clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

I’m quite ready for another Oscar Gonzalez adventure

I want to see Oscar Gonzalez in Cleveland again

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Cleveland Guardians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes, it’s important to allow a little whimsy into our fandom. So, allow me two literary references as I make an appeal to see Oscar Gonzalez get another shot to play baseball for the Guardians.

First, from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland:

Alice: “Sometimes I believe in as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Mad Hatter: “That is an excellent practice”

I feel like most of the Guardians fans I encounter have one of two mindsets on Oscar Gonzalez:

  1. It is very unlikely that a player who has a chase rate in the 1st percentile and a whiff rate in the 37th percentile is going to be a success in the major leagues. He also doesn’t offer a lot of defensive value to offset his inevitable slumps.
  2. SpongeBob got a walk-off hit against both the Rays and Yankees in the 2022 playoffs, how can you not give that player another shot?? Plus, that boy nice.

I find myself with a lot of sympathy for people in both camps. Obviously, I cannot deny the likelihood, statistically speaking, that 2022 Oscar Gonzalez was simply a random shooting star across the expanse of the Cleveland Baseball historical sky. He was 1980 Super Joe Charboneau, 2011 Shelley Duncan, 2003 Jody Gerut. He’ll be able to attend plenty of future Cleveland alumni autograph events and sign SpongeBob paraphernalia for the rest of his life, but we shouldn’t look for him to stick on the 26-man roster long-term or add anything of value to a team looking to break a 75-year World Series title drought.

But, the other side of my brain remembers the advice of the Mad Hatter that believing six impossible things before breakfast is an excellent practice. You know what would be a lot more fun than Oscar Gonzalez being the kind of player the Guardians let become a minor league free agent in the fall of 2021 would be him figuring out how to make this narrow hitting profile work, how to lay off enough bad pitches to get pitches close enough to the zone for him to flip, drive, scorch and bloop into hits. Even if the Guardians don’t win a World Series, I would greatly enjoy my three young children going to the game and hearing Gonzalez’s walk-up music from a kids’ show, reminding them that as Oscar himself said, “Baseball is for the kids.”

Oscar Gonzalez is a reminder that hitting a baseball is mostly an impossible thing. But, somehow, he found a way to do it last fall. He found a way to do it in Columbus last year and the year prior. He made his way from the impoverished nation of the Dominican Republic to do it and found his way to the freaking major leagues. How can you not root for a guy like this to figure it out, again?

I do think there is statistically a path for Gonzalez. The path is blazed by a teammate, Josh Naylor. Naylor also has a poor chase rate in the 4th percentile and a walk rate on the lower side of things at 6%. Yet, Naylor has been ahead in counts where he has seen at least two pitches in about 48% of his plate appearances this season. Another example would be Luis Robert of the Chicago White Sox who has a chase rate in the 5th percentile and a whiff rate in the 10th percentile. Robert has a 29/5 K/BB% this year, yet has put up 142 wRC+. Yet, Robert has been ahead in counts where he has seen at least two pitches about 55% of the time this season. For comparison, Gonzalez was in those situations only 33% of the time last season. And he still made it work!

I do know that in the second half of 2022, Gonzalez saw about .75 pitches more per at-bat than he did in the first 150 or so plate appearances he had as a rookie. I do think the solution for Gonzalez is to balance being aggressive enough to not miss hittable strikes early in counts but patient enough to not swing pitches that make pitchers believe they don’t have to get the ball anywhere near the strike zone to get him out. I don’t think Gonzalez has to get to a 5-6% walk rate to make this work ... he just has to earn himself enough strikes or near-strikes to do damage. That’s what Josh Naylor and Luis Robert do, and I think Gonzalez can do it, too. Perhaps to a lesser degree, but at a level still extremely valuable to a major league team.

Another crucial piece of the puzzle is Gonzalez doing appropriate damage when he makes contact. Both Naylor and Robert absolutely demolish baseballs when they put wood to horsehide and Gonzalez has some great exit velocities but hasn’t been able to consistently produce them. Assuredly, this is because he’s making weak contact on pitches comically out of the strike zone. All Gonzalez has to do is take a breath and take a few more of the wildest of the pitches he sees and he will earn himself pitches to damage.

After a good stretch of games recently, Gonzalez has pulled his wRC+ up to 97 in Columbus. The team could wait to see him ramp it up to more respectable totals of course. But right now, on a team continuing to dwell in the bottom five of league wRC+, with one of the most punchless outfields we’ve ever seen and a centerfielder who has a homerless streak older than two of my children ... it would make sense to me to give Gonzalez another look now, even before the Cubs series is over. Especially considering the team has a chance to try to acquire more talent at this trade deadline to potentially help with their dearth of slugging, it would be helpful to get another look, if brief, at Gonzalez and what he can offer. At present, I want to see Kwan in left, Brennan in center, Gonzalez in right, and Straw coming off the bench every game defensively and starting two times a week or so as well.

Let’s not forget that Oscar Gonzalez is fun. He should have coaches, teammates, and fans reminding him every day how fun he is and how important he was to the special run this team had in 2022. They should build up his confidence that he CAN be a major-league hitter. He can spit on a few sliders in the dirt and get himself a pitch above his shoelaces and do damage with it as well as anyone in the bigs.

My second, and final, literary reference is from my favorite novel, the Lord of the Rings. In the film version, former homebody hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, is invited to sail to the Undying Lands and tells his friends and the wandering wizard Gandalf who got him into this mess:

This is the same Bilbo who once said:

“Adventures are nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things. Make you late for dinner!”

After a lifetime of taking some chances, believing in some whimsy, and seeking out experiences that draw out the wonder within, Bilbo is willing, even at the ripe old age of 131, to try something magical and uncertain because of the promise of delight it offers.

Can I just say I’m ready for another Oscar Gonzalez adventure? Do I have to have the exact statistical reasons to defend that feeling? This coming adventure might be disturbing or uncomfortable at times. It might make me late for dinner when he swings at a ball in the other batter’s box sometimes to keep a game going into extras. But he also might hit a walk-off bomb to end a marathon game because he has that kind of power.

Personally, I’m ready to see if Oscar can recapture the magic again.