Adrian Gonzalez’s Walks

With a relatively weak free agent class, at least in terms of star power, there is more chatter than usual about potential trades this winter. And one constant name that surfaces in trade speculation is Adrian Gonzalez, the Padres star first baseman. With two years remaining on an unbelievably team friendly contract (he’s owed just $10.25 million over both years), and coming off a +6.3 win season at age 27, it’s easy to understand why he’d be so highly coveted.

However, I think there are reasons for interested buyers to beware of a potential regression from Gonzalez in 2010 that could eliminate a decent chunk of his value. When you look at his 2009 performance in relation to his prior years, you’ll notice that most of the numbers are fairly stable.

Even though he hit 40 home runs for the first time, his total number of extra base hits didn’t change from 2008 – four doubles just went over the wall, and he ended up squeezing out an extra base from a fifth double that became a triple. That’s not really the definition of a large power surge.

Instead, the huge change came here.

1908_1B_season_blog_5_20091006

Gonzalez drew 45 more walks than he did in 2008 while striking out 23 fewer times. This naturally caused his on base percentage to shoot up 40 points, which translated into a .402 wOBA, a remarkably impressive figure considering his home park. However, while the willingness to take first base when it was offered was noble, I have to wonder whether it was a case of an improving eye or Gonzalez just being issued a lot of unofficial intentional walks.

After being thrown strikes about 62 percent of the time in the previous three years, that rate plummeted to 56 percent last year. Were pitchers more intimidated by Gonzalez than in previous years, or did the Padres line-up simply lower the cost of issuing Gonzalez a walk to the point where pitchers simply changed their strategy? After all, the two guys who spent most of the season hitting directly behind Gonzalez were Kevin Kouzmanoff (.312 wOBA) and Chase Headley (.328 wOBA). The rest of their line-up was even worse.

With a bad offense around Gonzalez, the value of a walk by their best player was diminished, as San Diego just didn’t have enough good hitters to consistently drive him home. So, pitchers responded by reducing the amount of strikes that Gonzalez saw, and in turn, his walk rate went through the roof.

That does not seem to be a scenario that would likely be repeated if Gonzalez was traded to a better offensive club. While it’s encouraging that Gonzalez was still able to produce while being pitched around, we’d have to expect that he’s going to be thrown more strikes in 2010 if he’s traded to a club that has some real hitters behind him. It’s possible that he’ll take those additional strikes and drive them into the alleys for extra base hits, but that’s projecting him to do something he hasn’t done before.

Gonzalez is a very good player, but if a team trades for him and hopes for another 119 walk season, I think they may be in for a bit of a surprise. Gonzalez’s improvement looks like a mixture of improved plate discipline and inferior teammates, and only one of those things will go with him if he’s traded.




Print This Post



Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


53 Responses to “Adrian Gonzalez’s Walks”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Jeff says:

    I can’t fault the logic, but the concept sounds an awful like lineup protection which makes me feel kind of icky all over.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Dave Cameron says:

      This is actually the opposite of protection theory, in essence. The classic protection theory suggests that a player will improve his offensive performance if better hitters are placed behind him, while I’m suggesting the opposite may be the case with Gonzalez.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Bill says:

        I still don’t understand how this differs from the lineup protection theory. If I recall correctly the studies I’ve read looked at the relationship between the quality of the hitter behind you and a players performance and found no correlation at all.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Jeff says:

    Perhaps, though, not to overly parse a flawed argument, I believe that the groups who espouse the theory don’t put much faith in wOBA and would say “getting better pitches to hit” or in the case “seeing more strikes” is the goal of lineup protection.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. BrettFan1 says:

    It seems to me that there might be an angle missing in this analysis. You hypothesize that if Gonzalez is given more strikes next year due to being in a better lineup, he won’t produce more xbh’s because he hasn’t done so in the past. However, looking at the past 4 years of data for Gonzalez, that is exactly what he has done. If you look at his xbh per strike seen ratios, he has maintained ratios between .041 and .046 over his 4 years as a starter. Taking this another way, he has produced 1 xbh for every 22-25 strikes seen over this timeframe. Based on this, it looks like a fairly reasonable assumption that if his walks decrease and his strikes seen increase, he should produce a greater number of xbh’s as a result. Of course, this assumes that he remains healthy and his skills don’t erode.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • lincolndude says:

