For most of his career, Gonzalez has been most notable because there was another player, also named Alex Gonzalez, also a shortstop, with similar skills and limitations. It was all very confusing. When this sort of thing happened in the eighties, one of the centerfielders named Willie Wilson selflessly allowed himself to be known as “Mookie”, but neither of these guys would do us the favor. This Alex Gonzalez’s middle name is “Luis”, so that won’t work either. He is four years younger than and came up three years after the other Alex Gonzalez, who retired… uh… three years ago.
This Alex Gonzalez is Venezuelan (Viva Venezuela!) and came up with the Marlins in 1998; the next year, he took over shortstop because Edgar Renteria was allowed to make a living wage. Gonzalez hit .277 with 14 homers, and was the Marlins’ token All-Star the year after they won the World Series. However, he walked only 15 times, so his OBP was .308, a trend which would continue.
His power, however, did not, as over the next two seasons he hit only sixteen homers. In 2000, he hit only .200, and was one of the worst players in the league. In 2001, he managed to hit .250 with 30 walks, making him acceptable when his defense was taken into account. He regressed in 2002 and was hurt most of the season, but rebounded in 2003 for his best year to date. He wasn’t actually good, in that his OPS+ was just 96, and that slugging-heavy (his OBP was .313) but it was something. Unfortunately, that was a peak, and while he hit 23 homers in 2004 he only averaged .232, with a .272 OBP, and there’s really no power that will make up for that. After a bad year in 2005, the Marlins let him go. Only three players have played more games in a Marlins uniform, if that’s the sort of achievement that impresses you.
He signed with the Red Sox, where he put up a typical .255/.299/.397. (Note that he missed playing for his third world champion in his career by only one season.) Gonzalez instead signed a three-year contract with the Reds, where he had the best year of his career, hitting .272 with 16 homers and 22 doubles in just 429 plate appearances, putting up a career high in all three slash categories. Unfortunately, he fractured his knee and missed the entire 2008 season. After a rought start to 2009, he was traded after the deadline in a waiver deal to the Red Sox, where he played quite well down the stretch. He signed a one-year deal with a team option with the Blue jays, hitting 17 homers before the break, and was traded to the Braves.
It is possible that Gonzalez’s power surge is more than an illusion. When healthy the last few seasons, he has been able to hit for power. While the Blue Jays lead the AL in homers, their park has played as a slight pitchers’ park this year. It is almost more surprising that Gonzalez has played nearly every game than that he’s hit 17 homers this year. His homer rate isn’t all that much higher than what he put up in 2007, it’s the games played that’s out of context; after averaging just 94 games played over the last five years, he’s already played 85 this one.
Gonzalez has a good defensive rep, and Plus/Minus, at least, likes him this year. His range factors are also quite good. A slow runner, especially for a middle infielder, even before the knee problems. Hard to fit into many lineups because of his low OBPs, and if Bobby hits him second will cost the team a ton of runs.
The most-similar batter to Alex Gonzalez is, in fact, Alex Gonzalez.