Commentary

The 'new' Adrian Gonzalez

The All-Star first baseman has changed his approach in Boston, but he's just as effective

Updated: May 14, 2011, 9:41 AM ET
By Dave Cameron | FanGraphs
Adrian GonzalezElsa/Getty ImagesAdrian Gonzalez has stopped drawing so many walks, but he has kept on hitting.

When it comes to hitters, it's fair to say the Boston Red Sox have a type. They targeted David Ortiz for his patience and power when the Minnesota Twins gave up on him, outbid the rest of baseball for J.D. Drew's patient approach at the plate and drafted Kevin Youkilis -- who was famously labeled The Greek God of Walks in Michael Lewis' "Moneyball." The Red Sox like hitters who work the count and take pitches, and this philosophy of hitting has led to the team having the highest walk rate of any team in baseball since 2003, which happens to be the year Theo Epstein took over as the team's general manager.

Therefore, it made complete sense when the Red Sox gave up a big chunk of their farm system to acquire Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres this past winter. Gonzalez fit the type perfectly, having drawn 212 walks over the prior two seasons and showing one of the most patient approaches of any hitter in baseball. He was viewed as the quintessential Boston hitter, and it was no surprise that the Red Sox chose to replace the free-swinging Adrian Beltre with a player who was more their style.

Only a funny thing has happened to Gonzalez since he arrived in Boston -- he has stopped taking walks, and is producing as a very different type of hitter than what the Red Sox might have thought they were getting when they traded for him. Through his first 164 plate appearances in Boston, Gonzalez has drawn just 11 walks, and two of those were intentional. To put that in context, he has one fewer walk than noted swing-at-anything maven Ichiro Suzuki, and only one more unintentional walk than Jeff Francoeur, whose aggressive approach at the plate has made him a lightning rod for criticism over the years.

When a usually patient hitter stops walking, it is often referenced as evidence that the player is pressing or trying to do too much. It is a common explanation for why hitters are slumping, especially if they've changed teams and are feeling the pressure of living up to their new city's expectations. However, Gonzalez isn't slumping at all. He's hitting .329/.378/.566 and he's on pace to have the best offensive season of his career. So, how do we explain Gonzalez's success while also understanding that he's doing it in an entirely different way than he was in San Diego?


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