      Interesting. I wonder if TB/Strikes or something along those lines is stable from year to year.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Basil Ganglia says:

      You have both faster fingers and better data than I! :)

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Dave Cameron says:

      I would suspect that the relationship between strikes seen and ability to drive them is not linear. There are going to be diminishing returns from additional strikes being thrown.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • BrettFan1 says:

        It would be extremely interesting to graph for various players. At first glance, it does seem like there is some linear relationship. I looked at other players who either have historical oscillations in xbh per year or who you would assume would have wildly oscillating strikes seen rates (Guerrero) and the ratio of xbh to strikes seen does show some linear behavior. Gonzalez for example put up 69 xbhs on 1495 strikes seen last year for a rate of 1 xbh per 21.67 strikes seen and in 2007 he produced 79 xbhs on 1719 strikes seen for a rate of 1 xbh per 21.76 strikes seen. Lance Berkman shows similar behavior, in 2004 he went 73xbhs/1464 strikes or 1 xbh/20.05 strikes and in 2005 he went 59 xbhs/1207 strikes or 1 xbh/20.46 strikes seen. Ryan Howard also put up highly linear rates even though one would assume that after his first year or two in the league he would get far fewer strikes to work with.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Dave Cameron says:

        Sounds like an idea for a post…

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. LeeTro says:

    His O-Swing% went down 5.3%, Z-Swing% went up 1.5%, and his contact rate went up 2.1%. With only 1.8% less pitches in the strike zone, I think these numbers represent true progress in plate discipline. The lack of protection describes the lack of pitches in the zone, but that only accounts for 1/3 of the decrease in O-Swing%. He took more balls without losing aggressiveness on strikes. I’m not saying he’ll turn into mid-90’s Frank Thomas, but he’s probably turning into a natural 12-15% BB player.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Dave Cameron says:

      I agree. I wasn’t trying to suggest that the entirety of Gonzalez’s improvement was a mirage, and I wouldn’t regress his walk rate all the way back to 2008 levels. I’d suspect that, if traded, however, his walk rate will fall more sharply than if he stays in San Diego.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Basil Ganglia says:

    There is more to consider. The logic of the article, in essence, is that pitchers are working the edges of the plate and off the plate because the consequences of issuing a walk are lessened. Similarly, with thsi approach if the pitcher misses location, the chances are less that the pitch will be in Gonzalez’s wheelhouse.

    If moving to a new team causes pitchers to work less off the plate, the number of fat pitches Gonzalez sees should increase. Thus while the walks might go down, using the same logic deployed in the article, we should expect his contact production to increase.

    Or, stated a bit differently, if he maintained the same number of extra base hits despite seeing fewer strikes, doesn’t it follow that his power should spike if he sees more strikes?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Dave Cameron says:

      This is the basic protection theory. It’s been studied a lot, and there’s little to no evidence that it actually works this way.

      My suspicion as to why that doesn’t play out in real life is due to the differences in counts. If Gonzalez takes four pitches and ends up in a 3-1 count, , he’s significantly more likely to get an extra base hit than if he takes four pitches and ends up in a 2-2 count.

      Extra pitches in the strike zone do not automatically lead to better offensive numbers.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • joser says:

      See Tango’s Pitching Around Batters at THT.

      In short, protecting a star hitter appears to accomplish very little. He indeed gets fewer walks; however, there is no evidence that he gets more hittable pitches, since the pitcher always avoids pitching to a good hitter when the situation would call for an intentional walk

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Mike Ketchen says:

    Dave,

    If you see a regression moving forward how should he be valued? He is two years younger then Tex, but this was his first season above 4WAR. I guess what I am asking in your and everyone elses opinion is he 5+WAR player from here on out? Or does he regress all the way back to below 4? Pretty big difference in value.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Joe R says:

    I love that Red Sox fans want this guy so bad.

    While I agree he’s a very good player, do we really want to end up having 20% of our payroll locked into a DH platoon?

    I mean Lowell went .301/.363/.503 vs. lefties and Ortiz went .250/.346/.481 vs. righties.

    So a combined .264/.351/.487 line wouldn’t be all too bad, but $27,000,000 for it? Ick.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Rob in CT says:

      Is there a better alternative? If not, then $27MM for an solid if unspectacular DH platoon is what you do. The last years of longterm contracts sometimes suck. It happens.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Joe R says:

        2 years left on Lowell, actually.
        And how much would the Sox have to give up to get Gonzalez? A lot, more than likely. The only real logic to it is that Gonzalez’s contract is so team-friendly, that it balances the blahness of Ortiz and Lowell’s expiring contracts.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • NRFB says:

        Actually, Lowell’s contract ends in 2010. Ortiz has a club option for 2011 that will most likely not be picked up barring a resurgence.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Joe R says:

        You’re right, for some reason I thought he was here until after 2011.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Snapper says:

      The issue is the Red Sox don’t have the talent to get gonzalez without trading significant pieces off their major league roster.

      I’d guess Ellsbury/Buchholz would be the starting point, and they’d have to add a couple of prospects.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Joe R says:

        We could always sign Cameron if push comes to shove.

        I’d love Gonzalez on my team, but the logistics of it might get messy.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. joser says:

    I happened to notice the other day that Gonzales is at the top of the HitTracker “Lucky Homers” list which counts six “doubles that just went over the wall.”

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. jimbo says:

    I understand the debate around things like protection and contract-year improvement, and I’m willing to dismiss the protection argument to a point.

    Boston scored 37% more runs than San Diego last year. If Adrian were in that lineup wouldn’t you think his stats would be improved? Maybe having a better overall offense isn’t at the heart of ‘protection theory’ but a 37% increase in his runs and rbi take him from a solid 97/106 to elite-level 133/145.

    Not saying that’s a sound projection, but I have to think it’s a material aspect for his future value.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • jimbo says:

      Oops…used the 2010 projections instead of 09 production. Still, going from 90/99 to 123/135 is a big difference. Bottom line, if he were on a better team, I wouldn’t have traded him last season. ;-)

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Not David says:

      This isn’t a fantasy article, runs and RBI are meaningless.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Ben Hall says:

    The idea that his walks will drop makes sense. But missing from the original analysis was the fact that he accumulated the same number of extra base hits in ’09 as in ’08 in 64 less at bats. Which suggests that while 119 walks is unlikely, the drop in walks would be offset by more extra base hits.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Dave Cameron says:

      You don’t want to use at-bats for an analysis like this, because walks aren’t counted in AB. Thus, when walks go up, AB goes down, even though PA is the same.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • arsenal says:

        youre missing the point. you said there was no power spike, but he had the same number of XBHs in 64 fewer ABs (ie, plate appearances where he didnt walk). thats a power spike – he hit for more power when he DID put the ball in play. if his power stayed the same, you’d expect a proportionally lower number of XBHs, would you not?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Dave Cameron says:

        You’re assuming that “pitches that could be hit for an extra base hit” declined because of his increase in walks. You can’t make that assumption, because of the way the count interacts with the likelihood of production.

        For every ball that Gonzalez was thrown, it is true that it was a pitch he did not swing at, reducing his overall opportunities for an XBH. However, it increased the odds of the next pitch being one that he could hit for an XBH, because the ball leads to a better hitting count.

        You can’t just look at AB and say “fewer opportunities + equal XBH = power spike”. It doesn’t work like that.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • arsenal says:

        i’m just going to make some numbers up:

        player A
        600 PA, 150 H, 20 2B, 0 3B, 20 HR, 0 BB

        player B
        600 PA, 150 H, 20 2B, 0 3B, 20 HR, 100 BB

        who has more power? according to you, they both have the same power because player B simply turns 100 outs into walks. wrong – player B likely has higher HR/FB rate, line drive rate or both. in other words, he hits the ball with more authority when he puts the ball in play. is it because his patience gives him better pitches to hit? possibly. it could also be the case that he ends up in more 2 strike counts. there’s a fluid relationship between patience and power – you can’t just reduce the difference between the two players to a tradeoff between walks and outs.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Dave Cameron says:

        When we have an extreme case like that, your argument will hold some water. In this case, not so much.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • arsenal says:

        i dont mean to pick on you, but youre still dodging the issue. why cant you admit ben hall has a point? you write a million articles here, no one expects every word to be correct.

        imagine player B swung away instead of taking those 100 BBs. as long as he doesnt make an out each of those 100 times, he will finish with a triple slash line better than player A. it doesn’t matter if it’s 100 BBs or 10 BBs. player A has better power and is a better hitter, even taking away the walks.

        adrian gonzalez improved as a hitter, he didnt just substitute walks for outs.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Ben Hall says:

        Dave,

        I get that AB is a fairly general substitute for much more specific data to which we now have access. I guess your suggestion of “pitches that could be hit for an extra base hit” would be best. Let’s call that XBH-P But because it’s general doesn’t, I suspect, make it invalid. Furthermore, there’s a couple of points that seem to support the idea that Gonzalez did, indeed, get more extra base hits per XBH-P. The first is the idea that pitchers were less likely to throw him a strike than in the past. If he’s seeing 56% of his pitches for strikes versus 62%, it would seem to follow that he’s seeing a smaller percentage of XBH-P, unless pitchers are throwing a much higher percentage of their strikes to the corners. Secondly, if we want to compare PA instead of AB, he did hit the same number of XBH in 20 less PA; probably within the margin of error, but on the right side of it nonetheless. Finally, and this I’m less confident in, if pitchers are truly issuing unofficial intentional walks, then wouldn’t in make sense that in those at bats he’s not getting XBH-P? Furthermore, while 2-0 and 3-1 are good hitters’ counts (and I agree with your point that he would see more of these counts), if a pitcher is really pitching around a player and doesn’t mind a walk, then it doesn’t seem likely that they’d throw an XBH-P here.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. JH says:

    This is similar to the change in pitcher approach that happened to Miguel Cabrera in 2008. Players stopped pitching around him in the AL, and it took him a full season to adjust and get back to an approximation of the hitter he’d been in FLA.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. R M says:

    Maybe his walk rate would go down a little, but could this be offset by him not having to play half his games at Petco?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Sean says:

      I think it’s pretty clear Gonzalez would be significantly better if he called a different ballpark home. He’s a career .264/.362/.443 hitter at Petco, and .300/.370/.565 everywhere else.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • MBD says:

      From what I can see from a quick look at his home/road splits in 2008 and 2009, he walks over 50% more at home (in approx the same number of plate appearances), which means that moving away from Petco would exacerbate the decrease in walk rate rather than offsetting it. BTW, his walk rate increase from 2008 to 2009 was similar both home and away, so it would seem that opposing pitchers didn’t just doubt the rest of the lineup’s ability to hit for power at Petco – they doubted its ability to hit anywhere.

      Also, what was the methodology behind the finding of “more chatter than usual”? :-)

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • JH says:

      That wouldn’t make him a more valuable player, it would just make his stats look superficially better.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • R M says:

        I fail to see your point. His stats “superficially looking better” means they look better. I’m not saying that a move from Petco would offset his drop in walks completely (if that even happens), but there’s no statistic that I know of that wouldn’t see Gonzalez with a higher batting average and more homeruns leaving the park as better.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Dave Cameron says:

        Perhaps you should look at the stats here on the site, then. The nature of park adjusted numbers means that a higher total in one park is not necessarily better than a lower total in another park. Home runs do not have equal value everywhere.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • R M says:

        You are still not seeing my point. Say the Red Sox acquire Adrian Gonzalez. I would be very happy. Say he hits 5 more homeruns because of the move out of Petco. That value is proportionally no higher than his value was in San Diego, but at the same time those 5 more homeruns most certainly make him better than he would be if his numbers stayed constant. See what I am saying?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. Pete says:

    Dave

    I actually agree that pitchers had plenty of good reasons to not pitch to Gonzalez, but is the problem the guys BEHIND him or IN FRONT of him? With the Padres it’s pretty grim either way, but wouldn’t it make more sense to pitch around him w/ no one on regardless of who is after him? Or maybe it’s some of both, meaning the UIBB is a common play b/c the bases are wide open and (opponents thinks so anyway) it won’t hurt to put him on b/c the other guys stink?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. Kampfer says:

    Although walks could go down sharply, one could expect a 50HR season from A-Gon as soon as him not calling Petco home. It makes him such a valuable target to trade for.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. rotofan says:

    Dave,

    I think your specific hypothesis about walks is reasonable, interesting and no doubt satisfying because its contrarian.

    But I question your more general hypothesis — that Gonzalez may regress generally. Consider:

    (1) While it’s true he has only four additional homers and an added triple, he did do with just 89.6% of the at-bats he had the previous year. Erase those added homers and the triple and his isolated power was still significantly higher than in 2008 and that marked the fifth straight year Gonzalez improved his IPO. One could reasonably argue that such trends don’t continue indefinitely, but that’s a different argument than claiming there was no real increase in power in 2009.

    (2) Gonzalez’s home/away splits has a dramatic effect on a range of key offensive measures including his walks. It appears the tendency for pitchers to pitch around Gonzalez was greater at home — he was walked far more often at home then on the road. (I don’t know the O-zone% splits but I would suspect he walked more because he was thrown more balls). If he walked more at home, by your own hypothesis, opposing teams calculated that a walk to him in Petco was worth less than a walk to him in other parks. It stands to reason, then, that if Gonzales were to be traded and play in a different home park, a walk there would be worth more than a walk in Petco. Simply put, in a park better suited to run-scoring and in a lineup more capable of driving home runs, a walk is more valuable. So while you reasonably argue Gonzalez would walk less, you fail to consider that each of those walks may be worth more. It goes without saying that he would hit more homers in most other parks. You suggest those homers might not hold the same value as those in Petco. Perhaps you are correct. But his walks would seem to hold greater value.

    (3) Gonzalez’s Babip was lower than his career norm even though his peripheral stats (line drive rates, etc) were in line with that norm. That would suggest he was unlucky and that his Babip is likely to increase, and with it, his traditional offensive stats.

    (4) As some others have pointed out he swung at fewer balls outside the zone so his greater selectivity may be at least in small part due to actual improvement in plate discipline and not strictly because he was pitched around (as you acknowledged to others)

    Thanks as always for the provocative post. My knowledge of advanced stats is still rather limited but hopefully that didn’t handicap my analysis.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. thepadfather says:

    Guess that means that Gonzalez will see more strikes in 2010 and hit more home runs while driving in more runs.

    I see nothing that diminishes his value in that.

    In fact it probably enhances his value.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  17. Subrata Sircar says:

    One thing that isn’t considered is that switching teams will increase the number of times he comes up with runners on. There is a noticeable OBP increase in general for batters with runners on versus not. How much will depend on who he gets traded to so it’s probably difficult to estimate reliably, but that still helps counteract any drop in walks he might see due to better teammates.

    There’s also an argument to be made that putting him in a better lineup may mean that he doesn’t get pitched around that often any more, but someone else will reap the benefit. (Essentially, if we’re positing that he was pitched around because his teammates lessened the value of his walk, and that when his walks have higher value he won’t get pitched around as much, there’s an inverse effect where other hitters were pitched around for the same reason, and now can’t be.)

    Anyway, it will be interesting to see what happens.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  18. BSK says:

    I realize it’s anecdotal, but didn’t Kent have an absurd swing in performance batting in front of Bonds as opposed to behind? Is this an aberration, since Kent was already a good hitter and Bonds was super-human? I just remember it seemed to be a major exception to the rule, though it doesn’t necessarily disprove it.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  19. BSK says:

    “You’re assuming that “pitches that could be hit for an extra base hit” declined because of his increase in walks. You can’t make that assumption, because of the way the count interacts with the likelihood of production.

    For every ball that Gonzalez was thrown, it is true that it was a pitch he did not swing at, reducing his overall opportunities for an XBH. However, it increased the odds of the next pitch being one that he could hit for an XBH, because the ball leads to a better hitting count. ”

    To extend this point, it also meant he got another pitch to swing at. If the previous ball had been a strike, or simply a swing-at-able pitch, Gonzalez possibly could have swung and achieved “only” a single or instead an out. I don’t know if total pitches matter, since a player can only put one of them into play. If a guy sees 5 pitches or 1 pitch, he puts the last one in play (or ultimately walks/strikes out). It’s the last pitch that matter, not the preceding ones that he did nothing with. Right?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>