.
Erik is an interesting guy, one that I wrote off to be honest. I’d seen enough of him, at least until the Pirates forced it on me, now I find myself interested in seeing some more.
What do you think? Well I asked on Twitter and I got some interesting answers.
All of these folks are really fun follows for the Pirates by the way so if you have an open mind and a willingness to discuss things about the team honestly do give them a follow.
I’ll release the poll results tomorrow in an update to this post and of course on Twitter.
I’ll also have the game story for today’s contest. Lets Go Bucs!