Erik Williams-USA Today Sports

Houston Astros Utility Player Marwin Gonzalez has an All Star Case

The Astros have another player with a strong case to be in the 2017 All Star Game, and that player is Marwin Gonzalez.

On May 2nd, Marwin Gonzalez came up to bat with the bases loaded against Keone Kela and the Texas Rangers. It was the bottom of the 8th, two outs, and with a 2-1 count, Marwin Gonzalez turned on one. As it was soaring in the air, Marwin was staring at it, hoping it would keep going and stay fair. It did.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mncE-q-3o_s

The Astros won that night, and it was the beginning of something special. On Tuesday night, a little over a month since the grand slam, Marwin Gonzalez came up to bat. It was a familiar situation; the Astros are playing the Rangers, Keone Kela is on the mound, and Marwin Gonzalez is at the plate. It is the bottom of the 8th inning, one out, and there is a man on first and second. With a 2-2 count, Keone Kela throws a hanging breaking ball right over the middle of the plate. Marwin flew out to right field. The Astros lost.

 

With the recent All-Star ballot release on Tuesday, three Astros are now in first place at their respective positions, with that being Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and George Springer. With guys like Brian McCann, Evan Gattis, Yuli Gurriel, and Alex Bregman all in the top five in voting for their positions, one guy that has been completely left out is Marwin Gonzalez. The man with no true position, the utility man, and one of the Astros best hitters this season.

 

Marwin Gonzalez is an interesting story. After being drafted by the Red Sox in the 2011 Rule 5 draft from the Cubs, he was immediately traded to the Astros. He made his debut for the team in 2012, where he would be a below replacement level player for two seasons. In 2014, he seemed to turn things around, as he had a 110 wRC+, slashing .277/.327/.400.

He became the Astros go to utility man and a fan favorite. He had a similar season in 2015, as he had the same wRC+, while slashing .279/.317/.442. In 2016, things didn’t go as well. He regressed to a below average hitter with an 87 wRC+, but still kept the same role on the roster.

 

Coming into 2017, there weren’t many expectations with Marwin. He was to continue to be the utility man, and hopefully he could return to 2014 and 2015 form. In April, Marwin was decent. Sure, he had a .204 batting average, but a lot of that had to do with a .171 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play), a stat so far below his career average it was apparent he was just getting unlucky.

He had a .317 OBP due to a new and improved 12.8% walk rate, and a .500 slugging percentage. These stats led to a .347 wOBA and a 120 wRC+, the makings of a well above average season. In May, he exploded. He slashed .382/.461/.737, while having a .415 BABIP, which is insanely high and usually indicates luck, but it was somewhat expected, since he had to regress to the mean somehow.

 

He is now just a home run shy of his career high of 13, a personal record he will surely surpass. His overall stats now are a slash line of .311/.410/.609, with a .333 BABIP, a .425 wOBA, and a 173 wRC+. A lot of this is due to an increased walk rate. Now at 12.8%, it is three times higher than it was in 2015 and 2016, and more than twice as high in 2014, where it was 5.5%. These are MVP numbers, and he would be in the conversation if he played everyday and had a position he played above average defense at.

https://twitter.com/HouCounterplot/status/871911743127158784

 

There are issues with Marwin’s case though. He doesn’t have a position. He is a player that can play so many positions, yet isn’t great at defending most of them. He has shown in the past that he can play solid defense at first base, but that hasn’t been the case this year, where he has -3 defensive runs saved and a -0.4 UZR.

So where would he be on the ballot? He has played most of his innings in left field, first base, and third base. The issue is, most guys that are in the top five on the ballot at their respective positions have played three and four times the amount of innings that Marwin has played at each of those positions. He has not been the designated hitter once this season (probably something Hinch needs to consider if he can’t find a position for Marwin and if Beltran continues to struggle). So where does he go on the ballot?

Either he shouldn’t be on the ballot like he is now, and should be listed on the team as a reserve listed as a utility man. That, or place him at DH, the position with no position, but he has 30 less plate appearances than Nelson Cruz, and he has a low number of plate appearances in comparison to the rest of the top five in All-Star voting at that position, with the exception of Evan Gattis.

Overall, Marwin has probably been a little lucky this year. His BABIP is pretty close to normal if not a little high, and he has never shown this power in his career, even with his wall scrapers. But that honestly does not matter, as we’re not projecting what we think he will do later, but rather evaluating what he has done so far. In the end, all we can hope is that Marwin does not do what he did with the curveball thrown to him on Tuesday night… Just miss. 


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