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Mayday! Gonzo on track for record month

5/17/2011

This is the Adrian Gonzalez that the Boston Red Sox knew they were getting.

With Monday’s walkoff double, Gonzalez provided yet another highlight for his torrid May.

He leads all major leaguers with eight home runs, 22 RBIs and 12 extra-base hits this month. Throw in a .347 batting average, which ranks seventh in the AL. With those numbers, Gonzalez has put himself in position to make some Red Sox history.

The Red Sox are exactly halfway through their May schedule with 15 games played and another 15 to go.

Since World War II, Ted Williams has the most RBIs in May by a Red Sox hitter. In 1948, he hit .383 during the month on his way to 36 RBIs. At his current pace, Gonzalez is on track for 44 RBIs. Only Stan Musial (40 in 1954) and Ryan Klesko (40 in 2001) have had 40 RBIs in May since 1946, according to STATS LLC. It’s no doubt a tall task to duplicate his current stretch over another 15 games, but that’s before you factor in this possibility: Gonzalez could actually have more than 22 RBIs this month.

Six of his eight May home runs have been solo shots. The bulk of his RBI have come through superior hitting with runners in scoring position, where he’s 9-for-22 (.409) this month. But imagine where he’d be if more of his home runs had driven in runners.

With those eight home runs in May, Gonzalez already has more than any Red Sox first baseman since Mo Vaughn hit eight in 1998. Jim Rice has the top post-WWII mark for Boston with 13 in 1978.

As last night’s first-pitch walkoff double attests, Gonzalez has caught fire by forsaking his traditional patience. One may have assumed that Gonzalez, a notoriously selective hitter, would be even more so with Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz hitting behind him. Thus far, that hasn’t been the case. The player who finished third in the NL in walks in 2010 is fifth on the Red Sox this season.

He’s on pace for his lowest take percentage since 2007. His 33.2 chase percentage is up from 28.5 percent last season. One might attribute his success to a more aggressive approach, but the numbers don’t necessarily back that up. A closer look reveals that Gonzalez’s hot bat is coming despite less selectivity.

On at-bats ending on pitches out of the strike zone, Gonzalez is hitting .186 (13-for-70) with 24 strikeouts. Last season, he hit .165 with 78 strikeouts. Though there’s not substantial difference in average, he’s on track for 64 more at-bats ending out of the zone. In other words, he may be chasing more pitches, but that hasn’t been beneficial.

So how has Gonzalez been so successful? Let’s just say pitchers might want to stop throwing strikes. On at-bats ending on pitches in the zone, Gonzalez is hitting an AL-best .429 (including .435 in May). Only Matt Holliday (.452) has a higher such average in the majors.