Thursday, March 10, 2005

D-Back 2005 Preview: Luis Gonzalez 

Luis Gonzalez, left field
We think his right arm is now healed
He draws walks quite well
Though his OPS fell
And against a collapse we're now steeled

There’s no getting around the fact that Luis Gonzalez is my favorite Diamondback player. 57 home runs in 2001, a World Championship 135-foot bloop single, and by all accounts, a friendly person and a good guy. So it's a little hard for me to read BP 2005 and see them projecting a fairly low VORP of 15, in part because they think he'll get even fewer plate appearances than he had in 2004. Is Gonzo really just a step away from being irrelevant to this team?
I just can't believe that, so let me outline an admittedly biased look at what might be in store for Gonzo.

To begin with, Gonzo's season 2004 season "collapsed" at the same time Richie Sexson collapsed at the plate. The hope was Sexson would provide some protection for Gonzalez, and in the small sample size of Sexson's appearances, that did appear to be the case. To show how anemic the offense was generally last year, Gonzo, even though he only appeared in two-thirds of mostly irrelevant D-Back games, ranked 8th in the National League in intentional walks (at a rate that probably would have put him at 3rd or 4th had he played a full season). So if Troy Glaus and Shawn Green are reasonably healthy (an admittedly very big if), Gonzo should get much better looks this year. (And if Glaus and Green are injured, it won't matter at all what kind of year Gonzalez has.) For what it's worth, ZIPS has him pegged at 6.4 Runs Created per 27 innings, the same as Ichiro Suzuki.

Gonzo's fielding has never been lauded, but he's not a horrible left-fielder, either, one Randy Johnson post-game discussion notwithstanding. ZIPS has him pegged as an average fielder, BP as costing 2 runs over a season.

So in the end, your confidence in Luis Gonzalez depends on your estimation of the severity of his injury and his ability to rebound from that injury. I don't have any idea what'll happen, but maybe you do. If he rebounds, he hits 25 homeuns and has an OPS of .850 or more. If he doesn't, his power numbers continue to fall and the whispers asking management to trade him begin. Those whispers would be a major distraction for a player who by virtue of his tenure with the club has a no-trade clause and much more so than any other D-Back player in their short history is the face of the club. It'll never happen, but much ink could be spilled.

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