There is no denying Adrian Gonzalez is in the middle of a power outage. The home runs just are not coming. But why? What are the reasons for why Gonzalez is no longer hitting the long ball like he did in San Diego?
When the Red Sox traded for Gonzalez many fans believed they were getting a true slugger—someone who could routinely rack up 40 plus home runs a year. He was supposed to be the great replacement for Manny Ramirez. Gonzalez and David Ortiz were supposed to be the new one-two punch in the heart of Boston's lineup.
That still has yet to happen.
Here I examine three possible reasons the wattage on Gonzalez’s bat seems to have dimmed.
Lingering Problems With His Shoulder
He has managed to hit .283, with six home runs with 45 RBI during the first half of play this season. He leads the American League in doubles with 27 and only trails Joey Votto in all of baseball in that category (Votto has 35). (h/t ESPN.com)
But where are the home runs? Could it be the lingering effects of the October 20, 2010 surgery he had on his right shoulder to repair a torn labrum? Maybe.
It’s easy to forget Gonzalez was not even cleared to swing a bat until February 21, 2011. And then the Red Sox only allowed Gonzalez to take 20 swings off a tee.
But the Red Sox released a statement about Gonzalez in February 2011 to ease the concerns of fans:
Adrian reported to Spring Training in excellent condition after working with the team training staff this offseason. He was evaluated on Friday (February 18) at the time of his Spring Training physical examination by the team’s medical staff. At that time, he was noted to have full range of motion, no tenderness, and excellent strength. (Boston Globe)
Ok, so the Red Sox said his strength and range of motion were fine as early as February 2011. There’s really nothing to dispute those medical claims, so we’ll have to take them for what they’re worth.
What we do have are his splits from before the surgery and after the surgery. Keep in mind these splits also represent a change in leagues and home ball parks.
Let’s look at his last full season in San Diego before the surgery:
160 GP, .298 AVG, 33 HR, 101 RBI, 93 BB, 114 K, .904 OPS
In Boston, after the surgery (through July 12, 2012):
245 GP, .319 AVG, 33 HR, 162 RBI, 97 BB, 183 K, .884 OPS
In 85 more games played after the surgery he has the exact same amount of home runs as he did before the surgery. His OPS is 20 points lower, and he somehow has managed to walk only four more times in the extra 85 post-surgery games. He has struck out an extra 69 times in the extra 85 post-surgery games.
The walk and strikeout ratio stick out more than the overall lack of power. Could the surgery have something to do with the power outage? Of course it could. But there’s a better choice: He is trying too hard to hit home runs.
This brings us to theory No. 2.
The Pressure of Playing In Boston is Affecting His Plate Discipline
Gonzalez is chasing the ball more and not waiting for his pitch.
There are some possible explanations for this. He was traded from laid-back San Diego to the pressure cooker of Boston surrounded by the super hype machine that usually surrounds star athletes in Boston. The pressure to produce in Boston is intense. For Gonzalez, that production was supposed to come in the form of the home run.
Perhaps, too, the small dimensions of Fenway compared to those of Petco Park made his eyes wide with over-excitement.
But those are casual observations, and unless we get inside the head of Gonzalez, they cannot really be proven to be true or false. Is it fair to think Gonzalez feels the pressure of Boston? Yes. Is it fair to say he is pressing? Yes.
So could the surgery simply be a red herring? Is the surgery too simple of an explanation for Gonzalez’s power outage? I think it is.
Let’s dig deeper into the numbers to see if Gonzalez is pressing in Boston. We can begin simply by looking at the amount Gonzalez walks. Let’s think of walks as a player’s ability to be patient at the plate.
In 2009, 17.5 percent of his at-bats ended in a walk. In 2010, 13.4 percent of his at-bats ended in a walk.
In 2011, only 10.3 percent of hit at-bats ended in a walk. So far in 2012, only 6.2 percent of his at-bats have ended in a walk.
At Fenway this season Gonzalez has struck out 29 times and has only walked 11 times.
Some factors may play into the dramatic drop in walks—namely, protection from other power hitters in the lineup. In San Diego, pitchers had the luxury to pitch around Gonzalez. Pitchers do not always have that luxury in Boston.
But protection in the lineup does not account for an astonishing 11.2 percent drop in walks from 2009 to the halfway point this season.
His plate discipline numbers tell the story.
In 2009, Gonzalez’s O-Swing percentage (the percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone) was 23.1 percent. In 2010 that percentage jumped to 31.8 percent.
In 2011 his O-Swing percentage was 35.5 percent—the highest number of his career. But he is set to break that mark as he is now swinging at 36.8 percent of pitches outside the strike zone.
That 36.8 O-Swing percentage marks a 7.7 increase on his 29.1 career O-Swing percentage.
Ted Williams’ famous first rule of hitting is “get a good ball to hit.” Gonzalez simply isn’t waiting for that good ball to hit.
That has nothing to do with shoulder surgery.
While Gonzalez has been swinging at a very high number of pitches outside of the zone, he’s such a good hitter he is able to mask it by actually making contact with a very high number of those pitches.
This year Gonzalez has been able to make contact 77.2 percent of the time when he does swing at a ball outside the zone. But he only has six home runs to show for it.
In 2009, Gonzalez only made contact with 57.9 percent of balls he chased outside the strike zone. He also hit 40 home runs.
To be fair, Gonzalez hit .338 last season—the best of his career. He also had 117 RBI, the second most of his career.
This brings us to the final theory on Gonzalez’s power outage.
Gonzalez Has a New Philosophy at the Plate
Has Gonzalez simply adopted a new philosophy at the plate? One where his power numbers will drop but his average will skyrocket?
It is a possibility. Although it’s not one I personally subscribe to, it has to be considered. Perhaps being surrounded by players like Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia has changed his mindset at the plate. He no longer has to be the man like he was in San Diego. He can be part of the puzzle, not the entire thing.
His contact numbers have gone up since joining the Red Sox.
In 2009, Gonzalez made contact with 77.2 percent of all pitches he took a swing at. In 2010, he made contact with 78.7 percent of all pitches he swung at.
His batting average in 2009: .277
His batting average in 2010: .298
In 2011, Gonzalez made contact with 81.8 percent of all pitches he swung at. So far this season Gonzalez has made contact with 83.2 percent of pitches he has swung at.
Hit batting average in 2011: .338
His batting average through July 12, 2012: .283
Perhaps we are simply witnessing the natural progression of a hitter’s career. A progression that will give Gonzalez a better batting average but limit his power output.
Whatever theory you subscribe to concerning his power outage—his shoulder surgery, the pressure of Boston or simply a change in Gonzo’s philosophy at the plate—one thing is clear. He is not the power hitter right now the Red Sox thought they were getting. It is not an accusation; it’s just a fact.
Home runs can be vastly overrated, but I’m sure the Red Sox would like to see a few more balls fly into the bleachers off of Gonzo’s bat this season.