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MLB Snapshot: Adrian Gonzalez, Early MVP Candidate

Adrian Gonzalez had a strong finish to his 2014 season and currently continues that momentum in 2015.

Adrian Gonzalez


Was recently involved in a conversation about early MVP candidates in this 2015, Major League Baseball campaign. It is ridiculously early and we don’t have much of a sample size to make a fair assessment on teams and players. Today’s MVP candidates will be tomorrow’s fallen stars. At least baseball has a tendency to humble players in that manner.

Regardless, it’s fun to sort of put a pause on the season and take a snapshot of how things are currently going. That is one thing to keep in mind, as we read about our first MVP candidate, is that not all players have hit their strides yet.

wOBA, Nelly!

Adrian Gonzalez had a strong finish to his 2014 season and currently continues that momentum in 2015. Gonzalez has posted a .611 Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA–basically, not all hits are created equal). That’s about 242 points above his career average. It’s safe to say he won’t continue that tear for the rest of the season, as he had a strong start in 2014 before struggling through the months of May and June.

Nevertheless, it’s interesting to point out a couple of reasons why we’re seeing this much success from Gonzalez. Yes, he’s a great hitter, but .611 good?

PITCH TYPE

Some hitters take a while to get their rhythm going when they’re at the plate. Some pitchers have not thrown enough to have full command of all their pitches. It is with that preface that we take a look at what kind of pitches Gonzalez has seen early on in 2015 and how that compares to his 2014 campaign:

Adrian Gonzalez: Pitch Type %
Year Fastball 2-Seamer Slider Curve Changeup
2014 37.6% 13.5% 12.5% 7.3% 11.4%
2015 37.0% 18.5% 9.2% 6.5% 12.0%

So there’s a sharp increase in two-seamers thrown at Gonzalez and an obvious drop in breaking pitches. Perhaps the pitchers that Gonzalez has faced are not comfortable throwing their breaking pitches at a high frequency against him this early in the season. Whatever the case may be, with less breaking pitches to worry about, Gonzales can simply tee off against the increase in two-seam fastballs he has seen lately.

PLATE DISCIPLINE

Gonzalez has a decent understanding of the strike zone, but it’s not considered elite. That is not to belittle his approach at the plate, but compared to others (say Victor Martinez), Gonzalez is lagging behind. But here are his swinging percentages in 2015 and how they compared to last season.

But first, a quick tutorial of terms to know:

  • O-Swg%–Swinging Percentage Outside the Strike Zone
  • Z-Swg%–Swinging Percentage Inside the Strike Zone
  • SwStr%–Swinging Strike Percentage
Adrian Gonzalez: Swinging %’s
Year O-Swg% Z-Swg% Swing% SwStr% Zone%
2014 36.6% 74.6% 51.9% 9.8% 40.3%
2015 32.2% 69.7% 48.4% 4.9% 43.1%

As can be seen by the table, Gonzalez has been more patient at the plate. this has resulted in more pitches seen inside the strike zone (Zone%) which has led to the ridiculously high Contact Rates:

Adrian Gonzalez: Contact Rates
Year O-Cnt% Z-Cnt% Contact% SwStr% Zone%
2014 70.4% 87.4% 80.2% 9.8% 40.3%
2015 75.0% 97.8% 89.2% 4.9% 43.1%

So with more pitches in the strike zone, Gonzalez has been able to put solid contact on the ball and it has resulted into a rip-roaring start to his 2015 season.

Obviously Gonzalez has all the tools to produce impressive Contact Rates despite being a power-hitting first baseman. But one should be skeptical that he can continue to be this efficient when it comes to making contact with the ball.

CONCLUSION

It’s safe to say that Adrian Gonzalez is a good hitter and not many people are surprised at his production early on in the season. But as mentioned earlier, he also had a good start in 2014 and sort of disappeared the next two months before emerging again later in the season.

At any rate, grab some popcorn and continue to enjoy this torrid start because a Gonzalez plate appearance has turned into must-see-television for Dodgers’ and baseball fans alike.

All stats courtesy of fangraphs.com and are good through April 19, 2015.

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