Focus at the plate has seemed like the main issue for Adrian Gonzalez in 2012. Not in the sense that his mind is wandering, or his head isn't in the game, but more like he was failing to execute the kind of plans that Adrian Gonzalez was known for. Waiting out the pitcher as he sought a pitch he knew he wanted, one he could drive the other way or pull or crush up the middle, depending on the situation and the offering. That's what Red Sox fans were treated to in Boston in his first year with the club, and something Padres' fans watched him do for years in San Diego beforehand.
That just didn't happen often enough, though, as Gonzalez swung out of the zone, and at pitches he couldn't do much with, far more often than you'd expect a disciplined hitter of his caliber to do. Gonzalez has almost always been in control of a plate appearance since he first became an offensive force, and it was just odd to see him at the mercy of the pitcher. It's cut into his walk rate, but possibly even more importantly, it helped to kill his power, especially when the focus seemed to shift from crushing the ball to simply getting a single by going the opposite way.
Gonzalez is hitting .326/.323/.547 on balls he's pulled, but that's not as impressive as it sounds: it's actually about 30 percent below-average for a left-handed hitter. Going the other way, Gonzalez owns a split-adjusted OPS+ of 204, and 130 going up the middle. He just hasn't pulled the ball at the kind of rate he should, though. In 2011, it was his weakest of the three directions, but it still resulted in a 125 sOPS+.
It's clear that this focus on singles, and getting away from the kind of plan Gonzalez has had at the plate, has hurt him in 2012. But there's one area where it doesn't seem to have hampered his production much, and that's with runners on base.
Gonzalez has had 216 plate appearances with runners on base, and has hit .347/.398/.568 in that situation, good for an sOPS+ of 155. That's more power than he's shown overall this year, more of a willingness to take a walk and give the Red Sox yet another baserunner, and the hitter behind him a chance at driving in even more runners. With runners in scoring position, Gonzalez is at .416/.455/.673, a 202 sOPS+ in 132 chances -- yes, he's over 100 percent better than average with RISP in 2012. Considering he's at just .282/.318/.396 with the bases empty, it makes you wonder about that whole focus and lack of planning thing. Either this is a fairly large (for in-season data, anyway) sample of noise, or Gonzalez has just been better at being himself when there are runners on. It could absolutely be noise, but it's a bit odd that he's classic Adrian Gonzalez with runners on, and some new, awkward creature when he's by his lonesome at the plate, and at the same time there was a clear issue with the way his plate appearances went.
Baseball Prospectus tracks RBI opportunities, essentially looking at the percentage of runners driven in out of the chances there were to do so, instead of looking at raw RBI opportunities. It fluctuates year-to-year, but it's more accurate than raw RBI totals, as those don't tell you very much by themselves other than that maybe there were a whole lot of runners on in front of the hitter. Gonzalez ranks third in the majors, behind Miguel Cabrera and Josh Hamilton, in "Others Batted In," which is just RBI - HR. In OBI% -- the number of others batted in versus the chances to do so -- Gonzalez ranks fifth among players with 250 plate appearances, at about 21 percent. The league-leader is Josh Hamilton, at 23 percent, meaning Gonzalez, despite his down year, is still doing what he's supposed to for the most part.
That's not to say Gonzalez isn't free of blame in 2012, as it would have been helpful in plenty of situations for him to be getting on base to start a rally, rather than just contributing to already ongoing ones. (Gonzalez is hitting .269/.299/.344 when leading off an inning, something that's occurred 97 times in 2012.) Not that the latter is bad, but Gonzalez should be a force regardless of situation, as he was in 2011.
He's getting closer to that again, as he's hit .406/.447/.667 since the All-Star break, and is hitting the ball to all fields with authority. He's still not quite where he needs to be, either on the season as a whole or simply in regards to pulling the ball, but thanks to his consistent production with runners on, and his recent streak, he's in a much better place than his season line suggests.