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Carlos Gonzalez has raised his game

Let's get the negative stuff of the way: 1. I've never been the biggest Carlos Gonzalez fan, always skeptical because of his severe home/road-batting splits throughout his career with the Rockies; 2. He hit three home runs in Wednesday's 12-4 victory over the Reds, an awesome feat, although two came off a guy with a 5.03 ERA in Triple-A making his first major league start, and the third came off Manny Parra.

OK, now the good stuff: He's better. I can't pick him apart this year. The relevant numbers:

  • He's hitting .313/.395/.625, a better triple-slash line than he had in 2010 (.336/.376/.598), when he finished third in the National League MVP vote. Most impressively, though, Gonzalez is killing it on the road, where he's hitting .348/.414/.696 with 11 of his 17 home runs.

  • He's raking against left-handers, hitting .354 and slugging .620, after hitting .288 and slugging .488 against them since 2010.

OK, let's see how he got here by first comparing his approach and results from 2012 -- when he hit .303/.371/.510 with 22 home runs in 579 plate appearances:

2012 percentages

BB: 9.7

SO: 19.9

Chase: 30.6

Miss: 28.5

Swing: 48.6

HR/FB: 17.7

BABIP: .352

Well-hit avg.: .230

2013 percentages

BB: 12.1

SO: 24.9

Chase: 29.1

Miss: 28.2

Swing: 44.8

HR/FB: 26.6

BABIP: .366

Well-hit avg.: .239

The first thing I notice is that Gonzalez's walk and strikeout rates are both up, although his overall chase percentage and miss percentages are about the same. His overall swing percentage, however, is down a little bit. To me, this indicates Gonzalez is showing a little more patience at the plate, which is leading to more walks (and more strikeouts), but presumably leading to more good counts to hit in. His BABIP isn't out of line from last year, although his home run rate on fly balls is pretty high, so maybe he's been a little lucky there. There was nothing cheap about his fourth-inning home run off Pedro Villarreal -- it went 458 feet, the longest of Gonzalez's career.

Let's also compare his 2012 hit chart to 2013:

It looks like he's pulling the ball a little more, which could explain the increased home run rate -- you'll hit more home runs if you pull the ball more often. Gonzalez has especially been more effective on inside pitches, hitting .302 with five home runs versus .258 with three home runs for all of 2012. Back in his best season in 2010, Gonzalez hit .338 with 10 home runs on inside pitches, but pitchers had been more successful busting him inside the past two years.

While Gonzalez has appeared to alter his approach a bit, he's also healthy. Remember, last year he was hitting .335/.394/.629 through June 16. He had been playing through a nagging hamstring injury but sat out June 17. He hit just .275 with five home runs the rest of the season. In 2011, Gonzalez started off slowly, perhaps residue from a wrist injury suffered late in 2010. He then re-injured the wrist in July crashing into a wall.

So injuries certainly might have affected his production the past two years. Still: He's hitting on the road, hitting left-handers and hitting inside pitches.

This looks like an improved Carlos Gonzalez to me. Now he just needs to stay healthy.