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Breaking down the numbers on Adrian Gonzalez

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  May 7, 2012 01:30 PM

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KANSAS CITY As the Red Sox sink further into the abyss (they are 18-36 since Sept. 1), Adrian Gonzalez has started to receive some of the fan backlash usually reserved for Josh Beckett.

So let's look at the numbers and determine whether that's warranted. For the purpose of this discussion, RBIs are not going to be a major talking point because they are too contingent on things out of a batter's control. And there will be no harping on the 27 games played this season. That's 16 percent of the season.

Here's a look at sample sizes that do mean something:

Gonzalez since he joined the Red Sox: .327/.398/.522 over 186 games with 29 home runs and 132 RBIs. Hard to argue with any of that. You'd like to see more home runs, but a .920 OPS is impressive. Since the start of the 2011 season, only 12 players in the game have a higher OPS.

Gonzalez at Fenway Park since he joined the Red Sox: .332/.395/.488 over 94 games with 11 home runs and 58 RBIs.

This is a little odd. Gonzalez has hit for a higher average at Fenway but his slugging percentage drops by 6.5 percent. When he was acquired from the Padres, it was widely expected that Fenway Park would be a haven for him and all those balls that died on the warning track at Petco Park would be home runs.

That has not been the case. Gonzalez averaged a home run every 24.7 at-bats at Petco. He is averaging a home run every 34.2 at-bats at Fenway.

Gonzalez since the 2011 All-Star break: .302/.382/.455 with 12 home runs. Here's a problem. Gonzalez has an .837 OPS in his last 97 games and that is well below expectations. He is 70th in baseball in slugging percentage since last July 15.

That's right, 70th.

Gonzalez at Fenway Park since the 2011 All-Star break: .284/.357/.381 with 3 home runs and 22 RBIs in 50 games.

Bingo. Here is why people are so mad. Gonzalez is averaging one home run per 65.66 at-bats at Fenway Park since last July 15. You have a better chance of getting a moderately priced beer at Fenway than you do of seeing a $21 million player hitting a home run.

Gonzalez likes to say that he doesn't try to hit home runs. And of course, that makes total sense. No hitter should go up to the plate trying to hit home runs.

But he did average just over 32 home runs in his five seasons with the Padres whether he was trying to or not. At the moment, he has hit 29 in 186 games with the Red Sox.

Here's a few ideas about what's going on:

1. Health: Gonzalez had shoulder surgery after the 2010 season and it's probably no coincidence that his power has dropped since then. Last season seemed to wear him down and the power has not returned this year.

Why the Red Sox allowed him to participate in the 2011 Home Run Derby remains a mystery. That was an amazingly dumb decision.

2. The opposition: Gonzalez is facing better pitching on a daily basis in the American League than he did in the National League. That should be offset by his being in a better lineup, however.

3. The pressure of expectations: It's crushing Albert Pujols, so who's to say it's not weighing on Gonzalez? He exudes an outward calm, but his trade to Boston and subsequent contract extension came with the pressure to perform and live up to the hype.

4. A different culture: San Diego is not Boston. Baseball is not part of the daily fabric of life in San Diego like it is in the Hub. If Gonzalez went into a slump in San Diego, it was not a matter of civic concern. In Boston he probably has people flipping him off at traffic lights.

I also think the clubhouse culture bothered him last year. Gonzalez is a quiet guy who spends a lot of time watching video and preparing for games. Then he suddenly found himself in a place where "rally beers" were acceptable. He wants to be a leader and can't seem to figure out how best to do that.

So what happens now? Did the Red Sox give a $154 million deal to a first baseman who is going to hit like Wade Boggs?

Probably not. Gonzalez is only 30 and still very much in his prime. He's going to figure it out and produce. But it's fair to say that those lofty numbers at Fenway Park everybody was envisioning may prove to be just a fantasy.

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