Aug 30, 2011, 06:09AM

Adrian Gonzalez Is Having a Pretty Weird Year

The slugger's true potential is revealed.

450x346 alg adrian gonzalez sacfly.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

As a member of the San Diego Padres, Adrian Gonzalez was a part-time basher because his home park obscured his true potential. His trade to the Red Sox has confirmed that he’s a bona fide slugger, but a closer look at his first season in Boston reveals he’s done it in an odd way.

Not long ago, I Tweeted that Gonzalez has spent his first season in Boston bouncing between Babe Ruth and Tony Gwynn. I’ll assume all are familiar with Ruth, but just in case, Gwynn was a singles hitter with mediocre power. He never hit more than 17 homers in his 20 seasons in the majors, and averaged nine per season even though the bulk of his career was at the beginning or the shank of the steroid era. As good as Gwynn was he wasn’t the power hitting first baseman Gonzalez is supposed to be.

As you will recall, last off-season the Red Sox traded three of their top minor league prospects to the Padres for first baseman Gonzalez. Gonzalez had hit 30 or more homers in each of the last four seasons before coming to Boston, but what made the feat more impressive is where it was accomplished. He did it with the hitter’s cemetery that is San Diego’s Petco Park. Most hitters hit slightly better at home than on the road, but not Gonzalez. He hit a pedestrian .267/.367/.442 at Petco, decent numbers but nothing close to All-Star worthy. But once he left San Diego he became a serious slugger, hitting .308/.379/.571. His .950 OPS on the road during his time in San Diego would, if accomplished this season, place him 11th in all of baseball. So there was reason to believe that once Gonzalez got out of San Diego he’d show himself to be the monster basher hidden behind Petco Park’s cavernous dimensions.

And that’s exactly what has happened. This season Gonzalez has an OPS of .965, good for eighth overall in all of baseball. Yet that number papers over the strangeness of how it was achieved. Gonzalez’s monthly splits show some ups and downs as you would expect from any player, but if you move the endpoints around a bit you get something much different.

The first month of the year Gonzalez hit .314/.379/.457 with one homer. Then, from May 1 through June 25 Gonzalez crushed a Ruthian .380/.425/.688 with 15 homers in 50 games. Following that, from June 26 through August 22, Gonzalez hit .318/.396/.415. He only managed two homers over those 49 games, turning back into Tony Gwynn. Finally, in the most recent six games of the year, Gonzalez has hit five homers with a slash line of .400/.444/1.040.

Gonzalez started out the year with 26 games of Tony Gwynn. Then he turned into Babe Ruth for the next 50 games before switching back into Gwynn for then next 49. The five homers in the last six games point to another Ruth run, this one particularly well-timed if you’re a Red Sox fan.

The upshot is Gonzalez has hit 20 homers in two short stretches totaling 56 games. Over the other 75 games he’s hit three homers. Of course, even when Gonzalez hasn’t hit for power, he’s got on base by hitting tons of singles. Despite his decreased power numbers, Gonzalez has topped his previous career high in hits already with another month of the season to go.

Gonzalez has had, as anyone can see, a streaky first season in Boston, going from singles hitter to feared slugger and back again. He’s hit for more average and less power, but despite this Ruth and Gwynn act, he’s been productive. The end result is Gonzalez has posted the numbers that most analysts thought he could in his first season in Boston. Maybe just not in quite the way we might have thought.

  • Nice observation. I'm not worried about his streakiness, it's probably just a fluke. What concerns me is his lack of patience at the plate. In 2009 he led the NL in walks, but this year the only reasonhis OBP is over .400 is because of his ridiculous batting average. Ultimately, that will drop, I just hope he remembers to walk more.

    Responses to this comment
  • Gonzalez is a semi-patient hitter, but in the Padres lineup there was no reason for opposing pitchers to ever throw him a strike (so to speak). That accounted for a sizable portion of his walk rate. In Boston, things are (obviously) different. It's much less likely Gonzalez will be pitched around in Boston for two reasons. 1. Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz have hit behind him most of the year. 2. Ellsbury and Pedroia have been on base a lot in front of him this season and with runners on base pitchers are less likely to want to walk the batter.

    Responses to this comment
  • I realized that in July, but at the time of the trade it seemed like he was the complete package. If he doesn't start to get more walks next year, assuming that his batting average dips significantly, then he won't be nearly as valuable as previously thought. The power will come though, I'm really not concerned about that. I wouldn't be surprised to see him hit 45 home runs next season.

  • Yeah, I agree. I don't really see a way he'll hit .345 next year but I expect a good bit of that production to transfer to power. Gonzalez was, I think, still getting over his off season shoulder surgery and then he had a long power slump in the middle of the season. Both should not be repeated next year.

    Responses to this comment
  • Once again, I wouldn't be surprised to see him hit over 40 home runs next year and lead the AL or even the majors. Regardless, I think it's safe to say that trading for him, and then signing him, was a smart move. Smarter than the Crawford deal at least. Crawford's got six more years to earn his contract though, so I'm obviously not going to call him an albatross/bust yet. Here's hoping.

    Responses to this comment

Register or Login to leave a comment