Gonzalez having year to remember

BY Ken Rosenthal • September 15, 2010

At this precise moment, I’m not even sure Carlos Gonzalez is the most valuable player of the Rockies, much less the National League.

But before resuming the Great MVP Debate of 2010, allow me to share an outrageous stat, one that reveals far more about CarGo than the outcome of any awards race will.

Gonzalez’s past three monthly slugging percentages are .735, .774 and .737. Obviously, September is only half over, but when I asked my good friends at STATS LLC for perspective, here is what they came up with:

The last player to produce slugging percentages of .735 or more in three consecutive months of the same season, minimum 50 plate appearances, was Barry Bonds in 2004.

The last player to do it prior to Bonds was Mark McGwire in 1996.

The last clean player, for those who prefer such a view?

There was none.

The STATS records in this area go back to only 1952 — and from ‘52 to ‘86, no player slugged better than .735 in more than one month in any season.

We can talk about Gonzalez’s less spectacular first three months, understanding that he had to adopt a different style while making 44 starts in the leadoff spot.

We can talk about his gargantuan home-road splits, which remain the biggest blight on his MVP candidacy.

We can even talk about how Reds first baseman Joey Votto appears to be a superior choice for MVP, even though CarGo has 16 games to make one final run.

Gonzalez, 24, might not be MVP this season. He might lose the award in the future to his teammate, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. But there is little doubt that we are witnessing the dawn of a special career.

Together, CarGo and Tulo form the best 3-4 combination in the game — one worthy of double-Bonds treatment, according to none other than the Padres’ MVP candidate, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.

“You’ve gotta throw balls to them, plain and simple,” Gonzalez said Wednesday after the Rockies’ 9-6 victory over the Padres. “Take your chances with the ‘2’ guy and the ‘5’ guy.

“You let them beat you, they’re going to beat you. With the bases loaded, (walk in) two runs and try to get a double play out of the fifth guy.”

Think Adrian is kidding?

Since July 27, when Tulowitzki came off the disabled list after missing nearly six weeks with a fractured left wrist, CarGo and Tulo are batting — get this — a combined .383 with 29 homers and 92 RBIs in 47 games.

Tulowitzki had two home runs and a career-high seven RBIs on Wednesday — and just missed a homer in his final at-bat. He has an astonishing 11 home runs in his past 13 games. Wednesday marked his fourth career multi-homer game, and third in the past eight days.

Rockies manager Jim Tracy calls Gonzalez “as graceful a baseball player I’ve ever been around” and Tulowitzki “as competitive a baseball player as I’ve ever seen.”

The Rockies are 2-1/2 games back in both the NL West and wild-card races. Next they will try to improve their 29-42 road record on a six-game trip to Los Angeles and Arizona. Gonzalez’s MVP chances could hinge on how both he and the team perform.

The statistic, “OPS-plus,” helps calibrate the performance of a hitter, measuring against league average and adjusting for ballpark. Votto’s OPS-plus entering Wednesday’s play was 169. Albert Pujols was at 166, Adrian Gonzalez 150 and Carlos Gonzalez 145. One hundred is average.

Votto rates well in OPS-plus because he is hitting better on the road than at home, even though he plays at the hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark. CarGo suffers because, in the words of Adrian Gonzalez, “he pretty much is doing everything here at Coors” — and Coors, humidor and all, is by far the top offensive park this season for runs, according to park factor.

Rockies veterans Todd Helton and Jason Giambi say Gonzalez deserves extra consideration for his outfield defense. Votto is an improved defender at first, but Gonzalez changes games with all five of his tools, including his speed and his arm.

The final two weeks should settle it; the award probably is Gonzalez’s to win more than it is Votto’s to lose. In the meantime, here is one more story about Gonzalez’s remarkable talent.

On Tuesday night the Padres summoned left-hander Joe Thatcher to face Gonzalez with two outs in the eighth inning. The Padres led 6-3, but with two runners on base, Gonzalez represented the tying run.

The count went to 2-2. Gonzalez fouled off a pitch and felt immediate discomfort in his right hand. Tracy and Rockies trainer Keith Dugger left the dugout to visit him; Gonzalez has had issues in his wrist/thumb area for the past two weeks and did not start Saturday because of the problem.

“Every time I take a wrong swing, it hurts,” Gonzalez said. “That was definitely a wrong swing.”

But he stayed in the game.

Thatcher threw his next pitch, a fastball down and away, right where he wanted it. Black thought the pitch might even have been a ball. But Gonzalez, making a seemingly miraculous recovery, ripped it into center for an RBI single.

“I was saving it,” he said, smiling.

I don’t know if he is the MVP. But he sure is fun to watch.

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