Over/Under 2023 Preview: Oscar Gonzalez

Mar 23, 2023 - 2:00 PM
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Based on ZiPS projections, Oscar Gonzalez is expected to finish 2023 with the following stats:

134 G, 557 PA, 21 HR, 1 SB, 3.6% BB%, 20.5% K%, .263/.293/.468, 105 wRC+, 1.5 fWAR

Read what our writers think, then vote in the poll below and drop your own opinions in the comments and on the Covering the Corner Discord.

Quincy Wheeler’s prediction: OVER

Oscar Gonzalez made his MLB debut last May and had a solid 111 wRC+ month before he was sidelined by an abdominal strain. He returned in August as basically the same hitter, but then he had an excellent September/October, including a couple of game-winning hits in the playoffs.

In the last month of that rookie campaign, Gonzalez surged to a 138 wRC+ with a 15.9/4.6 K/BB% with his lowest BABIP of the year (.359 in May-June, .347 in August, and .339 in September-October). He also saw slightly more pitches per plate appearance during this time, showing some improvement in plate discipline. At no point did he look like a gold-glove outfielder, but he was slightly above average according to UZR (+1), slightly below according to DRS (-1), and a little further below average according to OAA (-5), which makes for a passable player in right field.

I chose to take on Gonzalez in this over/under series because I think he is the most interesting hitter on the Guardians’ team.

The issue with Gonzalez is his inability to take walks consistently. According to Baseball Savant, he ranks in the lowest percentile for chase rate and the 37th percentile for whiff rate. Yet, he made enough hard contact with any pitches near the strike zone to manage a 122 wRC+ in his first season in the majors. What happens with Gonzalez when pitchers decide to simply stop throwing him pitches anywhere near the zone? Will he be able to lay off pitches enough to take some walks and earn himself pitches he can hit? Or will his strikeout rate and poor contact rates skyrocket, leading the team to replace him with Will Brennan? ZiPS believes that his strikeout rate won’t be as much of an issue as a lack of good contact resulting in a slugging rate that won’t compensate enough for his lack of walks to keep his wRC+ in the 120 range.

For me, evaluating Gonzalez comes down to a very non-analytical question: Do I believe that he has the mental and physical fortitude to thread the narrow needle of laying off enough pitches to get the number of pitches near the strike zone he needs to make enough hard contact to compensate for not taking walks?

When I see Gonzalez, I think of White Sox outfielder Luis Robert. Gonzalez’s Baseball Savant page and Robert’s Baseball Savant page bear some eerie similarities. Neither players walk, and both chase at league-worst rates, but Robert has managed a career 122 wRC+ in the majors by making consistently hard contact with the pitches with which he manages to connect. I cannot come away from watching Gonzalez in his first season in Cleveland not believing that he will find a way to thread the Luis Robert needle as a hitter. Unfortunately, he will never be as good of a fielder as Robert, but a wRC+ of 120-125 and slightly below average defense in right is still a very valuable player, especially on a Cleveland roster currently light on right-handed hitters.

With my defense of Gonzalez completed and my confession of faith in his abilities made known, I will take a slight over on his projections. I believe he will manage a 120-125 wRC+ but I believe he will do so over something closer to 450 plate appearances due to Will Brennan taking some of those reps in Right Field and Gabriel Arias getting some of the at-bats available to spell Josh Naylor against left-handed pitching. A comparable player from last season for 120ish wRC+ and 400 plate appearances with below-average defense is Seth Brown of the Athletics, who put up 1.8 fWAR in 400 plate appearances. I believe that’s about where Gonzalez will end up.

Overall, I think ZiPS’ fWAR projection for Gonzalez is very close to what will be a reality and lead to another solid season for an exciting young player that Cleveland fans will enjoy watching don the Guardians uniform again in 2023.

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