Pittsburgh Pirates: Erik Gonzalez is Murdering the Baseball
By Marty Leap
Through the first 14 games of the 2020 season, few players have been a bigger pleasant surprise than infielder Erik Gonzalez
When former general manager Neal Huntington traded for Erik Gonzalez in November 2018, he said that his scouts were ‘pounding the table’ for the Pittsburgh Pirates to acquire Gonzalez. After struggling an injury shortened 2019 season, Pirate fans are now seeing why the team’s former GM’s scouts were so high on Gonzalez.
Following a four hit performance in Friday night’s loss, Gonzalez is now hitting for a 357/.357/.571 slash line this season with a 158 wRC+. While he has yet to walk, his 10.7% strikeout rate is strong. There is also reason to believe Gonzalez’s success is no fluke.
In his career, Gonzalez has always hit the ball hard. In 2017 (88.4 MPH), 2018 (88.9 MPH) and 2019 (87.4 MPH) his exit velocity was either at or above league average. He also had an above league average hard contact rate in 2017 (41.3%) and 2018 (43.0%). So, hitting the ball hard has never been an issue for Gonzalez.
What has plagued the infielder in the past was hitting too many ground balls. His ground ball rate has been at least 55.4% each of the last three seasons. That is simply too high. In 2020, however, he has improved his ground ball rate. Thus far this season, Gonzalez has put the ball on the ground just 40.0% of the time.
To go with an improved ground ball rate, Gonzalez has continued to hit the ball hard this season. That is a recipe for success.
Entering play on Friday, Gonzalez owned a 93.0 MPH exit velocity and 60.0% hard contact rate for the season. In Friday night’s loss, Gonzalez hit two balls with an exit velocity over 100 MPH. This included his first home run of the season. If Gonzalez can keep this up, he might be the biggest breakout player of 2020 for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Due to being a plus defender at both third base and shortstop, all Gonzalez needs to be a quality MLB player is average offense. Especially at the shortstop position. If he can continue to hit the ball with the authority he has thus far this season, Gonzalez could once again become the starting shortstop for the Pirates as he was once viewed.