Will Adrian Gonzalez Rebound?

Adrian Gonzalez was a disappointment last season. While his overall slash line of .299/.344/.463 isn’t terrible for most players, it represented a pretty big fall from the elite production he’s provided in the past. The culprit of his struggles wasn’t an injury, and, at age-31, Gonzalez is still young enough to stave off a major performance decline. Those factors have made Gonzalez one of the most difficult players to project this season. Unless he can return to form, Gonzalez’s days as an elite offensive first baseman may have already come to an end.

Gonzalez’s .349 wOBA was his worst offensive performance since he became a full-time starter. While a .349 wOBA isn’t all that terrible, it’s a far cry from Gonzalez’s peak years. From 2006 to 2011, Gonzalez averaged a .381 wOBA, putting him in great company. His .035 drop in wOBA last season was large, but not unprecedented. Since 1969, there have been 63 players who produced about the same wOBA as Gonzalez through their age-29 seasons. The following season, 30 of those players saw some decline in their offensive performance. Gonzalez’s struggles, however, were fairly extreme. Only nine players saw a bigger drop-off on offense during their age-30 seasons.

This actually might not be a bad thing. The following year, 16 of the players who saw their wOBA decline at age-30 managed to improve their offensive performance during their age-29 season. Remember, the sample in this case is 29 players since we have to exclude Gonzalez. The improvement wasn’t limited to guys who barely declined at age-30 either. In fact, of the 19 players who saw their wOBA decline by .020 points or higher, 12 of them made that up the next season.

All decline at age-30 Gain at age-31 .020+ decline Gain at 31
30 players 0.007 17 players 0.020

The first column in the above chart shows the total numbers of players who saw their wOBA decline at age-30. At age-31, those players raised their wOBA, on average, .007 points higher. That’s a start, but it’s not enough to make people think about vintage Adrian Gonzalez. That changes a bit when looking at some of the drastic declines. The third chart shows that of those 30 players who declined, 17 lost at least .020 points of wOBA. The next year, these players saw a big boost, on average gaining .020 points of wOBA at age-31. That could indicate that the big drop-offs at age-30 are an aberration, and not a harbinger of further decline for Gonzalez. But can Gonzalez be expected to improve that much?

The two main areas where Gonzalez saw big decline was in his walk rate and his ISO. Compared to the players used in the first sample, Gonzalez’s drop was extreme.

Name Age-24-29 BB Age-30 Dif age-24-29 ISO Age-30 Dif Age-31 BB Dif Age-31 ISO Dif
Eric Davis 13.10% 11.70% -0.014 0.239 0.094 -0.145 10.80% -0.009 0.177 0.083
Kevin Mitchell 10.20% 8.70% -0.015 0.243 0.142 -0.101 7.10% -0.016 0.260 0.118
Bobby Bonds 11.30% 9.60% -0.017 0.213 0.122 -0.091 10.90% 0.013 0.257 0.135
Don Mattingly 7.20% 7.10% -0.001 0.191 0.106 -0.085 5.70% -0.014 0.128 0.022
Jack Cust 18.90% 15.20% -0.037 0.247 0.177 -0.07 16.00% 0.008 0.166 -0.011
Ryan Ludwick 8.80% 7.60% -0.012 0.249 0.181 -0.068 8.70% 0.011 0.167 -0.014
Shawn Green 10.30% 9.80% -0.005 0.248 0.180 -0.068 10.60% 0.008 0.193 0.013
Randy Milligan 16.90% 18.40% 0.015 0.181 0.121 -0.06 17.50% -0.009 0.135 0.014
Tim Raines 12.80% 13.00% 0.002 0.151 0.105 -0.046 11.70% -0.013 0.077 -0.028
Rusty Staub 13.30% 11.90% -0.014 0.187 0.148 -0.039 11.50% -0.004 0.166 0.018
Richie Zisk 9.50% 10.10% 0.006 0.185 0.153 -0.032 7.90% -0.022 0.170 0.017
Jose Vidro 8.30% 8.90% 0.006 0.176 0.149 -0.027 8.00% -0.009 0.106 -0.043
Roberto Alomar 11.10% 9.00% -0.021 0.158 0.136 -0.022 14.30% 0.053 0.210 0.074
Dale Murphy 11.90% 10.80% -0.011 0.227 0.212 -0.015 16.60% 0.058 0.284 0.072
Chet Lemon 9.80% 7.80% -0.02 0.186 0.174 -0.012 8.50% 0.007 0.156 -0.018
Mike Sweeney 10.20% 7.30% -0.029 0.200 0.217 0.017 6.40% -0.009 0.217  
Derek Jeter 9.50% 6.40% -0.031 0.154 0.179 0.025 10.20% 0.038 0.141 -0.038
Adrian Gonzalez 11.50% 6.10% -0.054 0.223 0.164 -0.059 N/A N/A N/A N/A

No player saw as big a drop in walk rate than Gonzalez. And he declined by a significant margin. In that area, few hitters improved significantly during their age-31 seasons, aside from Derek Jeter, Dale Murphy and Roberto Alomar. A boost in ISO seems more likely, however. As Kevin Mitchell, Bobby Bonds, Eric Davis, Murphy and Alomar have shown, it’s possible to see a bigger gain in this area. The other players in the sample saw small improvements or continued to decline, so it’s a bit of a mixed bag here.

Most players with a similar track record to Gonzalez see improvement after suffering through down years at age-30. Gonzalez, however, saw massive decline in some significant areas. The chart shows it’s possible for him to regain some of his lost power, but more difficult to get the walk rate back. If it was a case of an altered approach, there’s a chance Gonzalez sees a huge gain in his value. If not, he might add some power, but the new approach would prevent him from reaching elite numbers again.

