Adrian Gonzalez: Analyzing the Boston Red Sox Slugger's Batting Woes
For A-Gon, this almost seems fitting.
2012 hasn't gone quite as planned for the Sox slugger. He seems a completely different player than his 2011 MVP candidate persona, hitting a mere .264/.328/.373.
Lately, he's been in a slump, hitting .205 over his last 10 games with no home runs. He had a putrid performance in Sunday's 17-inning marathon, in which he went 0-8 with two strikeouts—one of which came against DH Chris Davis on three pitches.
So, what the heck is going on with Adrian Gonzalez?
Before coming to Boston, Gonzalez never showed any penchant for average. He also played his entire career in PETCO Park.
After finally making it to a hitters' park in a hitters' league, A-Gon dazzled in 2011. It was his first season of 200 hits, hitting .338 total on the season.
In 2012, the average has been way down. Naturally, we'd look to BABIP—batting average on balls in play—for answers.
Gonzalez's 2012 BABIP is at .307. That's a very normal number, and not much lower than his career average of .322.
Last season A-Gon was hitting .380 on balls in play. Take that out of the equation and his career BABIP goes down to .298.
Gonzalez's BABIP is coming back down to Earth, and that explains why he isn't competing for the batting title. However, a drop all the way to .264 seems a little steep.
A-Gon is a career .292 hitter, so it wouldn't be too out of the ordinary to see his average start to rise—at least to the .280 range.
Ground Balls and Fly Balls
Here's where BABIP comes into play a little bit more.
So far in 2012, there's not anything too interesting about Gonzalez's ground-ball and fly-ball percentages. He is grounding out 42.2 percent of the time (career 41.4 percent) and flying out 38.9 percent of the time (career 37.7 percent).
The interesting thing is when you compare it to last year. Gonzalez grounded out 46.7 percent of the time, which is a big difference from his normal career numbers.
With such a high BABIP, we could draw the conclusion that Gonzalez was getting really lucky with his ground balls in 2012. If he were hitting more grounders than usual, and lady luck was on his side, it would explain why he was getting so many hits on balls in play.
Gonzo did have a career-high 138 singles in 2011. The single, more than any hit in baseball, tends to be those ground balls that cut right through the fielders.
With fewer ground balls, and less luck on his side, it could explain why his average sits at .264.
Whiffs and Walks
Here is a very interesting trend.
Gonzalez has seen pretty stable strikeout rates in his career. From 2009-2011, he was in a range of 16.0 percent to 16.6 percent. This season he is striking out at a rate of 18.4 percent.
A bit of a spike, but with a career rate of 18.0 percent it doesn't provide clear evidence of a decline.
One thing that does though, is his declining walk rate. For the third season in a row, A-Gon has seen a decline in free passes. His career number sits at 11.2 percent, and he is currently walking a mere 8.8 percent of the time.
The decrease in walks explains why his OBP is so low, and it shows a tendency towards aggression at the plate. As his slump continues, it's only normal for him to be losing patience and swinging more while walking less.
If this trend continues, things aren't going to get better.
Reading the Zone
Strangely enough, there's not much to report on this front.
With his decrease in walks and increase in strikeouts, you would think that he's swinging at certain pitches more often or taking more strikes.
Gonzalez is swinging at a lot more pitches in the strike zone, but his overall swing rate is only up 2.5 percent from last season.
His overall contact rate is actually up by 0.9 percent, while his swinging strike rate is up 0.5 percent.
There are changes in A-Gon's approach at the plate, but nothing that really sticks out as a source of the problem.
If any stat provides hope for Gonzalez, it's this one.
He's been incredibly consistent with line-drive rates in his career, posting a 20.9 percent career average with a range of 20.4 percent to 21.2 percent over his last four seasons.
This season Gonzo has a line-drive rate of 18.9 percent. Well below his career average, and way out of the norm.
With such consistency, I think it is OK to expect him to start moving back towards his norm. As that happens, there will be a lot fewer outs and more hits—line drives are the most common source of hits.
While some factors of player performance can be coached, there are others that cannot.
Some have called Adrian Gonzalez's overall heart into question. The 29-year-old sometimes appears to lack the fire that you'd expect of young players.
One situation that comes to mind is the end of the 2011 season.
While most players in the locker room were blaming themselves or the play of the team, Gonzalez nonchalantly told reporters "I'm a firm believer that God has a plan and it wasn't in his plan for us to move forward."
I'm not in a position to report on his emotional state, but it definitely wouldn't hurt to see him put a little more emotion into his game.
Adrian Gonzalez is a bright young player, and one of the premier left-handed batters in baseball. I don't think anyone was disappointed when he was traded for.
However, when you have a 29-year-old player in his prime, no one remembers one season ago. The only thing anyone focuses on is what's going on now.
Right now, A-Gon is struggling, and it's hurting Boston. He's an integral part of the lineup, and—outside of Dustin Pedroia and Jon Lester—is probably one of the best players Boston has to build around.
However, there's nothing incredibly out of the ordinary in his statistics. With a little more heart, and little less bad luck, there's a great chance that Gonzalez turns his season around and breaks out of this slump.
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