Monday, August 27, 2012

Adrian Gonzalez Past, Present, and Future

Welcome to part three of this four part series breaking down the Dodgers and Red Sox trade. If you missed part 1 check it out here and part two here.

Now onto the Dodger perspective of the deal while this is a blockbuster type deal, the names may be bigger than the assets at this point in each of their careers. The centerpiece of his deal is Adrian Gonzalez, who’s considered by many to be an elite first baseman. The numbers don’t lie either, he’s a 4 time All Star, 3 time Gold Glove winner, an owner of an .881 career OPS, and has accumulated 30.3 fWAR up to age 30 so far. However since his move to Boston one could say he’s underachieved a bit and not been the player we envisioned we thought he’d be.

Coming to Boston many expect Gonzalez would be a sure fire bet for 100+ extra base hits because his swing was “tailored” to the park, well as it turns out maybe not so much. Gonzalez had a terrific season last year accumulating 6.6 fWAR and finished 7th in MVP voting. However only accumulated 27 HRs, which is by no means bad, but for the expectations coming in, it was a disappointment. What happened?

Some may cite his shoulder surgery in the offseason of the trade had something to do with the power outage, which it very well could have, shoulders and wrists are pivotal to any hitter especially ones of power. Some might also point out he had an outrageously high BABIP of .380 and he was bound to come back to Earth. His BABIP has stabilized this year; however the power is still down. Yet looking at Gonzalez spray chart of 2011 we’ll see something very peculiar compared to the Gonzalez we’ve seen in the past.

As seen by the huge cluster of infield black boxes and green boxes on the right side of the field we see Gonzalez starts to pull the ball more so then he’s ever done before. Perhaps that short porch in right field was too tempting to lay off of or maybe the shoulder injury didn’t let him get around the ball enough to muster it the other way as in past history. In any case the results are clear compared to his prime year tenure with the Padres.

Gonzalez’s hits are spread out and he seems to have three different types of swings “tailored” to where he wants to hit the ball. Outside of the homeruns, his hits are basically in 3 clusters, left, center, and right, plain and simple. Whether it be his approach, regression, or injury, something changed in Gonzalez and not for the better as it would seem there are lingering effects starting to be felt in 2012.

His hits this year seem shallower than they have been in the past and while there is no distinct cluster it seems lackluster to me. Despite no cluster of outfield hits, the infield outs to the right side give some evidence that he’s still trying to pull the ball but having less success doing do. What's up with this? Well I might have an idea, according to PITCH f/x Pitch Values/100

Gonzalez 2006-2011

1.49 2.29 -1.17 2.89 -0.07 0.61 2.02 1.93

Gonzalez 2012

-0.64  4.57 1.77 -6.6 1.46 1.19 4.08 -1.34

(Excuse the format, I'm unalble to figure out how to insert excell graphs properly, hope it doesn't become confusing.)

For the first time in Gonzalez’s career he’s struggling vs the fastball and probably as a byproduct of this he’s also struggling vs changeups. This is concerning considering the combine times Gonzalez is thrown either or about 50% of the time according to FanGraphs Pitch Type. Tie this into him cutting his walk rate nearly in half, a career low, and it seems to add up to he might be pressing at the plate as well.

Let’s also have a combine look at his spray chart from 2011-2012 raises another red flag.

The chart above is actually a prototypical power hitter’s spray chart, power to the pull side and lack of power and many more deep outs away. However the concerning thing here is Gonzalez wasn’t prototypical he had power to all fields as the chart from 2009-2010 showed. Whatever happened or whatever Gonzalez is doing differently since the trade it’s evident that power and ability to go the other way has been hurt in the process as shown by the blue circle. As evident by the orange circle he does still seem to be able to pull the ball with authority, but to the extent he is, might be hurting him more than helping him.

Finally some may say “Well Gonzalez has hit 10 homeruns in the past two months and his power is returning!” Well that might be possible, but it smells more like a hot streak to me. Last year Gonzalez from May to June hit 15 homeruns, the rest of the year only 11. So while it’s certainty possible he’s rediscovering his power of old, I’d heed with caution.

If I’m the Dodgers all these facts combine are concerning to me and the outlook of Gonzalez may not be as fortunate as some might think. Gonzalez can still probably be an above average first baseman, but unless Gonzalez starts spraying the ball to all fields and stops pulling the ball at the rate he is, the days of him being an elite power hitter are probably behind him.

All stats and information are from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, and TexasLeaguers.

Stay tuned in for the final piece of this series, an analysis of the trade from the Dodgers perspective!


  1. This will probably be of help.

    He's at his normal left-center-right percentages this year, but his production to right and especially center are below career averages.

    1. This is very interesting, I overlooked those splits, it almost seems to the contrary of his spray charts.