- FanGraphs Fantasy Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy -

Adrian Gonzalez’s Power Outage

Adrian Gonzalez has been pretty much everything the Red Sox expected him to be and then some after sending three top prospects (and Eric Patterson) to the Padres to acquire the now-29-year-old slugger over the winter. Gonzalez leads all of MLB in batting average (.348) and runs driven in (92), and is tops among big league first baseman with 5.1 WAR. There is a slight problem though (and a really hesitate to call this a problem), and it’s the lack of homeruns, especially recently.

Since the middle of June, the arbitrary end point of June 18th, Gonzalez has hit just three home runs. Three in 212 PA. He hit three homers in the 22 PA immediately prior to that, and 15 in his first 311 PA of the season. It’s kinda hard to believe that he’s being out-homered by Jacoby Ellsbury (19-18) while out-tripling his speedy teammate (3-2) this season. When you look at Adrian’s day-by-day batting ball profile, it’s easy to see why the big flies have been scarce for the last month and a half…

Gonzalez has stopped hitting fly balls, basically. His season ground ball rate is 46.7%, easily the highest of his career. He had been in the high-30% range the last two years. The high ground ball rate helps explain his MLB leading .389 BABIP (.310 career coming into 2011), which has resulted in the MLB best batting average. Let’s look at the spray charts, beginning with his first 311 PA (before this recent homer drought started)…

It’s a pretty standard Adrian Gonzalez spray chart. The majority of the fly balls are out to left field, and the majority of the ground balls rolled over to the right side of the infield. You can get a general idea of which balls clanked off the Green Monster for hits, and I count four (maybe five) balls hit over the wall the other way. Now lets look at the spray chart for his last 212 PA…

Again, typical Gonzalez in that most of the balls hit to the outfield went the other way while the grounders have been pulled, but where are they majority of the hits? They’re in shallow right and center, and a lot them are grounders sneaking through the infield (remember, the spray chart shows where the ball was fielded by the defender, not where it landed). There’s basically no balls hit deep to left, at least relative to what he was doing earlier in the season. I’d like to hear from the Red Sox fans out there … is Gonzalez battling a nagging injury? Have pitchers changed their approach against him (more offspeed, maybe pounding him inside with fastballs)? Is there any evidence that would help explain this sudden spike in ground ball rate, which has led to the lack of homeruns?

By no means has Gonzalez been bad this season, in fact I just ranked him the top fantasy first baseman last week. He’s hitting for a super-high average and is driving in what seems like two runs a game because his teammates are awesome, though after four straight years of 30+ homers with the Padres in Petco Park, we all expected him to do no worse than maintain that pace in Fenway. ZiPS projects him to hit just nine more dingers the rest of the way, which would bring his season total to 27. Gonzalez showed earlier in the year that he can get hot (eight homers in an 11 game stretch in May), so it would not be a surprise to see how outperform that projection. But has his relative lack of homers to this point been a little disappointing? Yeah I think that’s fair.

Big ups to Texas Leaguers for the spray charts.