Sunday was the latest chapter in what has been a disappointing beginning to 2012 for Adrian Gonzalez. After a 6-for-10 performance between Friday and Saturday had fans hoping he was ready to bounce back and start hitting in earnest, Gonzalez turned in a terrible 0-for-8 night at the plate in Boston's seventeen inning marathon with Baltimore.
Interestingly, yesterday's plate appearances almost seem to tell a story for Gonzalez and what's going wrong with him. Let's break this up into three parts.
The First Three At Bats:
These are what you might call the typical Adrian Gonzalez at bats for the year. Nothing jumps out at you as being really terrible--he doesn't, for instance, swing at any balls in the dirt--but none-the-less it ends up going wrong.
In the first at bat against Tommy Hunter, Adrian gets ahead 2-0, watching a curveball in the dirt and a fastball up-and-in. In neither situation does Gonzalez seem tempted to swing--he's keyed in on both pitches and knows they're balls out of Hunter's hand. The count goes to 2-1 as he takes a strike inside--not something you need to swing at 2-0--and then 3-1 on another obvious ball. Hunter then shifts, going away in the zone, and Gonzalez takes his first hacks, swinging late on two straight fastballs, and then late again on a cutter for the strikeout.
The second starts off with a low fastball taken for a ball, and then an unusually defensive hack at a slider that hangs high. Pitch three is in the dirt, and then pitch four is a high fastball. Gonzalez swings on top of it for the double play ball. It seems like the sort of pitch Gonzalez would put on a line last year.
The third at bat, frankly, is the best we see from Adrian all day. He takes two balls, is late on another strike, but then almost gets enough of a high fastball to catch some wall in left.
The Next Three:
Unfortunately, Gonzalez catches no wall, and the result may be what follows. What comes next is the bad stuff, when it looks like Adrian is starting to really feel the pressure. After taking the first pitch for a borderline strike outside, Gonzalez hacks at a pitch well up-and-in and puts himself in a bad situation. Credit to Troy Patton--he puts the next pitch right where the first one was, and Gonzalez looks a little off-balance, planting it into the ground for another weakly hit out.
The next three at bats go by on one pitch a piece. What's worse is that the second and third come on pitches out-of-the-zone, with Gonzalez popping up a too-high fastball and then going fishing for a pitch low-and-away for a weak ground ball.
At this point, it seems like the night has really gotten to him, and he's desperate to turn it around. Gonzaelez is no longer late on the pitches--at the very least he seems to have realized that was a problem--but perhaps in trying to correct it he's no longer able to recognize the pitches in time to make his decision.
The Final At Bat:
All of this culminates in the pièce de résistance: with Chris Davis on the mound, Ortiz takes a relatively hittable strike, fouls off a pitch a few inches beneath it with a violent swing, and then goes fishing low-and-away for the strikeout. This against a first baseman.
It's the culmination of a terrible night that leaves us wondering what, exactly, is going wrong with Adrian Gonzalez. Rob Bradford over at WEEI has an idea and plenty of numbers which basically amount to, in his own words, "not owning balls in zone per usual, putting too many bad pitches in play."
It's the first bit there that I'm worried about, personally. In this game, at least, the reason Gonzalez wasn't doing what we expect him to do with balls in the zone was because he was late so often in the first few innings. Maybe he was just having a bad day and didn't get enough sleep, who's to say? But for whatever reason, the timing does seem to have been off given the nearly doubled whiff rate on balls in the zone.
The rest of it can be explained, simply, as pressing. Gonzalez looked fine for the first few at bats and didn't have the problems with putting bad balls in play until the late stages when he really seemed to be desperate. If that's what's caused that jump in outside contact, then it's just a symptom caused by the initial problem.
Hopefully whatever it is, he and Dave Magadan can fix it quickly. This lineup can't survive with the cleanup spot stranding eight baserunners, even in a seventeen inning game.