Can Adrian Gonzalez Hit Elite Left-Handed Pitching?

By Alastair Ingram

Let me preface this by saying that it is not an overreaction to Monday’s spring training game against the New York Yankees.

At this point, it’s merely a rhetorical question that has to asked heading into Gonzalez’s first season with the Red Sox.

Gonzalez went 1-3 in his first game (albeit an unofficial one) against Boston’s bitter rivals, but was hitless against Yankees lefties. They marked his first two at-bats in spring training against left-handed pitching.

Admittedly, this miniscule sample size is irrelevant when it comes to the issue at hand, but it remains a vital question for Red Sox Nation to ask.

If one were to look only at last year, the slugger’s final season with the Padres, the answer would be a resounding “yes”.

Gonzalez hit a whopping .337 against left-handed pitching in nearly 200 at-bats. The lefty batted just .278 against right-handers with a comparable slugging percentage.

Two years ago, Gonzalez didn’t have nearly as much success against southpaws, posting just a .234 batting average and a .431 slugging percentage, nearly 200 points lower than he slugged against righties.

That season, Gonzalez struck out 54 times in 218 at-bats against lefties, compared to 55 K’s in 334 at-bats when opposed by righties.

In 2008, Adrian was an abysmal .213 hitter against left-handers and walked only 21 times in more than 110 games.

So, which sample do you believe?

Over his seven-year career, the San Diego native is a .262 hitter against southpaws, which falls squarely between the two extremes. He is a .295 career hitter when facing righties.

Last year’s success against lefties has been attributed by some to the fact that Gonzalez was nursing a shoulder injury, which forced him to use a lighter bat in order to shorten his swing.

Whatever he did, it allowed him to enjoy unprecedented productivity in situations which had clearly posed a lot of problems in the previous two seasons.

Here is Gonzalez’s brief history against the best left-handed starters in the American League from last year (every pitcher with an ERA under 4.00):

C.C. Sabathia (NYY): 1-10, 5 K, 1 BB

David Price (TB): Has not faced

Ricky Romero (TOR): 1-3, 2 K

C.J. Wilson (TEX): 0-1, K

Francisco Liriano (MIN): Has not faced

Dallas Braden (OAK): 0-3, K

John Danks (CWS): Has not faced

With some simple math, Gonzalez is 2-17 with eight strikeouts against elite AL lefties in his career.

He hasn’t faced several of them enough to truly experience their pitches and tendencies, and the others he’s never faced period.

They’re just numbers that have been presented purely out of curiosity, but they certainly don’t lie.

I wouldn’t put too much stock in them because of the sample size, but it will be interesting to see how Gonzalez handles effective left-handed pitching based on his inconsistent results over the last three years.

Including Gonzalez, the Sox are projected to have as many as five left-handed bats in their everyday lineup (Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, David Ortiz, and J.D. Drew), and it will be important for him to produce in those situations.

Ellsbury (.307) is actually a better hitter in his career against lefties, but Crawford (.256), Ortiz (.222), and Drew (.208) all struggled at times in 2010 against southpaws.

If Gonzalez resorts back to his 2008 or 2009 form when facing a lefty, it may expose a huge flaw in Boston’s retooled lineup.

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