Tuesday, July 19, 2011

In The Sabermetric Spotlight: Adrian Gonzalez

5 IP, 6 ER, 8 H and 2 BB. 10.80 ERA and 2.00 WHIP, good for a loss.

The above line was from none other than Jair Jurrjens, whom I wrote about last Friday. Are his peripherals finally catching up with him, or is it the power of the Spotlight?

This week, we'll switch leagues and fantasy categories. Much like Jurrjens, Boston's first baseman has been maybe the biggest sensation of the first half in his respective league. I don't think anyone is really surprised by his numbers, as the talent has always been there. Lets take a more in depth look, as we put this week's Sabermetric Spotlight on...

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B Boston Red Sox

Heading into 2011, everyone was expecting a huge year from A-Gone. Any hitter would show improved numbers moving from PETCO to Fenway, on park dimensions alone. You also have to account for the lineups. Would you rather take San Diego's opening day lineup of Tony Gwynn and David Eckstein (in front of AGon), or Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Carl Crawford and Kevin Youkilis? You gotta be kidding me? If Gonzalez posted similar numbers to his 2010 campaign at Petco, you would have to consider 2011 a disappointment.

First lets talk about the ballpark factor. Everyone knows that PETCO literally eats up base hits, and turns home runs into routine fly balls. How would Gonzalez's numbers translate to a much more hitter-friendly park in Fenway? Below, courtesy of http://katron.org/, the graphic displays every one of Adrian Gonzalez's balls in play at PETCO in 2010, overlapped on a graphic with Fenway's dimensions.

Granted, 2D graphics do not take into account the green monster, but it's safe to say that the 13+ fly outs (denoted by orange dots) to left field alone would have either been home runs or doubles, significantly raising batting average, and possibly adding some counting stats onto his already stud-worthy fantasy line. I also count 7 balls that were either fly outs or doubles to right field that would have been home runs at Fenway. No matter what way you look at it, Fenway plays to AGon's advantage. He seems to tend to ground balls to the right side, and fly balls to left field.

One last note about ball park factors. According to ESPN's Tristan Cockcroft, from 2005 to 2009 PETCO had a BABIP of .282 (ranked last) while Fenway's stood at .314 (ranked 3rd).

That's all well and good, but the past is the past, what about how his current numbers? Adrian Gonzalez has lived up to the billing in 2011, and then some. His line for the season* are shown below.

That's good enough for the #1 ranked First Baseman in ESPN leagues, which is no small feat. So far, he's posting a career high in AVG, OBP, SLG and OPS, and significantly higher numbers than his career averages in those categories. He's also on pace for career highs in Runs, RBI's and SB's (a whopping 2). But where is the power? Gonzalez is on pace to hit less than 31 HR's for the first time since 2006. Why aren't the balls flying out of Fenway as we predicted?

Part of the reason that Gonzalez's HR numbers are down, are some of his puzzling peripherals. His LD% (Line-Drive Percentage) is at 19.5%, the lowest it's been since 2007. His ground ball percentage (GB%) is at an alarming 47.5%, by far the highest it's been in his career. Also alarming, his fly ball percentage (FB%) is at a career low; 33.0%, which is possibly the biggest factor in his HR total being where it's at. His BB% is at a 6-year low, sitting at 8.7% and his ISO (Isolated Power) is actually close to his career average.

How do you combine all that, and still have the career year Gonzalez is having? The simple answer is the players around him. It's easier to drive in runs when the guys in front of you get on base more, and it's easier to get good pitches to hit when you have other threats in the lineup behind you. In Boston, on any given night, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia will be hitting in front of Gonzalez (amongst others) and Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz will be hitting behind him. There really isn't a soft spot in this lineup, so you have to pitch to every hitter. That was not the case in San Diego, where Gonzalez was the only real threat in the lineup. With no real run producer behind you, it's easier to just pitch around you then pitch-to-contact.

I think the real reason Gonzalez is having the career year he is, is patience. Taking a look at his Plate Discipline numbers, Gonzalez's Contact% (contact rate on swings) is at a career high, standing at 83.4 percent. No being known for having a particularly high contact rate, this is a good sign for Gonzalez. Digging a little deeper, his O-Contact% (contact rate on pitches outside the strike zone) and Z-Contact% (contact rate on pitches in the strike zone) are also at career highs, being 73% and 91%, respectively. It appears as though Gonzalez is embracing his place in the Red Sox lineup and becoming a patient, contact hitter.

As with statistics, you can always find something else that will contradict the point you just made, which is why I point out that Gonzalez's O-Swing% (swing rate on pitches outside the strike zone) of 35.8% is a career high, much like his 69.4% Z-Swing% (swing rate on pitches inside the strike zone) is at a career low. I wouldn't put too much weight on these numbers though, as they can be misleading, especially when you consider the different pitching styles in the AL and NL, ball park factors, and lineup factors.

There is no doubt about it, Gonzalez is having a great year, and very well might be the #1 rated first baseman (or overall player) at the end of the year, as far as Fantasy Baseball is concerned. Putting everything I just mentioned above into consideration, I see two possible paths that AGon could take to end the year. The first would be to continue to develop into a patient hitter, wracking up career highs in Average, Runs, RBI's and others. The other, and more likely in my opinion, is that Gonzalez will continue to adapt to Boston, and as the pressue of being the best player on the best team in baseball wears off, he can start to let loose, and take it out on the baseball. As good as AGon has been in the first half, I would not be surprised one bit if he has an even better second half.

Do you have a comment about the article? Do you have a suggestion for the next player featured In The Sabermetric Spotlight? Hit me up on twitter @SillyLittleGame or leave a comment below!

*All statistics quoted are from games played through July 16th, 2011.


  1. As a corollary to the issue of the talent around him, you'll notice the pitch selection he's seeing in the AL has changed. He's seeing fewer fastballs, more sliders, more cutters. This may be impacting his hit trajectory - and if you like his high batting average, you can thank that ground ball rate. But if you want more HR's out of Gonzo, he's going to need to start lofting more balls, and that's going to have an impact on the batting average.

    His pace is 29 HR's, which is probably less than many predicted, but if he ends up at 30 HR's I don't think you can legitimately call his power "down". His HR/FB rate is right in line with career figures.

    Also, beware the lineup protection line - it has been largely debunked: http://www.sabernomics.com/sabernomics/index.php/2004/09/the-protection-externality-it-doesnt-exist/

    Would like to say more...but the kids are all screaming at once...

    Good post!

  2. Thanks for the comment! I noticed he is seeing fewer fastballs and more offspeed pitches. I was going to include a section about that but cut it, I can always go more in depth on another post.

    I'm glad you mentioned the lineup protection. I was nervous about including that, but I figured people would show up at my house with torches and pitchforks if I didn't mention it just for the sake of mentioning it.

    Thanks for the feedback!

  3. Brad - nice work. I just saw Gonzalez live for the first time this year down in Baltimore. His swing is just pure beauty.