Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Gonzo for Gonzalez

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Alberto Gonzalez has filled in admirably around the infield when called upon.
ATLANTA -- Alberto Gonzalez, being a native Venezuelan who struggles with English and being a rarely used backup infielder for the Nationals, doesn't often get interviewed. I think I've talked to him twice this year, one of those times coming last night when he roped four hits to help pace a 7-2 win over the Braves.

It's at times like this that I truly wish I had taken more Spanish in college. It's never fair that Spanish-speaking ballplayers get less press than those who speak English, and I wouldn't be surprised if Alberto has some very interesting things to say and has a story worth telling. Unfortunately, when Gonzalez does have a game like he did last night, we're left to conduct an awkward interview that surely doesn't give this player the chance to enjoy his moment in the spotlight as much as he deserves.

Here, though, is the quote from Gonzalez that best describes his emotions after what may have been the best game of his career: "I'm so happy. I'm happy to play three days in a row."

Indeed, the mere fact Jim Riggleman penciled his name in the lineup on three consecutive days was reason for Gonzalez to rejoice. This is a guy, after all, who had started only eight of the Nats' first 75 games this season (five of them during an April stretch when Ryan Zimmerman was battling hamstring injuries). So three straight starts (two at shortstop, one at second base) were noteworthy in themselves.

Those first two starts, though, didn't exactly go well for Gonzalez. He went 0-for-6 with four strikeouts, three of those K's coming Monday night, one of them a crucial whiff against Tim Hudson with the tying run on third and one out in the seventh inning of a scoreless game.

After last night's 4-for-4 performance, Riggleman seemed upset at himself for letting Gonzalez get so stale on the bench in previous weeks that he had little chance of succeeding in that game against Hudson.

"If I had not let him sit as long as he had, he probably would have had a better chance in that at-bat last night," the manager said. "He probably would have had contact [which would have probably brought the go-ahead run home]."

Gonzalez seemed to feel the same way, saying his big night yesterday was a product of increased playing time.

"I see more pitches and more at-bats," he said. "That's good for me."

So now Riggleman faces a real dilemma tonight: Keep Gonzalez in the lineup, hoping to ride that 4-hit performance, or put him back on the bench and get regulars Ian Desmond and Cristian Guzman back in the fold?

There's no right answer. Desmond is this team's starting shortstop, and to sit him back-to-back days in the wake of that costly error the other night might do him more harm than good. Guzman reached base three times last night out of the 7-hole and probably deserves to be in there again. All the while, Adam Kennedy finds himself in a similar situation to Gonzalez: Spending more time on the bench than in the lineup, and probably suffering from the lack of consistent playing time.

Riggleman wasn't initially planning to give Gonzalez a fourth straight start, but after last night's performance, "I've got to think about it."

Before everyone gets completely ga-ga over Gonzo, let's remember this is a career .255 hitter in the big leagues, with a .298 on-base percentage and a .638 OPS that is about 80 points worse than Nyjer Morgan's career mark. Gonzalez is a nice guy to bring off the bench every once in a while, but he's not an everyday player in the big leagues.

Everybody, though, deserves their moment in the spotlight. And that moment came last night for Gonzalez.

He might not have been able to express his joy in words you or I could understand, but that wasn't necessary. The smile on his face as reporters approached him for his first postgame interview in a long time told the whole story.


MikeHarris said...

He needs to at least play through the All-Star break (cheap plug for my own blog at

You are correct in that he's not an every day guy and Desmond is the SS. But Desmond needs a good stretch to think, relax, whatever. He's become a liability.

Wombat-socho said...

Disagree, Mike. Even with all the errors, Desmond is still providing better defense than the average NL shortstop, and he's still a step up from Guzman with regard to his glove. I think he needs more help from the coaches to get some patience at the plate and less of a tendency to make wild throws, but an extended ride on the pine isn't going to help him or the Nationals in the long run.

Doc said...

Good article Mark. Comments @Mikie Harris & @ Kevin Trainor are also appropriate. With all the high priced coaches hanging around the Nats, you'd think that they could help The Kid over come his lapses. He's missed 10 balls hit directly at him since the beginning of the season. In spite of that, he's going to be a great SS.

