…all right fine. We can try and dig a little deeper into this, but there isn’t much point. What I find curious is that on the day the Cubs unveiled Craig Kimbrel, Theo Epstein was asked about Gonzalez and Albert Almora Jr., who has lost playing time to the former’s arrival. Theo’s quote was basically that Gonzalez was here to be a bat off the bench, and Almora needed to play.
Gonzalez has started four of the past six games. If you want to know why Joe Maddon has not received a contract extension, here’s a piece of evidence for you.
Let me present some numbers:
.169/.242/.186 .429 OPS 9.1 BB% 31.8 K%
.258/.287/.536 .823 OPS 3.8 BB* 15.4 K%
The former is Gonzalez’s numbers in May, and the latter’s are Albert Almora’s. Now, Almora’s aren’t exactly breathtaking, but they come out to an above-average offensive player, just, who plays plus defense. Gonzalez’s numbers make doves cry, and his defense really isn’t any good anymore either.
It’s been three seasons since Gonzalez was an above-average offensive player, and that’s accounting for the Coors factor. His power zapped away in 2017 and hasn’t really ever come back, though the .467 slugging off the bench would be fine. You’d take it. We all understand that in searching for a left-handed bat simply to replace Ben Zobrist and maybe take PH ABs from Daniel Descalso and his other interpretation of sadness at the plate, the options you can have for free are limited. It’s a free roll of the dice.
But you’re still going to get snake-eyes. And it’s fine for now because Kyle Schwarber has carried the outfield, and Gonzalez has cobbled together a couple hits that has fooled everyone into thinking he can still hit, which he can’t. Unless his .211 average since joining up really makes something stir in your bowels.
So I’m trying to see what the Cubs think they might be able to mine here, and my hope is that Joe Maddon is only trying to get CarGo in a rhythm before he’s reduced to simply pinch-hitting and spot-start duty. The only thing I can fathom is that the Cubs think they can get CarGo to go the opposite way more, which he actually does well but doesn’t do often. CarGo has been a pull everything guy for most of his career, settling for somewhere between 20-25% of his contact going the opposite way. CarGo has consistently run an average over .400 on balls the other way, though that might have something to do with being shifted against a lot and there being a lot of open territory there. But that’s belied somewhat by most of his contact the opposite way is still in the air, where a shift wouldn’t do much about it.
That’s about as near as I can figure, and his homer the other night, certainly a Wrigley product given where it landed, is hopefully a sign that CarGo is willing to change his approach to salvage another year or two in the majors. Beats working at Sears, as we know.
Still, it’s awfully harsh on Almora. I’m not Almora’s hugest fan–he hits way too many grounders and is slow, but this May was his first plus-month in the majors since the first half of last year thanks to an injection of power. There were still way too many grounders, over half his contact was, and maybe the Cubs have already concluded he would crash back to Earth with that. Still, May saw Almora hit the ball harder than he ever has, and his .253 BABIP in the month suggests he had to fight through fortune to produce a plus-month instead of ride the wave as he did last year.
It wouldn’t be a big deal, and it probably isn’t anyway yet, if Jason Heyward were hitting. But he’s not. So Joe Maddon is essentially tossing another outfield spot away on a hunch that isn’t going to play out, whereas Almora still allows us to be curious about what could come next. To boot, CarGo’s defense just isn’t that good in right.
I get the impression this won’t be a problem come July 1st when everyone sees CarGo is toast, but you never know with Maddon. And by then Almora might have lost all his momentum. He’s at least the devil we don’t know completely yet instead of the corpse we do.