Adrian Gonzalez: 5 Reasons Boston's Slugger Will Win the Triple Crown in 2012
Darren McCollester/Getty Images
The last man to win baseball’s Triple Crown did it in a Red Sox Uniform. This year, it will happen again.
When Carl Yastrzemski won the AL Triple Crown in 1967, he did it with a .326 batting average, 44 home runs and 121 RBI. These numbers are certainly impressive, but as anyone who has seen him play can tell you, a healthy Adrian Gonzalez can easily reach this same milestone.
Indeed, despite a multitude of issues last season, Gonzalez was a monster for the Sox. He finished with a .338-27-117 stat line, with the bulk of his damage coming in the first half of the season. Indeed, at the All-Star break, Gonzalez was on pace to put up a .354-30-138, which would have put him at the top of two of the three Triple Crown categories at season’s end.
Gonzalez’s noticeable power drop-off from previous seasons has been linked to lingering shoulder problems associated with surgery he had prior to the 2011 season, though, to his credit, he never let that become an excuse.
It’s also true that when looking at advanced metrics, it becomes clear that part of the reason for Gonzalez’s swollen batting average was a high degree of luck. His batting average on balls on play (BABIP) was a ridiculous .386; for comparison, in the 2008-10 seasons, his BABIP was .304.
Though he may not reach such a high batting average again this year, it is perfectly reasonable to expect a .320-plus average from Gonzalez, who for a host of reasons will have a second year in Boston much easier than his first. He already had an excellent spring, hitting .356 with a solid .901 OPS and showing no ill effects from the collapse of last season.
There is no doubt that 2012 is shaping up to be a huge year for the Sox's first baseman, whose ability to consistently hit for both power and average makes him arguably the most valuable asset in the Sox's lineup.
Here are five reasons why Gonzalez will win the AL Triple Crown this season:
Now with a fully healthy shoulder, Gonzalez should actually improve on his numbers from 2011.
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Although the extent of Gonzalez’s shoulder woes last season went largely unnoticed due to his production at the plate despite the injury, his power numbers undoubtedly suffered. The drop-off in his home runs before and after the All-Star game was startling; after hitting 17 before the break, Gonzalez managed just 10 after.
It wasn’t just the home runs, either. Gonzalez saw a dramatic decline in all his offensive numbers, with the most dramatic drop-off in categories related to gap hitting; he lost over 100 points in his slugging percentage and managed only 16 doubles compared with 29 in the first half. His RBI total, too, dipped from 77 before the break to 40 after.
Now two years removed from surgery and completely healthy, Gonzalez is poised to sustain his success over the entire length of the season. The fatigue he experienced at the end of last season should no longer be an obstacle.
More Home Runs
Despite hitting 27 home runs last year, Gonzalez should be expected to make a sizable improvement on that total.
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
As mentioned previously, Gonzalez’s shoulder cost him a lot of home runs last season. Balls that were carrying out of the park in the first half of the season simply died on the warning track in the second half.
Beyond his health, Gonzalez’s career arc tells us that he is primed for a breakout season. During his last two healthy years in San Diego (2008 and 2009), he hit 36 and 40 home runs, respectively. He did this playing half of his games in the notoriously pitcher-friendly Petco Park, where he managed to hit only 14 and 12 of his respective totals.
With his excellent opposite-field power and a healthy shoulder, Gonzalez will see a spike in his home run totals now that he plays in a park more conducive to his swing. Even a marginal increase should be enough to get him into the thick of the Triple Crown race.
2nd Year in American League
Gonzalez's familiarity with the American League will help him throughout the 2012 season.
Rob Carr/Getty Images
It’s hard to imagine that Gonzalez could actually improve upon his numbers from last year, but it does bear mentioning that prior to last season, Gonzalez had spent all five of his seasons as a full-time player in the National League.
The advantage Gonzalez now carries into this season is that he has a catalog of 552 at-bats against American League competition to learn from. While it may not seem like much of an advantage, the experience he gained last season will allow him to approach the season without having to cope with so many unknown factors.
No longer seeing all the parks and facing many of the pitchers for the first time will only help him, and with this experience, huge numbers will surely follow.
More Lineup Protection
The return of a healthy Kevin Youkilis will provide Gonzalez, who had 20 IBBs in 2011, with more protection in the lineup.
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Though the Sox didn’t sign any marquee free agents, a combination of health and the law of averages will mean that Gonzalez will have more protection around him in the lineup. It also means that due to the myriad good hitters surrounding him, Gonzalez will see better pitches to hit. His 20 intentional walks last year ranked third in the American League and fifth in all of MLB.
Gonzalez will benefit from the return of a healthy Kevin Youkilis, who will likely see time hitting both fourth and fifth in the Sox's order this season. Youkilis’ ability to get on base will force pitchers to come after Gonzalez, as they won’t want to deal with having a runner on base in front of the notoriously selective Youkilis.
Once he returns from his wrist injury, Carl Crawford will also help Gonzalez. Not only does he bring a potent bat to the lineup, but his ability on the basepaths disrupts pitchers’ focus and diverts their attention away from the hitter. If he is on base in front of Gonzalez, Crawford will create plenty of RBI opportunities and also occupy a significant amount of the pitcher’s attention.
Trends in Triple Crown Stats
Dips in category averages over the last several seasons should make winning the AL Triple Crown more easily achievable.
The last couple years have seen a very interesting turn in the numbers put up in each of the “Triple Crown” categories, as MLB has cracked down on the use of performance enhancing drugs.
Between 1995 and 2007, the AL leader in home runs averaged 51; since 2007, that number has dipped to 43. In that same time period, the league-leading RBI average has dipped from 147 to 124. The batting averages have varied regardless of the time frame, and the collective average of the last 30 AL batting champs stands at .352.
What does this all mean for Gonzalez? If the statistical pattern continues on its present course, a season of a .350-plus average, 40-plus home runs and 120-plus RBI will put him at or near the top of all the Triple Crown categories.
Given that he nearly accomplished all of this last season with a bad shoulder and in a new league, reaching these numbers seems as close a sure thing as there can be.