Gonzo could easily be the everyday 2nd baseman. The hand operation has made him a better hitter, and fielder.

NatinBeantown said...

Thanks, Mark, I was just wondering about this after reading WaPo's gamer. Out of curiosity, is there regular Nats coverage in any spanish media outlet? Do you have any idea how many other teams have a spanish language beat reporter?

It seems hard to believe that Kasten would leave the DC Hispanic market stone unturned. It also seems like a golden opportunity for a reporter to have better access to some stars that otherwise seem abrubt and inaccessible.

Theo said...

Just don't think Desmond is a major league SS. The balls he supposedly stops that other shortstops wouldn't reach don't balance out the errors. Errors not only give the other team extra outs, they give them extra bases. A ground ball that goes through the hole is one base; a ball thrown in the dugout is two. Plus the runners that advance. I'd say give him an outfielder's glove and send him to the Dominican Republic for the winter but then he'd catch everything in sight and overthrow the cut-off man and throw to the wrong base twice a week. I don't think it's just inexperience; I believe he just doesn't think about what he's doing (like Morgan) and is never going to be reliable. Anywhere. And is not hitting.

The guy's played at least 600 minor league games over six years. Time to stop hoping his glove is going to catch up with his bat, or his bat is going to catch up with his glove -- whatever it is the Nats have been waiting for. He doesn't have to be Elvis Andrus -- would settle for Eddie Brinkman or Mark Belanger right now.

Mark Zuckerman said...

NatinBeantown: The Nats do have Spanish radio broadcasters who are at all the home games and a few road games. And occasionally there will be a Spanish-speaking media outlet (print or broadcast) that shows up to do one particular story.

The only MLB cities I know of that have full-time Spanish print reporters are Miami and New York. It's possible Los Angeles has it as well, but I'm not sure about that one. Several teams, like the Nats, have Spanish radio and/or TV broadcasters.

A DC Wonk said...

As to whether Ian is a major league SS -- I've always tended towards the: "rookies will make a lot of errors". But, I'm wondering now: is that still true with someone who spent four years in the minors?

And, even if that is true, can anyone point to someone who's had 19 errors before the all star break, and then became a decent fielder in subsequent years? (I've heard people point to Jeter, but he had in the low 20's -- for the full years -- in his first two seasons).

(I'm not making any point here -- just asking questions).

Anonymous said...

Nevertheless Gonzalez **IS** the far superior fielder at second base, plays short stop flawlessly and does pretty well at third base. Its second base where he is needed now by this team?

Guzman does NOT provide enough offense to make up for the lack of defense. Gonzalez is also the younger player who needs the reps Jim Riggleman? You aren't going to the world series so what in Strasburg's name use it to play a guy who was an all-star in 2001 and now cannot even field his favorite position short stop?

Play Gonzalez and Desmond. Trade Guzman, Kennedy, and Harris.

Jimmy D said...

I think Riggs can sit Desmond a little longer while riding out Gonzales' hot streak without ruffling feathers so long as he is clear to the team about why: Gonzo is hot and Desmond, in his first year, understandably needs to regroup for a bit.

Earlier this season Desmond was Mr. Clutch with runners in scoring position. Davey Johnson compared the pop in his swing to another SS he'd coached, none other than the legendary Mr. Cal Ripken, Jr. He'll be the starting SS for a while, but I think he needs time to chill for now.

HHover said...

First of all, thanks to Mark for giving Gonzalez his due--even if he's only a star for one night, he earned the recognition.

Second, as for Desmond--I like Desmond and see promise--I certainly hope he develops this season. But it's a crazy stretch to call his defense at SS this season "better than average" (better than Guzman, yes, but that's saying virtually nothing).

And the test will be this -- if Desmond's defense doesn't improve over the rest of the season, do you really think he'll be a starting shortstop next year? I don't.

David said...

i think Gonzo should start at SS, and Guzzie at 2nd for the time being. Guzzie's play at 2nd base i think has been better overall than Kennedy's.

NaysJack in Florida said...

Desmond's fielding is one thing but the fact that he now appears totally overmatched at the plate is a reason for him to sit. A brief trip to Syracuse wouldn't hurt. Look how Roger Bernandina flourished.

