Earlier this April, the Bleacher Report put out an article with their top five reasons Adrian Gonzalez would win the Triple Crown. With his shoulder injury behind him after a solid 2011 campaign, Gonzo certainly seemed poised for another great season. Known to be a streaky hitter, his power numbers have often come in bunches, with droughts in between, yet he has nearly always maintained a batting average of .280 or higher.
At first, the power decline that has become apparent this season seemed only to be a slow month of April, followed by an even slower May. However, as a Gonzalez owner (and previous believer), I can say to the detriment of my managerial prowess, as my league-mates will read this, that I am no longer convinced his shoulder problems are fully behind him.
This past week in Chicago, Gonzalez crushed a pitch to deep center field. The announcers placed that description on his connection with the ball, not me. Yet the ball barely took center fielder Reed Johnson to the warning track.
This was another of at least eight to ten fly balls this year, initially appearing to be heading for the seats that upon further inspection fell short of their goal. With his K% rate his highest in five years, his swinging percentage up nearly three percent, which includes an outside-the-zone swing rate up nearly five percent, do we conclude it's a bat speed problem or a patience problem? Or worse, is there something prohibiting Gonzo from generating enough bat speed to lift the ball from the yard when he does make solid contact? I have witnessed him pull the trigger late on a lot of zone fastballs this year, something also that has made me wary.
It is clear from his numbers, he's definitely less patient this year. His contact rate outside the zone is up from 70.1% last year to 74.9% this year, meaning he's swinging at a larger number of balls. His walk rate is seven percent, the lowest for Gonzo in six seasons. The larger issue at hand though is the number of fly balls that just aren't getting out of the park and the disturbingly high number of ground balls he has hit this year. His HR/FB rate is just 6.4%, the lowest of any year in his career, meaning he's either suffering through a true injury or he's in for one heck of an adjustment.
However, the numbers do portend a correction, simply because along with the high number of ground balls and low walk rate is a high swinging rate. At some point, he's bound to get his head straight, slow down and find some ease at the plate. Sure, it is still bothersome that balls he hits well aren't home runs, but there's also truth to the fact that he's hitting a lot less fly balls well, in part due to getting behind in counts (he's a .189 hitter 0-2 and a .139 hitter 1-2, and a .118 hitter at 2-2). However, what's adding on to this dreaful season is last year in even or favorable counts such as 3-1 or 3-2 he was clobbering the at nearly .300 or better. This year, he's hitting a measly .167 when he's up 3-1 in the count and a pathetic .120 when the count is full.
Gonzo is slumping this season, but should come around at some point. However, from what I've seen there's zero chance he hits 30 home runs this year, and probably a good chance the correction that is coming brings him just 10-15 more. With his ISO sitting at a paltry and unexpected .143 I see Gonzo supplying RBIs and a decent average eventually, but he's not going to meet expectations, especially with young Will Middlebrooks taking his spot in the order, at least for the near term.
I wouldn't be surprised though if something in his shoulder is bothering him. It is pure speculation on my part, and I'm hoping it's mechanical, but his crushed hits are sailing like they used to.
I still expect a second half that looks something like .295, 52 RBI and 12 HRS. That's well short of the triple crown.... more like a triple whammy. At this point, if you trade him, the buyer would get the best out of him, so keep him and hope.