Position Review & Preview: Alex Gonzalez, Shortstop

Welcome to Milwaukee, Alex Gonzalez.  Gonzalez was almost instantly a fan favorite after he was signed to a $4.25MM deal this offseason, not so much because of what he’s done in the past, but because he is replacing the much-maligned Yuniesky Betancourt.  Betancourt was not an unmitigated disaster least season; his early-August hot streak helped the Brewers go 10-2 through that stretch, and defensively he was not as bad as he had been in years past.  Still, he lived up to his reputation as one of the worst players in baseball.  Defensively, Betancourt amassed a career-low .965 fielding percentage, a -7.5 UZR/150 (standardized ultimate zone rating), and a -7 DRS (defensive runs saved).  It didn’t get much better with the bat; although Betancourt’s .252 average and 13 dingers were passable, he rarely walked and swung at an obscene number-nearly 60%-of pitches thrown outside the zone.  It’s amazing that he struck out only 63 times.

At the plate, Gonzalez doesn’t offer much more than Betancourt did.  He’s slashed just .247/.291/.398 for his career.  No one will be mistaking the guy for Troy Tulowitzki.  With Atlanta last year, Gonzalez became more aggressive than at any other time in his 13-year career, chasing pitches outside the zone and striking out 126 times (although, in Gonzalez’s defense, he did make contact with what would be balls at a 70% rate).  Unfortunately, he also reached base less than at any time in the last five years.  It would be wonderful to see that OBP edge up past .300 again, but I’m not holding my breach.

Where Gonzalez shines, though, is on defense.  He rarely commits errors and has great range at the position.  Braves fans raved about his defense last year, rating him a “great” or “Gold-Glove caliber” shortstop.  Jim Powell had nothing but good things to say about Gonzalez’s glove, too.  DRS rates him slightly lower, as an “above-average” or “great” fielder.  Any way you cut it, Gonzalez should be a welcome addition to an infield that struggled mightily to convert batted balls into outs in 2011.

Gonzalez certainly started off on the right foot this spring, too.  Gonzalez scorched the ball in his 22 games, amassing a .473/.517/.836(!) line in 22 games.  Usual disclaimers regarding opposition quality and sample size apply, but still, it’s a nice way for him to begin his tenure with a new team.

2012 Projection: 145 G, 550 PA, 520 AB, 132 H, 56 R, 30 2B, 1 3B, 15 HR, 61 RBI, 23 BB, 107 K, 1 SB, .254/.271/.401

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