Moving on from the four catchers on the rosters, our player profiles series moves up the line to first base and one the game’s brightest stars, Adrian Gonzalez. The Boston Red Sox paid handsomely to bring the former San Diego Padre to Fenway for the 2011 season, trading away top tier prospects Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo and Raymond Fuentes and signing the slugger to a seven year, $154M deal.
If any Sox fans out there were worried about that commitment, Gonzalez did everything a player could to elevate their fears. The Sox first basemen hit .338/.410/.548 posting the third highest wOBA (.406) and tying with his teammate David Ortiz for the third highest wRC+ (153) in theAL. On top of hitting as well as almost anyone, Gonzalez was the best fielding first baseman in the league by nearly every available defensive metric. Gonzo is a fantastic player on both sides of the ball and among the best in the game right now.
Pitchers facing Adrian Gonzalez don’t have too many easy ways to get him out. It isn’t surprising that the lefty hit better against righties, but with a career .272/.347/.437 line against lefties the platoon advantage still leaves pitchers facing an above average hitter. Lefties can at least thank their chosen deity that they are not right-handed. Righties get to see a guy who hits .303/.388/.551, so basically they might as well be facing Willie Mays.
Regardless of the pitcher, Gonzalez uses the whole field with power, hitting home runs almost equally to all parts of the ball park. His plate discipline is very good- he walks at a 11.3% rate and has swung at a slightly below average number of pitches out side of the zone while making contact at an above average level. Since his first full season his line drive rate has dropped below 20% just one time. His power is prodigious with a careerISOof .221 and a HR/FB rate of 17%.
The past two years have seen his home run power ebb just a bit in the wake of a shoulder injury that forced a change in his swing in 2010. His 27 home runs last season were less than some fans had hoped for, and his HR/FB rate dipped since the injury. Prior to 2010, more than 20% of his fly balls found the seats for two straight seasons despite the fact that he played in baseball’s worst park for home runs. His surgically repaired shoulder has had plenty of time to heal prior to this season and a return to his 40+ home run days would not be shocking at all.
Pitcher looking for a go to pitch would do well to be left-handed and throw a good slider or change up. Gonzo swings and misses against those pitches more than any others, but unfortunately, he also puts those pitches into play more often than any others. Given his .380 BABIP last season, just inducing contact isn’t the best strategy against the Sox first baseman. Righties have little hope beyond just getting him to ground out. He has a below average whiff rate against every pitch in their arsenal.
Gonzalez is the complete package as a hitter. He knows the strike zone, makes excellent contact, hits to all field and has serious power. If he didn’t run like a man carrying a church organ he might require some type of handicap to level the playing field. Even with is sloth-like running ability, he is one of the most dangerous hitters in the game.
By UZR, Adrian Gonzalez has been the third best defender at first base over the past three seasons. DRS ranks him ninth in that time period, or eighth if you exclude his teammate Kevin Youkilis, who now mans third base. Despite his slow running speed, he has good range and he helps his own cause by positioning himself extremely well. His baseball instincts were good enough to allow manager Terry Francona to try playing him in right to get David Ortiz into the line up in interleague games, a bad idea, but a testament to his sneaky athleticism nonetheless.
With Gonzalez at first and Dustin Pedroia at second, the right side of Boston’s infield will be a great fielding duo. Both players are at the top of their position with the glove and given the team’s movement toward groundball pitchers, that may be a big advantage in 2012.l
Whether he is at the plate or in the field, Adrian Gonzalez is the definition of an impact player. He was an MVP candidate last season with a 6.6 fWAR on the year. In 2012 he may take that award home. With his abilities at the plate and Fenway’s help, Gonzalez may one day even take home a triple crown.