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Astros’ Marwin Gonzalez: MLB’s next mid-career breakout star?

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Marwin made a change. A big change. And there’s evidence that it might make him a star.

Oakland Athletics v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

I haven't studied images enough to verify, but Geoff Blum made a comment on last night’s broadcast about Marwin Gonzalez that hit me like a brick and actually makes it possible that Marwin is for real.

Not just for real, but possible that Marwin is baseball’s next big mid-career breakout star. And I’m not even joking.

Most of you know that I'm a stat geek. But in the last few years there has been a surprising number of mid-career breakout batters that has nothing to do with regression to the mean or BABIP or anything. ALL of them have the same thing in common: a change to their batting stance to drop their hands to just below chest-level.

So when Blum casually mentioned that Marwin had changed his stance to "drop his hands", to me that was a really exciting point.

Dropping the hands from a much higher point shortens the bat path to the ball, but it does it without sacrificing any bat speed. So it allows a batter to do two things: 1) get a longer look at the ball because the swing is shorter, and 2) control the bat better because there is less swing time for the bat to get out of whack - the muscle memory is easier and allows for quicker changes because the bat hasn't built up a huge momentum from coming around the shoulders first.

Here is a list of guys off the top of my head that I can remember reading that they made this same change:

  • Ben Zobrist (he was the first I remember reading about, a long time ago, but I remember thinking "why don't more guys do this?")
  • A.J. Pollock (before 2014. Went from .140 ISO to .196)
  • Jake Lamb (after 2015...he went from .123 ISO to .260)
  • Jean Segura (prior to 2016...wRC+ jumped from the 60's to 126)
  • Eric Thames (see screenshots in this article)

Know who else kept his hands low? Jeff Bagwell. Just saying. Jeff Bagwell was great, and it never hurts to sneak that into an article.

Blum intimated that Marwin used to have this lower hands stance, and a quick check back to this image from 2013 confirms. But then he got away from it, and in the meantime he matured as a professional hitter. And now, as a professional hitter, he has gone back to a more efficient swing path that has improved patience and power for many players in the middle of their ML careers.

Marwin is batting .246/.352/.672 this season (182 wRC+) with a (!!!) 12.3% walk rate and a (LOL) .426 Isolated Slugging percentage*.

*ISO is total bases per at bat, excluding first base. ML average is .161. The best power hitters are a bit north of .250.

Obviously, that ISO isn't sustainable. But know what else isn't sustainable? His unlucky .179 BABIP.

Marwin is a guy who has a career BABIP of almost exactly .300 and has always had a top-notch bat-to-ball skill. With balls falling at more of a normal rate, Marwin would be somewhere in the neighborhood of .290/.390/.700 (think about that for a second).

So that is to say, while the home runs are too much to swallow, he has (reportedly) made a mechanical change that has resulted in more power power and patience — the same mechanical change that has developed some of the greatest late-bloomers in recent MLB memory.

He won’t maintain his 162-game pace of around 50 home runs. But now it looks like he could easily top 25 and even be sneaking up on 30 if he gets enough playing time. That’s your 2013-2017 backup infielder, Astros fans.

If this is real, it's not as crazy a stretch as it sounds to say that Marwin Gonzalez might now be a well-above-average major league player, and (if you do want to stretch a little) may have tapped into some legitimate star-level ability.

We'll see! But my eyes, my gut, and the stats tell me that he has worked his way into some serious playing time for the remainder of the season.