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Oscar Gonzalez’s quest to rebound from a dreadful sophomore slump

The newest member of the Yankees’ 40-man roster had a strong rookie year before scuffling in 2023.

Division Series - Cleveland Guardians v New York Yankees - Game Two Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Yesterday afternoon, the Yankees pounced on one of their four 40-man roster openings by claiming Oscar Gonzalez from the Guardians. Unlike the Yankees, Cleveland had a full 40-man roster before trying to pass Gonzalez through waivers. The Guardians were understandably seeking more flexibility by risking and ultimately losing an outfielder coming off one of the more putrid seasons in the American League last season.

A move like this is one absent of risk, and we must keep that in mind when evaluating the player. At the same time, no front office gives 40-man spots on a whim, and there is a path, however small, for Gonzalez to be a factor in the 2024 Yankees realistically.

Gonzalez received his first taste of the big leagues in 2022 and was an important part of a playoff team. The young right-handed outfielder played in a total of 91 games and had 38 extra-base hits, finishing the year with a 125 OPS+ and a pair of memorable postseason moments.

In a simplistic analysis, if Gonzalez could even come near to repeating those numbers, he’d be a significant improvement for what proved a very thin outfield for the Yankees last year, particularly during the absence of Aaron Judge.

It’s naïve to simply stop here, and there’s more to the story behind his decline from 2022 to 2023. For starters, even amidst his success, Gonzalez showed warning signs that he’d struggle with sustaining anything along those lines.

Back in 2022, Gonzalez had a 47.2-percent O-Sw%, and had a zone rate of 42.9 percent. Basically, he swung at way more pitches outside the zone than the MLB average (30.7). Gonzalez also saw pitches in the zone at a lower rate than most hitters, and that figure went further down in 2023 to 40.8 percent.

Pitchers started throwing even fewer strikes to Gonzalez, who didn’t make it any better by swinging more, upping his O-Sw% to 50.5. At six-foot-four and with long arms, Gonzalez has a pretty long swing, which caught up with him in 2023.

On top of his chase issues, Gonzalez has also battled plate discipline woes, or more accurately, he has a profile with little-to-no margin for error. Gonzalez walked only 3.9 percent of the time in 2022, and that number lowered to 2.8 in 2023.

When you chase as much as Gonzalez, it is pretty difficult to sustain the good batting average he needs to somewhat offset that walk rate. All of this being said, Gonzalez did come aboard at no cost, and he was able to put up a two-win season while playing only two-thirds of the 2022 campaign.

While Gonzalez is unlikely to put up as solid of a line as he did that year, the same, to a lesser degree, could be said about his atrocious numbers of 2023. The truth lies in between, and there’s room for him to be a solid enough bench presence on a team that even lacked those last year. A fresh start could help him establish a new strategy at the plate.

Regardless of what specific moves the Yankees pull off this season, this team isn’t done adding bodies to the outfield, as it requires depth in the position. This is ideally just the first step in improving beyond relying on even older contributors like Billy McKinney and Franchy Cordero. Gonzalez even has a couple options remaining should the Yankees opt to stash him in Triple-A.

Although we can break down what Gonzalez might offer, it’s far too early to worry about his potential impact on the Opening Day roster — which he might not even make. On a broader note, there were probably better low-cost options to pursue, but the move isn’t without merits.