What’s happened to Adrian Gonzalez?
Despite batting third or fourth all season, the $154-million man has been far from a power producer, off to his worst start through June 5 since the first year he became a full-time starter in 2006. (See table below, right)
His .262/.316/.407 start through 244 plate appearances is acceptable for someone filling the breach in the outfield, with depth razed. It’s not acceptable for someone expected to be the linchpin of the offense for the next several years. If David Ortiz hadn’t gotten off to as hot a start as he has, it’s likely Gonzalez would have received far more attention with his struggles. Somehow, with Gonzo’s lack of production.
|Gonzalez through 6/5|
Gonzalez is striking out more than he has in the last three years and walking the least since ’05, when he amassed 162 plate appearances as a rookie. His patience, while overrated in San Diego because pitchers would pitch around him, has nosedived to concerning levels and he’s only seeing 3.64 pitches per plate appearance, down from a career mark of 3.85. Part of this can probably be attributed to Gonzalez being more aggressive with the bat to try to snap himself out of his funk, but even factoring that in, his plate discipline has eroded.
Despite no change whatsoever in the amount of contact he makes at the plate, he’s swinging more. He’s offering at 52.1 percent of all pitches as opposed to last season’s 49.2 percent. It’s the first time since 2005 that he’s been over 50 percent in this category — so as a starter, he’s never been this aggressive.
It’s easy to point to what’s troubling Gonzalez. He’s a little too aggressive with the bat lately, and he’s simply not hitting for enough power. That’s indisputable, as he’s on pace for the most punchless season he’s had in the majors since ’04, when he played in just 16 games.
That’s a tougher question to answer. It doesn’t seem to be luck of the draw, as Gonzalez’s expected batting average on balls in play is .326. That’s not all that far off from his actual BABIP of .310, so that doesn’t seem to be the culprit. Besides, that would only add to his average, anyways, not so much his power. If he wants to boost his average, he has to hit more groundballs, as those are the most liable to turn into hits. He’s been hitting a lot less groundballs this year, but again, that’s only going to affect average, not power. In fact, hitting more fly balls means more of them should be going out of the park, but that’s not happening. As with plate discipline, he might be trying to loft the ball too much to turn around his fortunes, but it doesn’t account for all of the the 6.6 percent change in groundball percentage from last year to this year.
How about first-strike percentage? Gonzalez has been tossed a first strike 62 percent of the time, compared to last year’s 55.8 percent. (Part of that is his own doing, offering at more pitches than he normally does.) As Tom Tango reveals, batters don’t hit very good when confronted with a 0-1 count, which is not surprising. Batters end up hitting just .239/.276/.372 through an 0-1 count. So maybe that’s part of it — he’s starting off with more 0-1 counts than usual. But that doesn’t really explain his lack of power, so I turned to ESPN‘s TruMedia heat maps to see if anything popped there:
I decided to take a look at the pitch frequency for Gonzalez over the last two years, which would show how pitchers are approaching Gonzalez. You can see from the two charts at the top how pitchers have pitched the lefty lately. In 2011 (the left image), they mostly tried to stay low and away, which is not all that surprising. It’s very difficult to hit a low and away pitch, nevermind driving it for extra-base hits. Famed pitching coach Leo Mazzone used to preach to his pitchers to pitch high and tight and low and away. But that didn’t trouble Gonzalez all that much last year, as he adjusted and drove the ball to the opposite field, playing to his strengths as well as peppering the Green Monster. He also flashed the ability to turn on the inside pitch, as you can see in a heat map of his power numbers at the bottom left.
Things have changed in 2012. Pitchers are coming inside more, using both sides of the plate more evenly and daring Gonzalez to beat them inside. So far, it’s not working. Not only has he struggled to drive the low and away pitch this season, but the inside pitches are also bedeviling him. You can see that the best chance he’s had this year for sustained power comes on pitches down the middle, or high and down the chute. That’s expected of A-Gon, so it’s not that notable.
I’ve now written 822 words on Gonzalez’s slow start to the season and while we definitely have a better understanding of what’s changed with Gonzalez, we still don’t know why. And there probably isn’t a silver-bullet answer. It’s most likely a combination of factors that are affecting Gonzalez’s production. But I know this much: it can’t and won’t last. Gonzalez might be off to a poor start, but by the end of the season, he should be A-GON again.
Categories: Adrian Gonzalez