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Top 40 All-Time Greatest Blue Jays: #26 Alex Gonzalez

Alexander Scott Gonzalez | SS | 1994-2001 | Career Stats

Alex Gonzalez, who's currently attempting to resuscitate his career with the Phillies, spent his most productive seasons as a member of the Blue Jays. Looking through a retrospective lens, it's almost inconceivable that he was once compared favourably to the Rodriguez-Jeter-Garciaparra trio. For instance, he appeared on Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects list four times, every year from 1992 to 1995. His rankings were #62, #27, #4, and #8, respectively. Amazingly, in 1994, when he was listed as the fourth best prospect in the game, he ranked above the following players:

  1. Alex Rodriguez, ss, Mariners
  2. Manny Ramirez, of, Indians
  3. Derek Jeter, ss, Yankees
  4. Javy Lopez, c, Braves
  5. Shawn Green, of, Blue Jays
  6. Johnny Damon, of, Royals
  7. Raul Mondesi, of, Dodgers
  8. Derek Lowe, rhp, Mariners
  9. Billy Wagner, lhp, Astros
Additionally, in 1995, when he was listed as the eighth best prospect in the game, he ranked above Nomar Garciaparra, who was listed as the 22nd best prospect in the game at the time. Therefore, at different points in his career, he was regarded in higher esteem than each member of the fabled Rodriguez-Jeter-Garciaparra trio.

Now, considering the uncertainty involved with ranking and projecting prospects, that reflects more negatively on minor league analysis than anything else. But it also illustrates how highly he was regarded by some well-respected experts of the game. To be fair, Gonzalez was blessed with a rare combination of power and speed, and his defensive skills were among the best in baseball. The problem, of course, was that those skills never translated into actual production. He struck out at an incredibly high rate, especially for a middle infielder. Moreover, his lack of plate discipline led to consistently low walk totals. In order to remain productive, a batter with high strikeout totals must compensate by walking at an inordinately high rate. This phenomenon manifests itself through players such as Adam Dunn of the Reds and Jason Giambi of the Yankees. However, Gonzalez never compensated for his high number of strikeouts, and his production suffered dearly as a result. Year after year, he posted a low batting average and an almost equally low on-base percentage. As a result, his offensive production never quite correlated with the lofty expectations others had once hoped he would match. Conversely, however, his defensive production was as good, if not better, than originally advertised. Much in the same vein as Orlando Hudson, the 32nd all-time greatest Blue Jay, Gonzalez's inclusion on this list is predominantly based on his terrific defensive output rather than his pedestrian offensive results.

When he first began his career with the Blue Jays, Gonzalez received a great deal of fan support. The female faction of the audience was especially fond of him, often holding signs that read, "Marry me, Alex," among other flirtatious messages. Following a long, demoralizing players' strike, young players such as Gonzalez, Shawn Green, and Carlos Delgado were counted upon to help rekindle the widespread excitement that existed during the team's World Championship seasons. As is always the case, though, the team's won-lost record ultimately determined how much support the team would receive following the strike. The attendance decreased from the season before (in less games, too) and it was clear that a rebuilding phase, led by Gonzalez, was well underway.

In 1995, his first full season with the Blue Jays, Gonzalez hit .243/.322/.398 with ten home runs and four stolen bases. At the time, the common perception was that those totals were mostly a product of his young age and inexperience and that he'd improve upon them in the coming years. Well, as fate would have it, he never posted superior rate stats in any of his full seasons as a Blue Jay. He would post higher single-season home run and stolen base totals, but his walk rate would never again reach that level. His defense, however, was remarkably impressive throughout his career. After his rookie season, his range factor by games played was better than the league average during every season of his tenure with the Blue Jays (by considerable margins more often than not), and his Zone Rating was often above average as well. In his final season with the Blue Jays, he posted the highest RF and ZR among shortstops in the American League and the second highest in the majors, behind Rey Ordonez of the Metropolitans. In other words, what he lacked offensively, he made up for defensively. In fact, it's thoroughly incomprehensible that he never won a Gold Glove Award. Omar Vizquel, who won nine Gold Glove Awards in nine consecutive seasons from 1993-2001, has been somewhat overrated defensively throughout his career. Obviously, he's very, very gifted in that respect, but there were seasons when Gonzalez's defensive production was favourably comparable to his. Consider a defensive comparison between the two:

Year    Player     FP   RF     ZR    Rate2
1994    Gonzalez  .918  4.65  .885    93 <-- 15 games played
        Vizquel   .981  4.67  .824   104
1995    Gonzalez  .957  4.00  .866    76
        Vizquel   .986  4.69  .865   107
1996    Gonzalez  .973  5.10  .860   117
        Vizquel   .971  4.62  .882   101
1997    Gonzalez  .986  4.50  .866   110
        Vizquel   .985  4.63  .876   103
1998    Gonzalez  .976  4.42  .850   111
        Vizquel   .993  4.88  .881   110
1999    Gonzalez  .980  5.55  .844   122 <-- 37 games played
        Vizquel   .976  4.59  .862    90
2000    Gonzalez  .975  4.56  .826    90
        Vizquel   .995  4.38  .838   100
2001    Gonzalez  .987  4.97  .884   110
        Vizquel   .989  4.31  .840   108

It seems that some of Vizquel's Gold Glove Awards were more or less won as a result of his fielding percentage. In 1996, 1997, and 2001, Gonzalez should've won the award rather than Vizquel, because although their fielding percentages were comparable, Gonzalez clearly had him beat in the other categories. It's likely that Vizquel's reputation also played a role, which is unfortunate.

Once J.P. Ricciardi was appointed as the team's new General Manager, one of his first courses of action was clearing Gonzalez's moderately expensive long-term contract off the books. His offensive production was below average and Chris Woodward, whose defense was adequate, was ready to take over at shortstop (or so everyone thought, as it would turn out). Gonzalez was essentially given away to the Cubs, with whom he would commit an often overlooked blunder. On October 14, 2003, his error in the bottom of the eighth inning against the Marlins was as responsible for the Cubs' subsequent demise as the infamous Steve Bartman play turned out to be.

In the end, Gonzalez's time with the Blue Jays never quite lived up to expectations. He possessed rare, remarkable defensive skills, but his development as a hitter stagnated after his rookie season. His professional career has ultimately been marred by unrealized expectations and unexpected realizations, but what he managed to accomplish as a Blue Jay certainly merits a good deal of recognition.

Top 10 Toronto Blue Jays Batting Ranks (min. 2000 PA):