Astros History: Luis Gonzalez And His Surprising OPS

PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 10: Manager Luis Gonzalez of the World Futures team meets with the umpires and manager Mike Piazza of the United States Futures team before the 2011 XM All-Star Futures Game at Chase Field on July 10, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Okay, so I've always thought of Luis Gonzalez as the best-case scenario for J.D. Martinez, only without the speed that Gonzo had. Gonzalez never had the kind of minor league success that J.D. did, so it's not the perfect matchup on either end. But, Gonzo had such an interesting progression in the majors, it's worth checking into.

The reason we're talking about him here is that Gonzo had a 123 OPS+ in 1993, his third full season in the majors. He hit .300/.361/.457 in 154 games for the Astros that year with 15 home runs and 20 steals on the nose. He was also insanely good defensively, despite playing left field. Seriously, he had 22 Fielding Runs according to FanGraphs. Playing left field.

Two years earlier, in his first full season as a starter, he hit about the same number of home runs with half the steals, but dramatically different batting lines. Why was that? The easy answer is his batting average on balls in play. In 1991, he was at .295. In 1993, he was up to .325. That 30 point swing doesn't explain the almost 50 point increase in batting average, but once we look at the other significant change, it might.

See, Gonzalez also saw his strikeout rate fall from around 19 percent in '91 to a much more reasonable 13 percent in '93. That's where it stayed for pretty much the rest of his career, give or take a few points. Of course, it took him another year for his walk rate to enjoy a similar climb.

After this season, his strikeout rate would stay at 13 percent and his walk rate would stay at 10 percent. Sure, there were crazy seasons like the time he hit 57 home runs (thanks to the power of his twins/triplets/however many babies he had). But, for the most part, his progression was pretty linear.

First came the strikeout rate drop. Then came the walk rate increase. Then came the power.

I'm sure we can posit that those early seasons in the Astrodome probably suppressed his power and that he was a 20-homer guy before he left Houston in '95. But, there's no doubt you can chart his progression. 1993 was the first time when he looked like a player who could stick in the majors and not just play for a terrible team.

Will J.D. follow a similar path? If he gets a chance to show it in 2013, he'll need to take strides then to keep up.

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