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Where has Adrian Gonzalez's power gone?

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  June 13, 2012 11:35 AM

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Theory: Dave Magadan, Red Sox hitting coach, has by means inadvertent or dastardly, turned Adrian Gonzalez into a clone of former first baseman Dave Magadan, producer of a .288/.390/.377 slash line and 42 home runs in 4,963 big league plate appearances.

A facetious notion? Well, sure. But isn't that about all we're left with in trying to solve the mystery of Gonzalez's AWOL power? Gonzalez says his surgically-repaired shoulder feels better than it has in years, that he's healthy, yet his numbers are anything but.

Through 62 games and 272 plate appearances, he is hitting .260 with a .724 OPS, five home runs, 33 runs batted in, and 18 walks against 49 strikeouts.

For a prime-of-career player who is just 30 years old and who hit 40 homers with a National League-leading 119 walks just three years ago, his power output, not to mention his sudden inability to get on base, is beyond alarming.

He does lead the majors with 22 doubles, but his current production projected over a 162-game season -- 13 home runs, 86 RBIs, .260/.313/.411 -- is enough to give a Red Sox fan Carlos Quintana flashbacks.

magadandavefinn612.jpgThere is plenty of evidence as to why Gonzalez is struggling in general. Jeremy Lundblad, ESPN's intrepid stat guru, noted in a piece this morning that, among other things, Gonzalez is swinging at the first pitch more and with considerably less success, and that he's also swinging at too many pitches out of the strike zone on three-ball counts, a tell-tale sign that he's anxious to snap out of the slump.

And my friends at Sons of Sam Horn have an interesting thread on the subject going, including some concerning heat maps and spray charts and some apparent evidence that he's not catching up to fastballs.

But he's such a tangled mess at the plate right now that it's difficult to tell what's the cause and what's the effect. Did he start pouncing on the first-pitch Nomar-style to try to bust out of the slump, or is his impatience a cause of it? And is he guessing on three-ball counts because he's having a hard time catching up to the fastball otherwise, or again, is this a side-effect of his frustration?

Right now, all we can do is stare at those numbers in befuddlement and wonder whether he's being forthcoming about his health. I mean, Gonzalez has just five home runs this season. Five. That's three fewer than teammates Cody Ross and Mike Aviles, one fewer than rookie Will Middlebrooks, and, if you want to play this game, 21 fewer than the combined output of former teammates Josh Reddick (14) and Jed Lowrie (12). What do Juan Francisco, Miguel Olivo, and Angel Pagan have in common? They have as many home runs as Gonzalez. So does San Diego's Carlos Quentin ... in 37 at-bats.

Frustrating, puzzling ... and prolonged. It's not as if his power outage is an entirely new development. He had just 10 after the All-Star break (and a stellar performance in the dreaded Home Run Derby) a season ago, and his numbers since the beginning of the second half last year are the definition of offensive mediocrity for a first baseman. In 132 games and 584 plate appearances in that span, he has 15 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 57 walks, and 103 strikeouts. He's hit .291 with a .453 slugging percentage and a .359 on-base percentage (.812 OPS).

First baseman who have produced similar numbers over the course of a full season include Kevin Millar of the 2006 Orioles (.811 OPS, 15 homers, 64 RBIs), Conor Jackson of the 2006 Diamondbacks (.809 OPS, 15 homers, 79 RBIs), and 35-year-old Tino Martinez of the 2003 Cardinals (.781 OPS, 15 homers, 69 RBIs).

Hey, but at least there's no mention of Magadan. Though that hackneyed theory might just be more appealing than the reality the Red Sox and Gonzalez are facing right now.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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