2013 Houston Astros Season Preview: Marwin Gonzalez, Shortstop

Greg Fiume

Marwin Gonzalez will be in the mix at shortstop this season. Will he be a viable part of a platoon there?

We've spent plenty of time discussing Marwin Gonzalez around here, before and after the Jed Lowrie trade. It appears he'll be an important building block for this team in 2013, playing plenty of shortstop and splitting time there with Tyler Greene.

We should also note that Marwin's season was cut short by a brutal ankle injury pictured here:

Marwin_medium

That injury effectively ended his season and he was still dealing with it in winter ball, when he had a pretty terrible season. How he bounces back from that will be a big factor in his numbers this year.

One thing we have failed to touch upon is whether or not Marwin needs to be in a platoon with Greene. Does he have pronounced lefty-righty splits? I that strange for a switch hitter in the first place?

Well, yes and no. Usually a switch hitter is better from one side of the plate than the other, as is the case with Marwin. He didn't see much time against lefties last season, so I wonder if he truly has a platoon split or whether the Astros are just putting him in one to get both players some time.

Let's explore both his 2012 season and his projections before diving into this split business in greater detail.

2012 Season

Gonzalez opened the 2012 season as the Opening Day starter at shortstop, thanks to a wrist injury that kept Jed Lowrie out for a few weeks to open the season. Gonzalez played frequently over the rest of the season, starting games at shortstop, third base and second base.

In 219 plate appearances last season, Gonzalez hit .234/.280/.327 with two home runs, 29 strikeouts and 13 walks. That's good for a walk rate of 5.9 percent and a strikeout rate of 13.2 percent. Both of those numbers match his career numbers from the minor leagues, suggesting that his patience should stabilize around this rate in more playing time.

Don't expect Gonzalez to hit many home runs. His two last season was pretty much par for the course in the minors. But, I do think you can expect him to hit a bit higher than .234, seeing as his BABiP was one of the lowest of his career. His line drive rate was decent at 19 percent and a slight uptick in him BABiP could lead to a .270/.310/.320 line pretty easily. That's not great, but it would be playable in the short term.

His platoon splits favor his matchup against right-handers, since Marwin is a switch hitter. But, he got significantly more plate appearances against right-handers than he did against lefties. In 153 PAs agains right-handers, Marwin hit .276/.325/.388 with a 12 percent strikeout rate and an isolated power average of .112. Against lefties, Marwin had 53 PAs and hit a dreadful .133/.145/.151 with a 16 percent strikeout rate.

2013 Projections

Here's a player with whom projection system must have a problem. Marwin is pretty much slotted in for around 250 plate appearances, but one (Oliver) gives him 529 while another (ZiPS) has him at 418. Do they project him to get a lion's share of the time at shortstop next season or do they go with his playing time from 2012?

Bill James decided to go with the latter, and has him down for 233 plate appearances in 78 games. He's got him matching his walk rate and slightly lowering his strikeout rate, leading to a better BABiP and a better slash line of .251/.296/.347.

The Steamer projections also tab Marwin at 259 plate appearances with the same drop in strikeout rate while showing signs of life in his slash line (.240/.288/.339). There's less progress here with the bat and a downward trend in Fielding Runs, while Steamer projects Marwin to make strides on the basepaths and post a 0.2 fWAR.

As for Oliver, it's got him with a slightly higher strikeout rate than last season, a slightly higher walk rate and a significantly, BABiP-fueled rise in slash line to .261/.312/.363. It also has him slightly improving in Fielding Runs and on the bases, which results in a fWAR of 2.0.

ZiPS is more positive on playing time, saying he'll get to 413 plate appearances, while being less positive on his rates. He's projected to hit .249/.291/.334 despite an increase in BABiP, but also seeing a significant increase in strikeout rate and a dip in walk rate. That leads to a proejcted WAR total of 0.5.

Conclusions

There is a platoon advantage in there somewhere for Marwin, but is it a statistical illusion? I think the bigger question we need to parse is how instrumental the current Astros front office was in the deployment of Marwin last season.

Let's say that the Astros decision scientists had Marwin's minor league splits handy and knew that he'd be better against right-handers than against lefties by a significant margin. So, they gave this info to Brad Mills last season and asked him to limit the bench guy's plate appearances against left-handers as much as possible.

Now, because Marwin is a bench guy, he can do that. He's going to get spot starts, so make sure they're against a right-hander. He's going to pinch hit, do it against a right-handed reliever. For the most part, it worked and he had a decent line.

If this platoon idea came out of last year's data, though, I'm a little more skeptical, but not much more. We know that Marwin hits rightys pretty well, and we know that Tyler Green can rake at home, so why not try and make that platoon work in whatever way they can?

A solid defender at short, Marwin should be able to hold up to the brunt of the time facing rightys. How he hits will tell us much more about how long he'll be on the roster.

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