The Pittsburgh Pirates have wasted at bats on Erik Gonzalez this September
Last off-season the Pittsburgh Pirates added Erik Gonzalez from the Cleveland Indians in a five-player trade. In a move that was a mistake from the start, Gonzalez was named the team’s starting shortstop coming out of Spring Training. While injury played a major role, by the end of April he was no longer the team’s starting shortstop.
After Gonzalez was acquired Pirate general manager Neal Huntington said his scouts were ‘pounding the table’ for the Pirates to add Gonzalez this past off-season. Well, those scouts may want to consider a new line of work.
Prior to getting injured in a collision with Starling Marte in shallow center field, Gonzalez was slashing just .216/.298/.294 with a wRC+ of 45. He was also struggling at shortstop even though a strong glove was supposed to be his calling card.
Yes, getting hurt played a major role in Gonzalez losing his shortstop job. However, his lack of production combined with the emergence of rookie Kevin Newman would have led to Gonzalez losing his starting role anyway.
Gonzalez is slashing .235/.295/.277 with a wRC+ of 48 in 132 plate appearances this season. In 407 career MLB plate appearances his slash line is .255/.293/.345 to go with a woeful wRC+ of 68.
There are no peripherals that indicate Gonzalez is due for any sort of turnaround, either. His 84.1 MPH exit velocity this season is well below the MLB average. His 26.1% hard hit rate is, well, to be frank, terrible. Gonzalez has no pop in his bat and this shows in his lack of power and quality contact.
Despite all of his struggles, Gonzalez has accumulated 40 plate appearances in the month of September. He has made starts in the outfield, at third base, and at shortstop. This has led to him taking at bats away from young Pirate players that could be part of the future.
Shortstop prospect Cole Tucker, in my opinion, is still the team’s shortstop of the future with Newman at second base. While Tucker is slashing just .211/.266/.361 with a 61 wRC+ at the MLB level this season, there are signs he is starting to figure things out. In his last 70 MLB plate appearances Tucker is slashing .286/.348/.492 with a 117 wRC+ and a 15.8% extra base hit rate. During this stretch he has more than double as many extra base hits (10) as Gonzalez does all season (4).
Tucker has also made quality contact this season. His 36.5% hard contact rate is two percentage points higher than the league average, while his 87.0 MPH exit velocity is the league average. His .276 batting average on balls in play also indicates he has been a bit snake bitten this season.
The outfield or third base at bats also could have been given to slugging prospect Will Craig. Instead, Craig has been sitting at home doing nothing since the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians season came to an end earlier in the month.
If Gonzalez is part of the Pirates’ future, then there are major problems. Due to this, the team should not have wasted so many at bats on him in September. Hopefully, in the season’s final nine games we will see more of Tucker and less of Gonzalez.