On the Astros: Marwin Gonzalez and hot starts

Bob Levey

Houston's Rule 5 pick from 2012 has already hit three homers. He never hits homers. What does that mean?

What is going on with Marwin Gonzalez?

In his seven year career in professional baseball, Houston Astros shortstop Marwin Gonzalez has never hit more than four home runs. He hit three last year between Triple-A and the majors and hit four in both 2010 and 2011 in the Cubs' minor league season.

This season, Game Breaker has already hit three home runs and now sports a .289 batting average with a .347 on-base percentage and a .533 slugging percentage. That SLG is higher than any he's ever had at any level of the minors.

I ask again, what the heck is going on here?

Quick answer? Small sample size.

Slightly longer answer? He's only had 53 plate appearances. That's a tiny number of plate appearances and none of his stats have had time to stabilize yet. Do you know the only stat that stabilizes around 50 PAs? Swing percentage.

Marwin doesn't look good there, as he's down from 86 percent contact to 80 percent so far this season. He's swinging less out of the zone (by some measures) but also swinging less in the zone.

Add in a higher than normal batting average on balls in play, a much lower infield fly ball rate and a much higher home run to fly ball ratio.

The only thing supporting Gonzalez' power gains this season is that he's young and has a fairly solid frame. You could imagine his power just filling in later than some prospects and him showing more power in the majors than in the minors.

I don't totally buy that yet. Neither do the statistical projections, who have Game Breaker hitting four more home runs for the rest of the season to finish with seven. That seems reasonable, accounting for the early season power surge while still not going crazy with projections. I mean, if we just went off "on pace" stats, Gonzalez would be on pace for 33 home runs if he gets to 600 plate appearances.

I was looking at fast starts in Houston's past and realized while there have been many cases of guys hitting well in April, most of them have then gone on to have decent seasons. The only guy who really had a great April and a bad rest of the season was catcher Rick Wilkins, who hit four homers and had a slash line of .324/.449/.549 in April 1996. He hit .243/.344/.399 with 14 homers total that season.

The guy who reminds me the most of Game Breaker is Orlando Miller. Back in the mid 90's, Houston tried everything it could to get a shortstop for the future. They tried Andujar Cedeno, but then he hit arbitration and got expensive. They tried Miller, and he had exactly one season where he hit well enough to be in the lineup, but struggled with injuries. They also tried Tim Bogar, Ricky Gutierrez and more, but let's get back to Miller.

In 1995, Miller got 355 plate appearances and hit .262/.319/.377 with five home runs. The next season, in 150 more PAs, Miller hit 10 more home runs, but saw his averages plunge a bit to .256/.291/.417.

Maybe this is just Houston's first uncharacteristic April for a hitter. Other teams have them, so maybe this is just the Astros regressing to the mean. Gonzalez won't hit 15 home runs, but I could see him hitting .250 with on-base percentage around .310. If he keeps hitting home runs, though, I won't know what to think.

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