*As some of you pointed out in the comments, I had to readjust the numbers. Gonzalez’s chances at hitting for more power this season increase, but it will be harder for him to regain his walk rate. It’s really a question of approach. If you think his walk rate loss is real, he will be slightly better. If you think he can make a full recover there, he could be pretty good again.

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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

20 Responses to “Will Adrian Gonzalez Rebound?”

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  1. Travis L says:

    I think his walk rates during his last year or two with the Padres were pretty clearly influenced by no lineup around him. His BB rates from 2006-2012: 8, 9, 10.6, 17.5, 13.4, 10.3, 6.1%.

    I just don’t think he’s a take and rake guy unless pitchers are really avoiding him. I think his skillset is probably around a 7-9% BB rate, but his context can completely change that.

    I would be surprised if he walks > 10% this year.

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    • Tchaikovsky08 says:

      But in his first year with the Red Sox he had a 10.3% walk rate, pretty much in line with his Padres days, and he had an elite offense around him.

      Btw, just as an aside, a 17.5% walk rate (with 40 HRs) is bananas.

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  2. Tom B says:

    Fangraphs needs a new column… call it Motiv%.

    A-Gon’s was obviously below his career average last year (trying to get out of Boston) as was Ichiro’s in Seattle.

    This seems to me alike a stat that is highly influenced by location and should result in monster seasons from both players. :)

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    • eric b says:

      That’s not a stat because it’s completely subjective, impossible to test, and, therefore, of absolutely no predictive value. This is post hoc analysis. You wait until after guys perform poorly and then ascribe some quality to them that (tries to) explain their failures after the fact. It’s the same thing as saying a team that won a game did so because it “wanted it more.” And just like no one ever tells us before the game starts who “wants it more”, I’ll wager you didn’t predict bad seasons from either Icirio or AGon last March using this particular metric.

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  3. GilaMonster says:

    I have faith in a turn around. Most of his problem lie in plate discipline.

    First, take a look at his O-Swing%. It was at 37.3% in 2012. Compare that to 23%,28% and even 32% in his Padres’ days. That is pretty significant. In fact, he receive 200 less balls then career average. O-Contact% was up 20% to 74% from roughly 55% in previous years.
    This is very unusual. Typically O-Swing% decreases with age while O-Contact% sharply decreases.

    If you like to make a comparison, look at Adam Dunn’s 2011. He also had a sharp rise in O-Contact%. He dropped it back down for 2012 and is doing much better. On contrast, there is Carlos Lee, who never really recovered from the same flaw.

    I think it may be possible he is just swinging bad pitches and generating bad contact and getting out. Pitcher realize this and just throw the outside.

    If he adjusts his plate discipline,draw more walks, and can bring his HR/FB% up a tad, Adrian Gonzalez can be a younger Paul Konerko in a much better lineup. At worst he can’t turn things around and ends up like Carlos Lee….

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    • Caveman Jones says:

      Also important to note is that his first pitch K percent jumped to 60% after being in the mid to low 50%s and it took him the first 3 months to adjust. After that his production for the rest of the season jumped. Finding himself down in the count more often he was caught chasing more pitches out of the zone. I’m very interested to see how pitchers approach him this next year.

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  4. jsolid says:

    I think he had Bobby Valentine disease. like mono, it saps your ability to get out of bed and be productive.

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  5. bobskinner says:

    better correct the headings of that lengthy table….you have “Age 24-29 BB” twice, when the second one should be “Age 24-29 ISO”

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  6. Petruchio says:

    Gonzalez has been a risky property since 2010, when he had shoulder surgery. I didn’t draft him in 2011 fearing a power outage for that reason. Prior to the Red Sox trade, many in Boston coveted him because his opposite field power should have translated well to Fenway Park. Well, he did lose some home run power, but his ISO was virtually unchanged because what would have been either home runs or outs in the NL West turned into doubles for the AL East. So I drafted him in 2012…and got rid of him by the All-Star Break. In fact, Gonzales and Rickie Weeks are the #1 and #2 reasons I didn’t top my fantasy league, they dug a hole I couldn’t climb out of with their bad seasons.

    I might be a bit biased, of course…but I think Gonzalez is done unless he transitions to a contact-oriented gap hitter or an extreme pull power hitter. If his power is truly on the decline, his BB%/AVG/BABIP will all fall or remain low as he hits into more opposite field flyball outs. And given the Giants and Padres are stacked with parks and pitchers who love turning home runs into flyball outs, it’s a huge risk. The lineup surrounding Gonzalez is also inferior to the Red Sox, at least the 2011 incarnation.

    For reference, I drafted Paul Goldschmidt as my 1B this year. Goldschmidt impressed me with all-around good fantasy value, with homers, steals and a decent average. I’m through with Gonzalez and if he does well, good for him. I’m not regretting passing him up ever again.

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  7. Jon L. says:

    I think Eric Davis is backwards on that last giant table. Listed as .094 ISO from 24-29, then .239 at age 30, and I think vice-versa is true. (The table is unconventional and unwieldy, so even one error can throw off one’s efforts to interpret.)

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    • Jon L. says:

      Actually, a lot of the numbers are off, but some aren’t. Entries in the same column aren’t necessarily the same thing.

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  8. jesse says:

    On gonzales’ walks from his age 25 seasons these are his non-intentional walks. 56,56,97,58,54,37. Taking into account he has about 180
    fewer PAs last year than he averaged the other 5 outside of one outliet year his BB are very consistent

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  9. ManwichMan says:

    His average FB distance since 2007:

    2007: 295.25 (FT)
    2008: 310.60
    2009: 306.03
    2010: 303.68
    2011: 291.90
    2012: 285.04

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    • interested observer says:

      Thanks for flyball distance data, this helps to paint a picture. Can you share where you got that data?

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