Commentary

What's wrong with Adrian Gonzalez?

The numbers suggest he's developed some bad habits as his slump deepens

Updated: June 13, 2012, 3:22 PM ET
By Jeremy Lundblad | ESPNBoston.com

Adrian Gonzalez is 108th in the majors in OPS. Right behind Willie Bloomquist and Juan Pierre.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Gonzalez
Yoon S. Byun/Getty ImagesAdrian Gonzalez is hitting .222 over his last 30 games, with just two homers in that span.

Albert Pujols's struggles have sat under a microscope for the past 10 weeks. Yet with a .757 OPS, he's had a better offensive season than Gonzalez (.720).

Over the past month, Gonzalez is hitting .222 with two home runs in 30 games. On Monday, he drew his first walk since May 15. That streak of 24 straight games was a career long for the player who led the National League in walks just three years ago.

Clearly, the Boston Red Sox aren't getting the production they envisioned out of their franchise first baseman.

A closer look at his on-base woes and power drought reveals a player who has lost his approach.

Plate discipline

For the most part, Gonzalez has performed well as a run producer. Consider that with runners in scoring position, Gonzalez is hitting .349, second on the team behind Will Middlebrooks.

His primary failing has been getting on base.

As his 24 consecutive games without a walk shows, Gonzalez isn't himself at the plate. It was the longest streak without a walk by a Red Sox first baseman since Bill Buckner went 37 in a row in 1985.

With a .313 on-base percentage, Gonzalez is nearly unrecognizable from the player who finished third in the American League with a .410 OBP in 2011. With the bases empty, Gonzalez has a .289 on-base percentage. That includes .241 when leading off an inning.

When the Red Sox brought Gonzalez aboard prior to last season, the headlines focused on his stroke that was designed to attack the Green Monster. Just as important was his on-base prowess.

Instead, Gonzalez is on track for the worst on-base percentage for a Red Sox first baseman since Todd Benzinger in 1988 (.293).

So what's the root of the problem?

Of course, it starts with the first pitch.

Gonzalez is swinging at 35 percent of first pitches, up from 28 percent in 2011. He's on pace for 119 one-pitch plate appearances. That would be 38 more than he had last season.

That wouldn't be an issue if Gonzalez replicated his first-pitch production from last season, when he hit .449 on the first pitch. Those one-pitch at-bats have been a hindrance in 2012. Gonzalez is hitting just .244 on the first pitch, 11th-lowest in the American League.

The problems don't end with the first pitch. With three balls, Gonzalez looks lost, appearing to be torn between drawing walks and breaking out of his season-long slump.

He's hitting .138 (4-for-29) in three-ball counts, only 35 percent of which end up in walks. Last year, he walked 48 percent of the time in that situation, while still hitting .329.

Part of the problem is chasing pitches outside the strike zone. With three balls, he's chasing 54 percent of pitches out of the zone, eighth-highest in the AL.

Gonzalez's entire approach appears backward right now, as he unsuccessfully attempts to emulate Adrian Beltre. Rather than use his discerning eye to get better pitches to hit, the numbers suggest Gonzalez is trying to break out of a season-long slump with each swing.

The disappearing Fenway stroke

Gonzalez arrived in Boston with unprecedented expectations for how he'd benefit from the Green Monster. Coming from a pitcher's park in San Diego, the wall would be a welcome target for his opposite-field power stroke.

For the first few months, the expectations proved prophetic. Going into last August, he was hitting .397 at Fenway with 81 hits in his first 50 games there.

Since then, Gonzalez hasn't been the same player. Over the past 62 games at Fenway, he's hitting .257 with a .727 OPS. In that span, he's hit just two balls over the Green Monster.

Among those with a highepercr OPS at home since last August: Darwin Barney, Bloomquist and Marco Scutaro.

Gonzalez has been equally unproductive at home (.744 OPS) and on the road (.722 OPS) this season. What's notable is how differently he's pitched depending on where the game is played.

In order to minimize his ability to go the other way, opponents throw him 10 percent fewer outside pitches at home than they do on the road. Instead, they are working him up and in, where he's hitting just .200 at home this season.

As a whole, 38 percent of the pitches he's seen in 2012 have been inside or on the inner-third of the plate. That's up from 31 percent in 2011.

That's significant because it limits Gonzalez's power stroke, which is to the opposite field. This season on inside pitches, he's hitting .245.

Gonzalez is also hitting a lot more fly balls this season (42 percent) as compared to last season (33 percent). That's typically a symptom of a batter trying to end a slump with one swing.

Last season, Gonzalez was the best fastball hitter in the majors with a .394 BA and 1.110 OPS on plate appearances ending in a heater. But this season, he's hitting just .248 on fastballs.

Jeremy Lundblad

ESPN Stats and Information

SPONSORED HEADLINES

EDITORS' PICKS

  • So Hard To Say Goodbye
    Gordon Edes has some ideas for Derek Jeter's upcoming farewell at Fenway Park.
  • Belichick To Gronk: Not So Fast
    Rob Gronkowski declared himself a go for Sunday, but Bill Belichick won't commit.
  • How We See It
    The games start soon, so it's time for our Pats pick: They'll start 9-0, but won't finish perfect.
  • Rivalry At Rest
    The last-place Red Sox face a Yankees team clinging to a possible playoff bid.
  • Ready Or Not
    Mailbaggers do some last-minute second-guessing of Belichick's grand plan.

MORE MLB HEADLINES