At the top of the Houston Astros’ leaderboard for most games played in franchise history sits a pair of Hall of Famers. Craig Biggio is first. Jeff Bagwell is second.
All the way at the bottom of Baseball Reference’s excellent top 50 leaderboard is a name that might surprise you: Marwin Gonzalez. The former Rule 5 pick sits at No. 50, playing in 516 games as an Astro over five years.
He’s played all over the diamond, too. He’s played 214 games at shortstop, another 136 at first base, 71 at third, 56 at second base, another 37 in left field, 10 at designated hitter and one each in right field and center field. All he needs is to be both ends of a battery and he’ll complete the diamond.
Do you know the only player in Astros history to do so in one season? We’ll tell you that one at the end.
While he may not be as productive as other utility players in team history, Marwin seems to be barreling toward becoming the longest-tenured utility guy Houston’s ever had.
Let’s run through a brief history of other guys in Houston’s history that are ahead of Marwin on the games played list. Were any more utilitarian than him?
Neither Jeff Keppinger nor Eric Bruntlett played more games than Marwin. Ditto Mike Lamb, who was super-versatile but didn’t last as long.
Denny Walling was an itinerant guy for much of his Astros tenure, but eventually settled in as a semi-starter at third base.
We think of Geoff Blum in the same way as Marwin, playing all over the place. But, Blummer played 382 of his 580 career games in Houston at third base.
The closest one comes to finding a Marwin comp may be Jose Vizcaino. A shortstop by trade before hitting Houston, Vizcaino played just 230 of 559 games in Houston at the position. He spent time at second, third and first, too, just like Marwin.
Which leaves our patron saint of utility guys, Billy Spiers. I loved Spiers growing up. He was so great. He played everywhere. He’d hit pinch-hit home runs every other game*. He was the kind of glue guy who held the bottom of the roster together.
*This may not be true.
Still, for all the legends grown up around Spiers versatility, he played most of his Astros games at third. That makes sense, because third and shortstop were the two spots Houston struggled to fill during the Bagwell/Biggio era, especially after trading Andujar Cedeno and Ken Caminiti to the Padres.
Spiers played 305 of his 632 career games in Houston at third. That definitely fits the mold of a utility guy. So does Spiers playing second, first, shortstop and all three outfield spots during his time with the Astros.
Now, Spiers was a better hitter than Marwin. He put up one season with four fWAR, but the rest of his tenure in Houston looked about the same as our new utility man. He’d post fWAR around 1.5 or less, but only posted wRC+ totals above 100 twice in Houston. Despite a sterling walk rate, Spiers never had enough power to post slugging percentages in the .400s.
Marwin, on the other hand, had two years of wRC+s at 110 before falling to 87 last year. Give him one more above-average offensive season and he’ll top Spiers for career impact, too, if he never reaches the same offensive heights as Billy’s 1997 season.
If Marwin plays in 117 games this year, he’ll pass Spiers for 35th all time in franchise games played. It’s worth noting that Marwin has played in 120 games or more in each of the past two seasons.
There’s no safe bet that he’ll beat that mark, but I wouldn’t bet against him becoming the king of Astros utility players.
Oh, and the only Astro to ever play all nine positions in one season? That would be Jake Elmore in 2013. Marwin only played four positions that year.