David said...

our season went south when Olsen went down... who knew he'd be the key. what's the latest on olsen?

natsfan1a said...

Thanks for this, Mark. I enjoyed watching Debbi Taylor's interview with Gonzalez. He was clearly over the moon.

Anonymous said...

Gonzo had a lot of energy when he and Bonifacio came to the team in '08. Maybe a few days playing can re-kindle that. I'd written him off long ago; I'm glad he's proving me wrong.

Desmond has begun to scare me, not by the number of errors but the type of errors that he makes. The play he botched on Monday was so simple and basic that I don't think its a matter of him being a rookie, its a matter of him being unable to make a routine play. It would be optimal to send him down and see if he can work this out at AAA. Is this worth having Kennedy and/or Guzman in the lineup everyday?

For the record I think Riggs is out of his mind for pulling Willingham and Dunn out for defense. I wish he'd rethink this. Willingham isn't fast but he gets to everything he should, makes smart plays and has shown a pretty good arm. Dunn is immensely better than Kennedy -- if a routine ground ball is hit to Dunn, he's gonna catch it. Kennedy? not so sure...

Dave said...

What about Gonzo at SS and Desi at 2nd? In an admittedly small sample from 2009, Ian was a better fielder at 2nd than at short. (2 errors at 2nd vs. 4 at SS; fielding % .985 at 2b, .975 at SS.)

dale said...

You have to reward the hot player and the solid middle infielder. Kennedy worked himself out of the lineup and as we saw when he was reinserted has failed to field or hit well.

Maybe I am old school but I believe that major league players should earn the confidence of their manager and teammates. Gonzales showed that he is ready for that in the time he played for an injured Zimmerman. Morgan has earned a position on the bench and Morse a spot in the field. Managing by any other standard sends the wrong message to a team unless you accept that losing is what you expect from the team.

I think that one problem that Riggleman has is that he truly likes his players too much. He manages this team like he wants them to be all happy with him. His perspective is skewed because he has to eat, travel, sit and generally be around these guys for 7 months a year. He would be better off making judgements of their abilities from a greater distance. He is not putting the best team on the field to win each and every night. Rationalizing putting Willie Harris as a DH is example A of my argument.

alm1000 said...

Rizzo and others have overhyped Desmond. He lived up to it with the bat early but is cold as ice. He is not better than average, not even average at SS, not yet. He needs to sit longer or go to AAA, as others have mentioned. Boz did his thing about Desi trying to show that he would be better in the majors (NOT YET) than AAA and do as well as other star SS (NOT YET). The pressure is clearly getting to him and he needs to acknowledge that he needs to improve. I have heard nothing but "I am the greatest" coming from him when what he should be saying is "I want to perform better to help the team win and to show those who have given me this opportunity that they made the right decision." He has not earned the right to continue to play SS just like Dukes didn't earn the right to continue to play RF.
I love his potential but he is starting to bat as bad a JMax but can't field his position.

Anonymous said...

I would like to see a three man rotation at 2B and SS implemented with Guz and Gonzo as the starters and Desmond playing about 3 days a week at either position, that would free up Morse and Kennedy to come off the bench or get spot starts at 3B and/or 1B

. said...

What would you think about maybe Desi SS, Gonzo 2b, Guz RF, Bernie CF tonight?

Anonymous said...

After the Houston debacle, we had better never see Guzman in RF again.

Sec$3etc said...

He wasn't a shortstop, but I remember Matt Williams was on the AAA shuttle for a few years coming up with the Giants. Eventually, it did click, obviously. In his case, it was mainly a confidence issue, or so they said at the time.

A DC Wonk said...

raymitten said:

The play he botched on Monday was so simple and basic that I don't think its a matter of him being a rookie

Was it? Wasn't a Chipper Jones (who walked on four pitches) cutting right in front of him, and didn't one of the Braves' guys say it took a bad hop?

I'm not saying he shouldn't have gotten it, but I wonder if it was harder than it initially seemed.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the special Gonzo news item.

As an aside, IF Dunn gets traded WHO would play 1B???

natsfan1a said...



As an aside, IF Dunn gets traded WHO would play 1B???

test said...

