Saturday, March 9, 2013

Shades of Padre: Gonzalez returning to form?

Despite Adrian Gonzalez's uber-gaudy numbers with men on base, his time on the Red Sox will be remembered for the loss of his power at the plate -- which led the media and fans to become overly critical (one might say "fickle") of anything he said.  When Gonzo was traded to the Dodgers, instead of thanking him for all the runs he produced, most fans wished that the door would hit him on the ass on his way out.

But fans never actually know what injuries a player is suffering from unless it becomes big news.  Looking to gain every advantage possible over opposing hitters or pitchers, players try to hide injuries even from their other teammates.  In Gonzo's case, we know that he had a right shoulder injury when he was traded to the Red Sox.  And last year, Gonzo's power continued to dwindle despite an increase in the amount of fly balls he was hitting.  We got Gonzo because, in 2009, 22.9% of the fly balls he hit became home runs -- but in the middle of 2012, that percentage dropped to 6.1%.  While Gonzo was still good enough as a hitter to plunk a single in the outfield to get a run home, his loss of strength to generate home runs was alarming.  At the time, I said that I wouldn't be surprised to hear about Gonzo "having some sort of latent injury".

A couple days later, as if on cue, we saw this headline: "Adrian Gonzalez sidelined with a sore back after greeting child at mall."  That headline is just comical; it's so Ted Williams-esque, so Boy Scout, so goodie-two-shoes, and so generally unbelievable that whichever Red Sox PR flak pulled it out of his ass should have been canned on the spot.

The more likely case is that Gonzo was nursing a back injury all season, most likely playing through pain, and when the pain became too much and he had to be removed from the lineup, Red Sox brass needed to think of some excuse to feed to the fans.  Indeed, it makes more sense for Gonzo to have had a back injury -- that's what will sap a hitter's power.  That's what drops the rate of a hitter's fly balls becoming home runs from 22.9% to 6.1%.

But 2013 is a new season, Adrian Gonzalez is on a new team, and Gonzo put on a display of power last night that should be encouraging for Dodgers' fans:

Let's dissect Gonzo's homer to see what actually happened: Dickey hung a knuckleball out over the plate, where it becomes just another batting practice pitch.  Those are easy enough to hammer, but Gonzo launches that 73 mph pitch to 415 feet away from home plate.  For a hitter to smack a slow, 73 mph pitch that far, the need to provide much of the strength behind the ball -- therefore, only a strong hitter with a lot of power is able to take 73 mph pitch that far out to centerfield.

Gonzo hit this homer on March 8, and the season starts on April 1.  Team USA walked Gonzo on his next three trips to bat, and they didn't dare give Gonzo an offering that he could hit.  The only out Gonzo made was in the first inning when he grounded out to second base -- but he hit the ball to the left side of the infield, allowing a runner on third to score.

So, if Gonzo is showing this much power and ball control -- the ability to hit it deep or ground it out while allowing a baserunner to score -- on March 8, what kind of season could he have for the Dodgers in 2013?

And all of this could happen in Los Angeles because the Red Sox weren't perceptive enough wait out an injury.  Will there be any backlash against Ben and Larry if Gonzo has a monster year?

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