Adrian Gonzalez: 5 Reasons He Could Win a Triple Crown with the Boston Red Sox
Major League Baseball hasn't had an offensive Triple Crown winner since 1967. As the drought nears the half-century mark, it's worth wondering if and when it will ever be captured again.
From the start of the modern game in the early 1900s until Carl Yastrzemski took home the honor in '67, there was at least one winner in every decade except the 1910s. The Triple Crown was awarded 13 times to 11 different players from 1901-1967, and the list is a virtual Who's Who of baseball greats.
It begins with Nap Lajoie, ends with Yaz, and includes names like Rogers Hornsby, Ted Williams, Micky Mantle, Frank Robinson, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx. A true collection of legends.
The question is, who among active players could add his name to to this pantheon? Recent seasons have seen amazing batting averages from Minnesota's Joe Mauer, who won three batting titles in four seasons, but he lacks the pop to lead in home runs.
Players like Toronto's Jose Bautista and New York's Mark Teixeira have the power stroke, but are unlikely to collect enough hits.
Perhaps the most likely to accomplish the feat would be Albert Pujols, who, when healthy, is a lock for 40 or more dingers and an average north of .320. He certainly gets the RBI totals. In fact, 2010 saw him capture two of the three requisite categories but a sixth-place finish in average.
Looking at Pujols' career, it's easy to see why the Triple Crown is so difficult to achieve; for one player to be dominant across three dimensions of today's game is a monumental challenge.
However, history tells us that it's not an impossible goal, and if Pujols can't manage it, there are other possibilities. Boston Red Sox slugger Adrian Gonzalez is right at the top of any short list for several reasons.
1. The Lineup
For any one player to excel in multiple offensive categories, he needs protection. Baseball is a different game today, than it was 50 years ago, especially in terms of how pitchers are used and the matchups hitters face.
The good news for Gonzalez is that he's in a prime production spot in one of the best batting orders in the game, and that's not likely to change any time soon. The Red Sox have their core players under control for the next couple of years, with the notable exception being David Ortiz who will be a free agent in 2012. Gonzalez will therefore be surrounded by quality bats for the foreseeable future.
That means more pitches to hit, as pitchers will be less likely to work around A-Gone in the order.
It also means RBI chances. With players like Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia setting the table, it's easy to see Gonzalez racking up 120 or more RBI year in and year out. This year, he leads the majors with 68 RBI through 73 games.
While the Triple Crown may be an individual award, it can't be won without some talented teammates.
2. Power to All Fields
Gonzalez will certainly benefit from the skills of those around him, but at the end of the day he still needs to execute on an individual level. Luckily, the numbers say that won't be a problem.
Many power hitters have imbalanced results in terms of where they can clear the fences, but Gonzalez brings power to all fields. In fact, last season he hit more homers to left than to any other part of the park, going deep 13 times. That represented nearly 42 percent of his homers. Another 12 went out to right field (39 percent), and the remaining six to center.
It's difficult for pitchers to limit A-Gone's strength at the dish because they can't focus on getting him to go to any one part of the park. Gonzalez can turn on an inside pitch and drill it to right, but he's just as happy taking something on the outside half of the plate and going the other way.
That kind of versatility will be a boon to his power numbers.
3. Friendly Fenway
While on the subject of power, it's crucial to discuss what Fenway Park can do for Boston's newest power bat. Take a look at this analysis by Fangraphs.
As that article points out, Baseball-Reference's park factors suggest that by doing nothing more than switching from Petco to Fenway, Gonzalez should enjoy a substantial upswing in his production. Playing in San Diego, A-Gone was limited not only by the unfortunate dimensions of a true-pitcher's park, but also by an anemic offense.
In Boston, both of those problems go away.
For a player with left-field power, Fenway can be heaven. Even bloops to left have a chance to get to the Green Monster, and balls hit with any kind of authority have a real chance of clearing the wall. There seems to be a consensus that playing in Boston will mean big, big things.
It's easy enough to look at his career numbers and dismiss Gonzalez as a guy who can "only" hit between 30 and 40 homers per year, but factoring in the Petco effect, that just isn't the case.
Over the past three seasons, Gonzalez has tagged 70 home runs away from San Diego. If he can do that well on the road and if he can now match those totals by taking advantage of Fenway, then hitting 45 or even 50 home runs per year is now well within his reach.
4. Solid Splits
Talking about what Gonzalez did away from Petco Park is important, because it probably gives a more realistic picture of his potential. In addition to averaging better than 23 homers per year on the road, his last three seasons have yielded some other impressive splits.
In 2008, Gonzalez hit .308 with a .946 OPS away from home.
In 2009, .306 with a 1.045.
And in 2010, he hit .315 with a .980 OPS.
In fact, his career road average stands at .306 and that includes the early years before he found his stroke.
Perhaps that doesn't sound all that great and it's not close to what he'd need to lead the league in average. But remember that the light-hitting Padres were still the same offense on the road, only the parks changed. Gonzalez was still hampered by a lack of protection.
Keep in mind the fact that a player's road splits are supposed to be his weaker numbers. So even if Gonzalez stays in the .306 range away from Fenway, his home numbers will now bring that up instead of down.
This season, Gonzalez leads the majors with a .350 average. At Fenway? He's raking at a .369 clip. Maybe that will hold up and maybe it won't, but it certainly indicates his capabilities.
5. An Increasing Comfort Level
Dazzled by his ridiculous 2011 numbers, it's easy to forget that Gonzalez is brand new to Boston. Brand new to the east coast, and to the whole American League. Over time, he's only going to become more comfortable with his teammates and surroundings.
Granted, A.L. pitchers haven't had much time to figure him out. but as A-Gone's career has shown, he's an elite offensive threat. All the time in the world won't help pitchers enough to contain him. Even while the A.L.'s hurlers are making notes in their scouting reports, Gonzalez is doing the very same. In this case, I'll give the edge to the hitter.
What Gonzalez did in San Diego is remarkable when one considers all that held him back. Finally free of those offensive shackles, the sky is the limit. A-Gone is in the middle of his prime, has a track record of consistency, and now enjoys every advantage a hitter can have.
The Boston lineup should afford him the RBI chances. His own hitting skill should keep him among the league leaders in average. And his power to all fields combined with Fenway's interior should elevate his home run totals.
Put it all together, and Gonzalez has a very real chance of becoming the first Triple Crown winner since '67. It probably won't be this year given the way Jose Bautista is jacking home runs, but a big second half could change things. If not 2011, then future opportunities abound.
It would be nice to see the award pass from Yaz to Gonzalez. Let's keep it in Boston.