Erik Gonzalez is Better Than Most Thought

Before this season, Erik Gonzalez was looked at more as a DFA candidate than a starting short stop for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He’s been far better than many of us thought, but given the benefit of time and opportunity, I think he’s also proven the Pirates should and will have to do better.

It’s important to say, that headline is genuine, Erik is indeed better than most of us thought, problem is that still doesn’t add up to someone who will lock down that position for long. What he is to the Pirates right now is a potential trade piece or a terrific bench piece who can play multiple positions well and isn’t a dead zone in the batter’s box. That’s a valuable player, just not a starter.

I can compare players in many ways, so can you, and we can make data mean whatever we like. Nobody does it better than Joe Block, he loves to tell us from September 2nd through September 12th so and so is leading the league in XYZ category. That’s not what this is for Erik, instead it’s a comparison of his 2019 and 2020. Straight up he has better numbers this season in most categories, part of that could be playing everyday allowed him to get into some kind of groove, rather than the sporadic usage and injuries he danced around in 2019.

Here’s the thing though, the feeling and narrative all season has been that the Bucs really found something here, I’ve even heard him mentioned as being the locked in starting SS for the next few seasons, um slow down.

I think what we’ve really discovered is if this is this window’s version of Sean Rodriguez we’re doing ok.

Let’s take a look at his numbers and I’m not going to dive super deep, this doesn’t really warrant that.

xwOBA Spanning Erik Gonzalez Career

This one chart shows a whole lot. It shows first of all, we saw Erik at his very worst in 2019, and in 2020 he rebounded back to his career averages, or at least close give or take individual categories. His xwOBA sits at .307 for reference the league average in this category is .320.

I could go on, his touted exit velocity is up, but only slightly and you can’t find a category that isn’t improved from 2019, problem is on almost every stat you look at he’s slightly below average both in comparison to his own stats and league averages.

Now it’s not all about the bat, the glove is elite, he sits in the 83rd percentile for OAA league wide, and on a team that at times kick the ball around like none other, there is cause to want a defensively elite player into the mix, especially if he can carry his own weight at the plate.

The facts don’t lie though, this isn’t a guy who should block someone from being called up. He’s also not a guy with no value, he could be a perfect bench guy who can spell Hayes on occasion capably, and handle both middle infield spots during injuries or even slumps.

My diagnosis after watching him perform with the opportunity he was given in 2020, this is the type of player you want around, he’s cheap, controlled and too old to keep prospects at bay for long. And that’s fine, not everyone needs to be a superstar. If you have a guy like this on your bench, you’re probably pretty good, well at least at the positions he plays. If you have a guy like this starting, you probably have some considerable work to do.

Take a stab at which one we are watching.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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