It’s not often that a young player receives a seven-year deal for $80 million before he hits his arbitration years, but Carlos Gonzalez is receiving just that from the Colorado Rockies this week. In his first full big league season, he hit 34 home runs and 117 RBIs batting .336/.376/.598. Gonzalez has shown a brilliant combination of power and speed since his first pro season in A+ ball with the Diamondbacks in 2006, and has exceed expectations this past season. And much of that has to do with his improved plate discipline and performance against particular pitches as well as working the count better.
One of my favorite stats pages is the pitch type value tables, as it tells you not only whether a prolific hitter improved from one season to another, but against which pitch type. For Gonzalez, he has been hitting fastballs a lot better now since his move from the A’s to the Rockies, attaining a 1.67 wFB/C in 2010, which is fastball run value above average per 100 pitches (compared to a -1.66 wFB/C with the A’s in 2008). He has also dramatically improved his hitting against sliders and changeups, reaching a 1.01 wSL/C and 3.81 wCH/C.
Here’s a look at how Gonzalez has changed his swing behavior the past three seasons against the four main pitch types, fastballs, sliders, curveballs, and changeups:
For comparison’s sake, Gonzalez saw about 1353 fastballs, 369 sliders, 237 curveballs, and 272 changeups in 2010. According to his pitch type values, Gonzalez improved his hitting against fastballs, sliders, and changeups and some of that has come with being more aggressive with swinging at such pitches. Gonzalez was about average against curveballs in 2010, decreasing his swing percentage against such breaking balls.
Perhaps there is another reason besides slightly more aggressive swinging overall that allowed Gonzalez to hit very well across most pitch types in 2010. For instance, the opposing pitcher may have had to throw straight fastballs for strikes more often because of being behind in the count, great pitches for a power hitter to swing at. Here’s a look at how often Gonzalez found himself behind in the count vs. ahead in the count (percentage of all pitches seen):
Ahead in the count (more balls than strikes):
Behind in the count (more strikes than balls):
Though it’s a bit tougher to prove that getting ahead in the count was the major cause of Gonzalez’s improved hitting across the board, we can at least confirm that Gonzalez has found himself in more and more favorable situations in each of the past three seasons. For the first time, Gonzalez was ahead in the count more often than behind in the count in 2010 (almost equal at 28.2% vs. 27.6%).
Gonzalez’s strikeout rate improved slightly due to less two-strike situations, which also allowed him the opportunity to swing more often early in the count. At the tender age of 25, the hope is that Gonzalez continues to improve his count situations in order to take advantage of opposing pitchers. Like many free-swinging power hitters, Gonzalez drew less than 50 walks and struck out over 130 times last season. It’s critical for Gonzalez to continue adjusting to pitchers as they adjust to him, especially in a league with pitching rotations like that of the Giants and the Phillies. He’s shown the power in the bat and speed on the base paths to continue being one of the best offensive players in the National League, and progressive improvement in plate discipline will make him even more dangerous the next seven years.