Tuesday, December 07, 2010

So, Exactly How Good is Adrian Gonzalez?

As you may have heard, the Red Sox traded three prospects and a PTBNL to the Padres for Adrian Gonzalez. Getting by asking why the Padres would give up on their 2011 season instead of playing it out, letting Gonzalez walk as a free agent, and getting two top draft picks for him, the biggest question seems to be about how good Adrian Gonzalez is. We all know that he is good, and we all know that playing in the cavern in San Diego has hurt his offensive production. So how good has he been in the last few years, and how good will he be in Boston?

In order to figure that out, the best place to start are Gonzalez’s home/road splits. On the road the last three years, Gonzalez has done the following:
2008: 359 PA, 20 2B, 29 BB, 71K, 22 HR, .308/.368/.578
2009: 346 PA, 15 2B, 46 BB, 51K, 28 HR, .306/.402/.643
2010: 356 PA, 21 2B, 44 BB, 55K, 20 HR, .315/.402/.578

As we know, the AL is a bit harder to hit in than the NL due to the competition level, so I took out 5% of his walks, 10% of his home runs, 10% of his walks, and added 10% more strikeouts. Then, to recreate a normal home/road split, I calculated likely neutral home statistics by adding 10% to his doubles, 12% of his home runs, 10% of his walks, and leaving strikeouts alone. Before giving you this numbers, I want to acknowledge some statistical oddities. First off, Gonzalez walked 73 times in 81 home games in 2009. Several of these were intentional, several more were of the unintentional/intentional variety. Opponents seemingly were not worried that other Padres could beat them at Petco, and were simply not giving him pitches to hit. Because Petco plays so far out of line with what other parks do, I just didn’t use those numbers. Not because they’re not important, but because they produce fluky outliers like that one. Since this is really the only number that will seem a bit off base, I continued with the exercise as is.

So, playing as an American leaguer in a neutral park, we would expect Gonzalez’s stats to have looked something like this:
2008: 710 PA, 40 2B, 55 BB, 156 K, 43 HR, .300/.356/.560
2009: 681 PA, 30 2B, 87 BB, 112 K, 53 HR, .298/.389/.619
2010: 704 PA, 42 2B, 84 BB, 122 K, 39 HR, .310/.393/.568

Fenway isn’t quite a neutral park – for lefties, it tends to give you a couple points of batting average and take away some of the home runs, but we’re pretty close here. This production puts Gonzalez among the elite hitters in baseball, and quite likely the best hitter in his division. When the news of the trade was breaking, it was reported that Gonzalez was seeking Mark Teixeira-like money. If he was, it was being generous to Teixeira, whose 2009 near-MVP season had him at .292/.383/.565, and his down 2010 gave him only at .256/.365/.481.

How will this impact the AL East race? Short term, it doesn’t quite bring them up to the Yankees level. The Red Sox will move Kevin Youkilis to third base, where his potent bat will be even more valuable. However, the Sox got a very good season out of Adrian Beltre there last year, slightly worse than Gonzalez would be expected to produce. It also may take Gonzalez 6-8 weeks to get acclimated with the American League pitching.

Long-term though, the Red Sox are now in a much better position than they were in three days ago. Gonzalez is still in his 20’s, and he’s put up production that would have had him the top 3 in MVP voting both of the past two years. He is also durable, having not played in less than 156 games in any of his five seasons in San Diego. His defense is a little overrated, due to how good he is at making quick throws from seemingly odd angles, but he’s still well above average overall. So yes, the Red Sox will still need better production out of John Lackey, Josh Beckett and the bullpen in order for them to win in 2011. Long-term though, building off of Gonzalez, Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and Jon Lester all under contract, the Red Sox a core to compete with any in baseball.

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