Has Alex Gonzalez really hit 10 2B and 8 HR thus far? It looks like the Toronto Blue Jays shortstop is on his way to putting up a season like he did in 1999, 2003, and 2004 with the Marlins or 2007 with the Reds when the native of Venezuela hit at least 27 doubles and 14 home runs. While Gonzalez's OBP stands at a below-average .319, his .617 SLG ranks seventh in the American League. Put it together and Alex has produced an OPS of .935, good for tenth-best in the league. Amazingly, Gonzalez's OPS+ is at 151, despite never producing an OPS+ of 100 in 11 seasons.
How is Gonzalez doing it? He's hitting more flyballs than ever and his HR/FB rate (18.6%) is more than 10 percentage points above his 2002-2010 average. Meanwhile, his LD% (19.0%) is virtually identical to his "career" mark (18.9%).
Gonzalez is seeing far fewer fastballs (46.4%) than at any other point in the pitch type data era (2002 to present). In fact, he has seen fewer fastballs and more sliders than any other hitter in the AL. In the past, Gonzalez has been fed 60% fastballs with the yearly rates ranging from 59-63%.
Why the change? Well, let's take a look at the Fangraphs Pitch Type Values table for a possible answer.
Gonzalez, who is jacking fastballs like never before, ranks third in the league in wFB (runs above average) and second in wFB/C (runs above average per 100 fastballs) while ranking in the bottom 10 in wSL and bottom 30 in wSL/C.
Of note, Gonzalez's plate discipline — as bad as it has been in the past — is worse than ever. His O-Swing% (percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone) of 47.1% ranks second in the AL, behind only Vladimir Guerrero (47.8%). With 5 BB (4.4%) and 28 SO (24.8%) in 113 plate appearances, Gonzalez's BB/SO rate of 0.18 is the fifth-worst in the AL. Alexei Ramirez (0.07), Jack Wilson (0.08), Yuniesky Betancourt (0.09), and Adam Jones (0.12) are the only "hitters" in the junior circuit with an inferior BB/SO rate. Importantly, their OPS's range from .587 to .664.
Interestingly, Gonzalez's F-Strike% (first pitch strike percentage) not only ranks higher than ever before but tops in the league, which suggests pitchers are challenging him from the moment he steps into the batter's box. While I'll defer to the advance scouts to determine whether Gonzalez should be thrown more or fewer fastballs in the future, I believe teams would be better served to make him chase as many pitches as possible.
The bottom line is that Gonzalez has hit like never before in the early going but his ability to control the plate remains as deficient as ever. There is little question that he can — and should — be had.