Is it just me, or does anyone else think that Riggleman's past as a ball player gives him too soft a spot in his heart for his players? I understand his desire to juggle playing time, etc. But Adam Kennedy is not a starter anymore, and shouldn't be treated like he is.

Seems like Riggleman sees a lot of himself as a failed former player, and treats these guys like china dolls.

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

The solution! A five-man infield: Zimm, Gonzo, Desmond, Goozie and Dunn. And a two-man outfield: Willingham and Bernie. Odd man out: Guess who?

With all the sinkerballers and pitch-to-contact guys on the staff, it just might work.

Now, back to my afternoon bourbon and Maalox. Can't you tell?

natsfan1a said...

Or should I have said "That's right"? :-)

(btw, the captcha "whinger" would seem to be better suited to one of the posts that was put up before yesterday's win rather than this one. :-))

Will said...

the tide of overreaction in every comments section is getting ridiculous.

despite all of Desmond's errors, his range and arm still give him a 2.5 UZR rating for the season. for context, here are how some other notable shortstops are grading out:

Jason Bartlett: -4.4
Hanley Ramirez: -2.8
Jose Reyes: -1.8
Derek Jeter*: -0.2
Orlando Cabrera: 0.1
Elvis Andrus: 2.2
Troy Tulowitski: 2.9

a lot of Desmond's errors come from trying to do too much. that's not to excuse the simple plays he's botched, but such over-aggression comes with young players (four years in the minors and a half season in the bigs does not define a player's career).

once Desmond learns how to balance the simple play with the spectacular attempt, he can be a solid defensive shortstop. those writing him off now are being extremely short-sighted.

* Jeter has posted negative UZR ratings in six of the last seven seasons, including a -14.9 in 2005 and -17.9 in 2007.

Anonymous said...

Could someone break down, briefly, the elements of the UZR?

A DC Wonk said...

the tide of overreaction in every comments section is getting ridiculous

Indeed -- it's quite amusing actually. I'm trying to remember if everyone was calling for Bernadina's DFA earlier in the season.

And, Will, to buttress your point, it would seem that with such a high UZR, the number of Ian's errors is, in part, related to his range, which enables him to get to so many hit balls. (If I'm understanding UZR correctly).

A DC Wonk said...

What is UZR?

It's the number of "runs" a fielder saves/costs the team compared to an average fielder in his position. (UZR/150 is better, as it standardizes it as "runs per 150 games").


The good part:

"At its most basic UZR measures how many batted balls a player turns into outs compared to other players at his position. This is done by dividing the field into zones and then recording each ball hit to each zone. Players are then rated based on more calculations of how many runs the result represents based on how many runs are scored on average after that outcome...."

The weakness:

"Lets look at the general idea. That you can determine a players range by where balls are hit and how often he turns them into outs. In essence, a bouncing groundball up the middle is the same as a line shot. A lazy fly ball caught at the wall is the same as Willie May's catch. The fact is, UZR ignores the most important factor in whether a fielder catches the ball which is how hard it was hit. And, as anyone who has followed the Twins ought to know, the nature of the field surface is also important. Balls hit on long grass are going to move much slower, than balls hit on the old Metrodome surface. And UZR gives no credit for cutting off a hard hit ball and holding a player to a single."

He then concludes that UZR is useless.

I don't know enough to judge (it's kinda new for me, too), but I suspect it's a halfway decent measure, until we get something better. (After all BA is a rough estimate, but it is true that guys with higher BA's are generally worth more to a team than those with lower BA's).

HHover said...

UZR is a useful measure but has its limitations (it's less useful, for example, with a small sample size--like less than half a season) and it's no reason to throw out older measures of defense--like # of errors. And Desmond has a lot of them, and ones that have cost the Nats crucial runs.

It's true that Desmond has a good range and a good arm--those are things that make him promising. But think back to some of his recent errors--not that many of them were on ball that were crazy hard to reach in the first place. Some were routine, and a few were cases where he did great to reach them but then made a bad decision to try a late and errant throw.

Now, these are the kinds of mistakes you expect from an inexperienced player, and hopefully ones he'll learn to avoid in the future. They're certainly no reason to DFA him given the Nats limited options at SS. But he's clearly a work in progress, and he's not progressing as well--or at least as quickly--as the Nats really need.

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