In the course of the Rockies season thus far, my naked eye told me that Carlos Gonzalez appeared to take a walk in several situations that profiled as typical aggressive CarGo at bats. Could it be? Is the free swinging Carlos Gonzalez developing plate discipline? Well no. Actually yes. Sort of.
Carlos has 12 walks through 24 games. That is a pace to reach 81 walks for the year. His career high in walks is 48, so sure that does represent added patience. Supporting evidence includes his walk rate, which is on a good trajectory: from a measly 6.3% rate in 2010, up to 8.9% rate in 2011, and currently sitting at 11%. His strikeout rate has remained relatively constant: 21.2% in 2010, down to 19.4% in 2011, and at 20.2% in 2012. These are all good signs. Just imagine: this guy who struck out 135 times while walking only 40 times in 2010 somehow managed a .336 AVG and hit for power… what if he cut down on the free swinging? What could he do then?!
Consider this: the year CarGo hit .336 he swung at 37% of the pitches he saw outside of the strike zone. The league average that year for swinging at pitches outside the zone was 29.3% of the time. So has he improved upon that troublesome figure? A bit. He cut it to 35.6% last year and it currently sits at 35.6% again this year.
He is where it is going to get a bit weird though: Carlos is still swinging and missing an awful lot. In fact, he is missing more than ever. His 2012 rate for making contact when swinging the bat is only at 68.9% right now, down from 77.6% in 2010 and 76.1% in 2011. That sounds very troubling doesn’t it? But the fact is that Carlos is seeing an absurd amount of pitches outside of the strike zone so far in 2012, only seeing pitches thrown in the zone at an amazing rate of 35.5%! Pitchers obviously know that Carlos will chase, and they seem to be taking that to an extreme when pitching to him. What we are starting to see is pitchers taking that too far. Pitchers are offering Carlos drivel, and the good sign is that he has been able to make the adjustment. The last 3 years he has seen pitches increasingly outside of the zone yet his strikeout numbers have declined. He does have his limits when it comes to chasing pitches, and this will be a troubling development for pitchers. CarGo has learned to look for his pitch. So far in 2012 he has made contact with 90% of the pitches in the strike zone that he has swung at. For someone who swings so violently that is a great number. That isn’t someone just making contact; that is 90% contact at strikes with malevolent intent. The results of this are obvious, an OPS of 1.014 so far in 2012.
So while Carlos still swings at junk an awful lot, we should be grateful that even though he keeps seeing more and more junk, he hasn’t increased how often he chases it. That is called making adjustments in Major League Baseball, and that is the only way to have success. It will be interesting to watch how pitchers adjust. He is killing the ball right now even though pitchers have only thrown him balls in the zone 35.5% of the time. Will they throw more strikes to him in hopes of not getting into hitters counts or will they keep the ball away from the zone? If they do, look for Carlos to keep walking while taking advantages when he does see strikes. He could be headed for a monster season with these positive developments this year. Carlos has finally gotten to the point where pitchers really are damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
MLB league wide pitch location 2012: