Q&A Adrian Gonzalez

Adrian Gonzalez is a student of hitting, which should come as no surprise given that he is one of the game’s premier sluggers. The left-handed-hitting first baseman has a career slash line of .288/.369/.510, and this season he’s been even better. In his first 50 games with the Red Sox, he’s hitting a superstar-caliber .337/.385/.553.

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David Laurila: Is hitting simple or is it complicated?

Adrian Gonzalez: Hitting is simple. We make it complicated. We look into mechanics and a lot of different things that could be wrong, instead of simplifying everything by staying back and letting our hands go to the ball. In this profession, because of how good the pitchers are, it’s hard not to look at a lot of different things.

Getting hits is extremely hard. Swinging, just getting up there and hitting, and doing the right mechanics, that’s what I’m saying is simple. But when you put in all of the equations, like the pitcher on the mound and the defense that’s behind him, that’s what makes it complicated.

DL: What role do hitting coaches play for you?

AG: They’re there to make sure there aren’t inconsistencies. I think that the best hitting coaches are the ones that know when to say something. A lot of times an issue doesn’t have to be mechanical; it can be mental. I’m at a point where I don’t need much guidance from them. I just need them to make sure my mind is in the right place.

DL: Mark McGwire told me that it’s impossible to cover all 17 inches of the plate at the big-league level, that you have to focus on one side or the other. Do you agree?

AG: Sure. If you focus on the whole plate, then you’re going to swing at everything and you’re not going to be able to get a good pitch to drive. And looking at one side isn’t guessing. It’s game planning.

DL: What goes into game planning?

AG: You have to make sure that… for me, I watch every pitcher. I write down what I think, what I’m going to look for, what my game plan will be, whether it’s going to be to look away, look in, look up, look down. From there, I go into the game knowing that I have a game plan I can go with. Win or lose, I’m going to be prepared.

DL: How much does an individual pitcher impact your approach?

AG: Every pitcher is different, so you can’t have one approach for every pitcher. You need to make an approach off of each individual guy.

DL: Does the ballpark impact your approach?

AG: No. You’re not hitting to a ballpark, you’re hitting against a pitcher. [In a smaller park] you just know that you can mis-hit a ball and it might be a home run. I have the same approach here that I did in San Diego.

DL: How have you evolved as a hitter over the course of your career?

AG: I’ve learned a lot when it comes to staying behind the ball, and staying on top, knowing that you can’t have success against every pitcher with the same approach. You have to have different approaches. You have to know what kind of pitcher they are; you have to know what they’re trying to do against you.

DL: What do you see when the ball comes out of the pitcher’s hand?

AG: I see rotation. I can pick up on what the pitch is as soon as the pitcher lets go of it. Most of what you see is innate. If you ask some of the great hitters, they won’t all say the same thing. Some just see balls. Some guys see speed out of the hand. I can’t recognize speed, but I can recognize rotation. Some guys can recognize speed but not rotation and some guys just see a ball and swing. They just let their abilities take over and that’s not something you can teach.

DL: Are pitch recognition and plate discipline the same thing?

AG: They’re different, because you can recognize a pitch and hit it even though it’s out of the strike zone. Plate discipline means that you’re not going to swing at balls. A guy who has really good pitch recognition can hit pitches out of the zone for singles, doubles and even home runs. Look at a guy like Vladimir Guerrero. He’s got pitch recognition, whereas a guy who walks a lot might have plate discipline, but not recognition.

DL: It has been said that all good hitters get jammed. What does that mean?

AG: You’ve got to let the ball travel. You have to let the ball get deep and not be afraid to break your bat. To square up a pitch on the inside, you have to get your hands inside the ball. You can’t hit around the baseball. You have to stay inside.

DL: What do a lot of fans not understand about hitting?

AG: That hitting has evolved. It’s not the same that it was 10-15 years ago. Back then it was “go get the ball, hit it out front,” and now it’s “let it get to you, stay behind the ball, and make sure that your weight stays back.”

Pitchers are throwing more pitches now, and they’re moving the ball more. You can’t go out there and expect the ball to be straight. Very rarely will a pitcher throw a ball straight. Ten, 15 years ago, not every pitcher had four or five pitches. Now they do and you have to keep that in mind. Pitchers throw two-seamers, four-seamers and cutters with their fastball, and they throw a slider and a change, or a curveball and a change. The ball is moving all over the place and if you just go after the ball you’re going to get jammed or hit it off the end of the bat. You have to let it get deep.




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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA


38 Responses to “Q&A Adrian Gonzalez”

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  1. Justin Bailey says:

    These Q&A pieces have been really excellent. Thanks, David!

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  2. Tim says:

    Thanks David for another insightful article.
    As a Sox fan I was happy to get Crawford but THRILLED to get Agon.
    Him and Youk are fun to watch at the plate.

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  3. Zak says:

    Watching Gonzalez this season has been a complete joy and his ABs are must see.

    I read somewhere recently that Ortizs revival this season was partly because of discussing hitting with Adrian.

    and to think we have another 7 years of this guy.

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  4. Deadeye says:

    Good stuff.

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  5. Jay Stevens says:

    I’ve been struck recently how methodical, or scientific, Gonzalez’ approach at the plate is. It’s amazing. I’ve been reading about baseball for over 20 years, and this is the first time I’ve heard anyone talk so clearly about the difference between pitch recognition and plate discipline — Vladdy, say, vs Daric Barton. Makes me think of batters in a whole new way…

    Dude’s a friggin’ hitting genius.

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  6. Big Oil says:

    Great questions, great piece.

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  7. woodman says:

    Wow, that is a great read. Good job.

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  8. Jasper says:

    Great interview, I love these. Watching Gonzalez gives me a boner

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  9. Shaun says:

    Great article, new bookmark!

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  10. steve-o says:

    He brought up an interesting point that I haven’t considered: Are there more breaking balls or pitches with more movement now versus ten+ years ago?

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    • Nat Haniel says:

      Are you serious?

      “AG: That hitting has evolved. It’s not the same that it was 10-15 years ago. Back then it was “go get the ball, hit it out front,” and now it’s “let it get to you, stay behind the ball, and make sure that your weight stays back.”

      Pitchers are throwing more pitches now, and they’re moving the ball more”

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  11. Gauss says:

    Great interview… makes me look at O-Swing vs O-Contact in a whole new way. Interesting to compare these over the last few years. Biggest takeaway: Alfonso Soriano has neither recognition nor discipline. Marco Scutaro seems to have both… why isn’t his OBP higher?

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    • Daern says:

      I’d peg Scutaro’s problem as a lack of bat speed–he can see the ball well and makes contact at a high rate, but it’s not quality contact. Combine that with a lack of power or speed, and you have the reason Lowrie is most likely the starter even when Scutaro’s healthy.

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  12. Joe says:

    I am a biased Yankees fan, but this was one of the best interviews with a player I’ve seen. Insightful answers to focused, non-gimmicky questions.

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  13. Blue says:

    Between this and the Byrd interview you are covering some really new ground with players. Keep it up!

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  14. Oscar says:

    What an incredible player interview. These Q&As are a real highlight on Fangraphs.

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  15. Mike B. says:

    Excellent piece. Don’t think I’ve read a more insightful interview regarding hitting.

    The analogy I use between a batter and hitting coach (or pitcher and pitching coach) is that of a writer and editor.

    No matter how good a writer is, he’ll miss stuff that only an editor will catch. You can edit your own material to a degree, though having an experienced, objective second set of eyes is invaluable.

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  16. mike wants wins says:

    Great, great piece. Really not the normal cliche riddled stuff I see on so many other sites. I’d pay for this quality of work on this site to keep it coming.

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  17. Roger says:

    Great piece. Gonzalez seems like a guy is a real pro who supplements his incredible talent with a serious work ethic and respect for his job.

    I was hoping to see a question about that HR he hit off Sabathia by copying Ichiro’s swing.

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  18. fdhjstf says:

    input this URL:
    http://www. buygreatshoes.org
    you can find many cheap and fashion stuff

    -23 Vote -1 Vote +1

  19. Anthony Rizzo says:

    I’ll be 80% as good as you for 2.9% of the cost.

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    • Adrian Gonzalez says:

      But you still won’t be me.

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    • Petco Park says:

      You won’t be 80% as good as Adrian because I’m really hungry for fly balls and I’ll eat them all so you can’t hit any HRs.

      +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Reality says:

        80% of a superstar 1b is probably just a replacement player level. Maybe league average. There’s also probably a 60%+ chance you will never even make it to be either of those.

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  20. Steve Marino says:

    Good work, intelligent questions which were topped by even more intelligent answers. I’d love to see those same questions being asked to a Vlad-esque hitter.

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  21. Joe F says:

    Wow this is some nice stuff and great questions too. Excellent answers by Gonzo.

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  22. Jay says:

    Somewhere, Ted Williams is nodding in approval. Gonzo is truly a worthy heir.

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  23. Peter says:

    Great interview – both with the Qs and the As. Would love to see how Ortiz, Youkilis and Pedroia would answer these questions. (Biased Sox fan)

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  24. Jon says:

    Agon for MVP…great read and thrilled to have him on the Red Sox squad!

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  25. CircleChange11 says:

    I’ve learned a lot when it comes to staying behind the ball, and staying on top

    I’m interested to know what he means by “staying on top”.

    Obviously, by his swing mechanics, and power results, he takes a slight uppercut swing (very good thing …. very good) … So I wonder what he means by “stay on top”.

    Was looking at some pictures of him the other day and some some where his arms were “bent” during his swing (hands inside the ball) that both of his forearms were essentially in contact with his torso. That’s impressive.

    “Letting the ball get deep” is something everyone says, but few can do well.

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    • Shawn says:

      I would venture the guess staying on top means not getting under it too much and popping it up/hitting towering fly balls to the outfield.

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  26. Estebansf says:

    Ted Williams hit the ball out in front which us not even close to Gonzalez’s approach. Plus, hitting the ball out in front is still very effective look at Pedroia and Cal’s three hitter (Dustin Pedroia clone) Tony Renda. They both do it and do it well so Gonzalez is not right about that.

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  27. Estebansf says:

    Oh ya and I forgot how about Jose Bautista he yanks everything and shifts all his weight forward (uses his whole body and all the power from his torso) and he does just fine. He hits the ball out in front and does not keep his weight back and that is why he can hit 54 homers at 185 pounds.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      I appreciate your enthusiasm for mechanics, but …

      [1] Bautista does hit the ball out front. But, they all do (regardless of claims).

      [2] He does keep his weight back (and very well too).

      http://www.bronxbombersbeat.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Jose-Bautista.jpg

      Simply put, you aren’t hitting the ball far and hard without hitting behind a stiff front leg … and you can’t do that if your weight is in front.

      I do question the “let the ball travel” bit. That’s a phrase/mindset that lots of people say, but I’d love to see the data on where Gonzales contacts the ball as compared to everyone else. My guess is there is no difference.

      Let the ball travel? As opposed to reaching for the ball?

      I will say this … it is amazing how many pictures there are of Jose Bautista with his arms straight at the point of contact. That is rare. Not quite the ‘Power V’ of Charlie Lau, but not far from it. Almost all other power hitters reach “extension” after the point of contact.

      Anyway, I would exercise caution when reading about athlete’s describing what they do. What they think they do, or try to do, isn’t always what they actually do. It’s why video is so important.

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  28. kylemegrath says:

    So insightful. He really seems more like a professor of the game than a student. I love this. So cool to hear about how he believes pitching has changed. With different records being made and broken at different times it makes you wonder if and how the game is evolving and who reacts to the evolution? The hitters? The pitchers? Defense? So cool to see how the game changes.

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