Adrian Gonzalez is a Rival | The Process Report

Adrian Gonzalez is a Rival

There is an argument to be made that Boston is the best baseball team. Not just in the league or on the continent, but the best. Maybe Saturn has a comparable team, but probably not. Of the enviable aspects of Boston’s on-field team, Adrian Gonzalez might top the list. A fan of the Padres (and Red Sox), Marc Normandin has raved about Gonzalez to me for years, but I always assumed the big fellow was just another slugger. Then I learned he could hit for power to all fields, and then—upon being traded to Boston—articles like this and this one, which Ryan Glass showed to me today, popped up.

These pieces have done a wonder showing that Gonzalez not only has the technical genius to hit baseballs (and hit them well), but the wiring to discuss and be cognizant of the situations presented throughout a game and the ability to communicate these thoughts in a coherent manner. It’s not common you get an all-world player who happens to be an all-world communicator too, but Gonzalez is close. Here are some examples:

DL: How have you evolved as a hitter over the course of your career?

AG: I’ve learned a lot when it comes to staying behind the ball, and staying on top, knowing that you can’t have success against every pitcher with the same approach. You have to have different approaches. You have to know what kind of pitcher they are; you have to know what they’re trying to do against you.

DL: What do you see when the ball comes out of the pitcher’s hand?

AG: I see rotation. I can pick up on what the pitch is as soon as the pitcher lets go of it. Most of what you see is innate. If you ask some of the great hitters, they won’t all say the same thing. Some just see balls. Some guys see speed out of the hand. I can’t recognize speed, but I can recognize rotation. Some guys can recognize speed but not rotation and some guys just see a ball and swing. They just let their abilities take over and that’s not something you can teach.

DL: Are pitch recognition and plate discipline the same thing?

AG: They’re different, because you can recognize a pitch and hit it even though it’s out of the strike zone. Plate discipline means that you’re not going to swing at balls. A guy who has really good pitch recognition can hit pitches out of the zone for singles, doubles and even home runs. Look at a guy like Vladimir Guerrero. He’s got pitch recognition, whereas a guy who walks a lot might have plate discipline, but not recognition.

You look at the Gonzalez’s career performance (.289/.370/.513), despite playing in a canyon for most of those days, and you say, “Golly, how do you ever get this guy out?” Then you realize he isn’t just see-ball, hit-ball. He has a plan and he can guess at the pitcher’s plan. I went back and reviewed how James Shields pitched Gonzalez last night and if you separate it from the results (Gonzalez went three-for-four), it’s hard to say Shields pitched him poorly:

First at-bat (single to right)
1) 94 mph fastball up and over the middle for a called strike
2) 79 mph curveball low and away for a ball
3) 90 mph fastball middle-inside (off the plate) taken into right field.

Second at-bat (single to center)
1) 79 mph curve low and inside (just off the plate) for a whiff
2) 92 mph fastball over the plate for a called strike
3) 91 mph fastball up and in for a ball
4) 84 mph changeup in the dirt for a ball
5) 92 mph fastball over the plate, hit back into center

Third at-bat (single to center)
1) 90 mph fastball for a called strike on the inside corner
2) 86 mph slider/cutter on the inside corner hit back into center

Fourth at-bat (pop out to first)
1) 76 mph curveball way up and away for a ball
2) 89 mph fastball up and in that was popped up

Strip away the results and Shields changed speeds and locations again and again and again, yet Gonzalez still found a way to reach base on three of those at-bats. Shields threw him the same pitch back-to-back once all night out of 12 pitches. There isn’t a real pattern to be seen there in location or stuff, yet Gonzalez somehow weathered the storm until he got a hittable fastball and did what he could with it.

When people talk about players who can age well, they often cite the veterans who can use their experience to offset the loss in physical ability. I don’t know if that’s true, but if so, Gonzalez fits the bill. The Red Sox are what I would consider the Rays rival. Gonzalez is part of that, but you know what? If a team and player are good enough to be your rivals, then they should be good enough to be your allies too. Otherwise, your requirements for sparring are too low, or your quality level is inferior.

Gonzalez is going to be a pain in the Rays side for years to come—that makes me jealous, and him a rival.



One Comment

  1. piratebb wrote:

    I just read the best article you have ever composed. Very nice read R.J.

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