Hitting in Colorado is no good for a player’s perception. Some fans feel Colorado is such a hitter’s paradise that any big leaguer worth his salt must put up huge, crooked numbers there. Doesn’t matter the talent of the player, the thin air does all the work.
As such, players like Matt Holliday are unfairly maligned as home park mirages…right up until the moment that they move into more hitter-neutral environments and resume putting up the same numbers as they did in the Mile High City.
Carlos Gonzalez was once traded for Matt Holliday, and now occupies the same space in the minds of many fans – CarGo is good but he’s only “Coors Field good”. Take him away and the strikeouts would climb as the other offensive numbers suffers, seems to be the knock. It isn’t fair to penalize Gonzalez for his home park, though it absolutely influences his performance at the plate.
More than just thin air is working in the Rockies outfielder’s favor in 2013 – he’s off to the best start of his career, leading the National League in home runs with 21 while walking at a career high rate. Getting Blanked spoke with Gonzalez about learning from the best, getting better with age and managing mom’s expectations.
Getting Blanked – Do you take advantage of all the video technology available to you?
Carlos Gonzalez – I do, but I don’t think I’m a freak about the video. I use it sometimes when I feel like I need it. I just like to play the old way, just know who you’re going to face and what he has. I don’t necessarily have to see it on the video just kind of know his out pitch and just get ready for the game.
GB – Is that how you generally use video – more for the pitchers than looking at yourself?
CG – I don’t really like to watch myself hitting. I do when I need it, if I feel like I’m doing something different, but what I take to the game is always who you’re going to face and what the opponent has for you. How does he approach left-handed hitters and stuff like that.
You have to figure a lot of that played into this at bat against Zack Greinke. Greinke loves starting lefties off with the fastball away. Here, Greinke elevates the FB which chugs in at a lacklustre 89 mph. Gonzalez is able to drive the high fastball up into the thin Denver air for a home run.
GB – You mention feel, is that pretty much where it begins for you? You know it’s time to take a look just based on how things feel?
CG – It’s all feel. If you go to video and watch what you were doing before, you’re always looking for things that appear different. That’s the quickest way to know what’s going on.
GB – How do you re-establish that feel? Is there an old drill or a standard routine you like to work off when making sure you get your hands right or your load right, whatever the case may be?
CG – I think the most important part of my swing is my hands. I don’t like to pay attention to any other stuff. When you go to the plate to hit, you don’t think your legs you don’t think about anything else – you just trust in your hands, watch the ball and hit the ball.
Sometimes when you go through a bad moment it’s because your timing is a little off. When you go out and hit well in BP and feel well, your going to take the same swing to the game. But the timing, the speed of the game and how you react to the ball – you might be a little early. But it always comes back to your hands.
GB – You like to make a good plan when you go to the plate, look for certain pitches more often in certain counts?
CG – Sometimes. I like to sit on fastballs all the time and react to the breaking balls. That’s the way I’ve been doing it since I was a little kid. There are some situations where you don’t know what they throw the most. If you have to face a guy like Sergio Romo, he throws a lot of sliders – Luke Gregorson, too. You can’t sit on fastballs with those guys, you have to wait on the other pitch (the slider) and if you see the fastball, you just react. You do it sort of opposite.
It’s all about hands. Carlos Gonzalez uses his hands better than most hitters in baseball, keeping his lower half quiet as he reacts to breaking balls as he says. Few hitters in baseball are better at staying back and waiting for a breaking ball, as Carlos Gonzalez displays in a tough platoon matchup against Madison Bumgarner this year in San Francisco.
Lefties only have three home runs against Mad Bum’s offspeed stuff since the start of the 2012 season and Carlos Gonzalez is one of them. CarGo handles soft stuff from left-handed pitchers as well as any hitter in the game. Not only the ability to wait for Bumgarner’s curve but the strength and bat speed required to deposit that home run into McCovey Cove. Without quick hands, none of this is possible.
GB – How has your approach changed with your experience in the big leagues? It seems like you swing at fewer pitches outside of the strike zone this year and walking a bit more…
CG – We all get better the more time we spent playing in the big leagues. The better you get to know your opponents, baseball comes a little bit easier. It’s never easy as there are so many guys who are so good at this level. Every day is a battle for us but, you know, as you mature and go around the league you become a better a player.
GB – What about your approach with two strikes, how has that changed as you gain experience?
CG – I mean, ah, [two beats] I’m gonna strikeout a lot, like I always tell everybody. I tell my mom “if you don’t want me to strikeout I just have to quit baseball and not play any more.” It’s part of the game and I’m never afraid to swing the bat, I’m going to take some hacks. You can always be more patient and wait for the right pitch to cut the strikeouts. You make more contact and good things are going to happen, you get more hits, more anything. It depends on the situation, you want to put the ball in play. The little things that the game dictates, you have to take advantage.
Strikeout as he might, Carlos Gonzalez is one of the best power hitters in the game today. Full stop.
Want to credit Coors Field? Fine. His overall wRC+ this season is 157. On the road? 174.
Gonzalez mentions maturation and his approach reflects a player who is a little more selective but, mostly, is just crushing his pitch when he gets it.
Gonzalez is hitting the ball in the air a little more in 2013 and hitting the ball over the fence at a higher rate this season. He is pulling the ball with more authority this year as well – sporting the highest slugging percentage, OPS, wOBA, and well-hit average in baseball on balls he yanks. Carlos Gonzalez hits the baseball and the baseball goes a long, long way.
GB – Who do you think has the best approach in baseball? Who is a guy you like to watch? [Ed Note: this question was asked knowing full well how the subject would answer]
CG – Miguel Cabrera! He’s amazing. I had the opportunity to play with him in the WBC and to play against him during Winter Ball in Venezuela and here and he is just a smart hitter. He just knows how to hit. I talk to him so many times and all he’s got for me is just “hands, hands, hands” that’s it. All you have to do is just trust your hands.
Hands, hands, hands and the least surprising answer in the long, storied history of My Approach. Miggy. Forever.
Hat tip to Fangraphs and ESPN Stats & Info for a helping hand.