Welcome to our 2021 Boston Red Sox in Review series. This is, as you can probably guess, where we will be reviewing all of the players who made at least a modest impact on the Red Sox in 2021. Every week day we’ll be deep diving into one player, describing the season in a sentence, looking at the positives from the year as well as negatives, looking back at our one big question from our season preview and looking ahead to the 2022 season. Today we look at Marwin Gonzalez’s 2021 campaign.
2021 in one sentence
Marwin Gonzalez was a low-risk signing to help fill in all over the diamond, but the Red Sox were unfortunate and got what seemed like a 10th percentile performance.
This is one of those times when you really have to strain to find some positives, perhaps this more than any other we’ll do in this series. Gonzalez, after all, played his way off the roster entirely. But there was a time early in the year when he was at least getting on base and working good at bats. He never really got going at any point this season in terms of overall production at the plate, but at the start of the season it was possible to talk yourself into his turnaround based on his 11 percent walk rate in April. Said turnaround never really happened, but there was that time and I do have real memories of thinking those things. Even for his overall time in Boston he carried a respectable walk rate right at seven percent.
Beyond that, assuming we’re sticking just to his time in Boston (which we are), you can look to the reason he was signed in the first place: Versatility. As we learned, versatility is only a good thing if you are providing at least a little at the plate, but Gonzalez did hold up his end of the bargain in terms of filling in everywhere. He was primarily on the right side of the infield for Boston in 2021, but he did play a little bit everywhere else. By the end of his run in Boston, the only spots where he didn’t get at least one start was center field, catcher, and pitcher. For a team that was carrying a short bench for almost all of the first half, having that kind of versatility was valuable in its own way.
There are a lot of places you can look for negatives here, as Gonzalez did not make it through the full season on the team and was released about halfway through the season. And it was justified, with the veteran finishing his time with the Red Sox with a dismal 55 wRC+, hitting .202/.281/.285. And as you can probably tell from that statline, it was the lack of power that really set him back. Gonzalez was never expected to come in and hit 30 homers, but he needs to have something at least resembling average power to provide enough at the plate, but he wasn’t anywhere close to average power with a .083 Isolated Power (SLG - AVG). We’re going to talk about his contact more in a bit, but that he hit so many ground balls was a major reason for his lack of power.
You can also point to his performance against right-handed pitching to be another mark against him in 2021. One of the big roles for him coming into the season was to spell Bobby Dalbec, particularly against tough righties. And with the way Dalbec was hitting in that first part of the season, having a reliable handcuff would have been huge. The Red Sox were able to weather that storm, but Gonzalez didn’t get it done against righties. This includes his time with the Astros (which on the whole was slightly better than his time in Boston), but on the year he had a wRC+ of just 46 on the season.
The Big Question
When the Red Sox signed Gonzalez last winter, they were hoping for a buy-low opportunity, as he had a rough 2020 but was solid in the few years prior to that. Given the circumstances of 2020, it wasn’t a stretch to hope for a lot of flukiness in the numbers. But for Gonzalez, it wasn’t the case. For a second straight year, he just struggled to barrel the baseball. His hard-hit rate was under 30 percent once again, just as it was in 2020. The league-average rate was 32 percent. He also paired that with a soft-hit rate over 20 percent with the Red Sox, compared to a league-average rate of 16 percent. It was a worthy chance for the Red Sox to take for minimal money, but the gamble didn’t pay off. Gonzalez just doesn’t seem like he can square it up at this point.
2022 and Beyond
Gonzalez, as mentioned above, was a bit better towards the end of the year when he got to the Astros, but it was still well below-average. He’s a free agent entering his age-33 season and coming off two bad seasons, so he’s likely going to be looking at a spring training invitation to earn his role rather than just getting a major-league deal this winter.