If you’ve been playing fantasy baseball for a few years, you’ve probably noticed something about Adrian Gonzalez. He’s been a top of the line first baseman since 2007, but he’s taken a pretty sharp turn in the kind of hitter he is. We’ll get to all of that shortly, but for now, let’s look at some numbers and see what Gonzalez did in 2013.
Alright, let’s take a slightly deeper look.
What I like:
You can say what you will about how meaningful the RBI is as a stat, but when someone consistently drives in 100 runs, you can’t quite chalk it up to just luck. Gonzalez has averaged 106 RBI per season since 2007 and has driven in 100 runs in every one of those seasons, with the exception of 2009, when he really dropped off with 99.
With teammates like Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, and Matt Kemp batting in front of him, that’s not likely to change in 2014. As a matter of fact, it’s more likely to go up. Crawford led that quartet in 2013 games played at only 116. Even though all but Puig have a relatively extensive injury history, they’re not likely to miss that many games again. With more games played, you have to like Gonzalez’s chances to get around 115 RBI, assuming he plays a full slate of games, which leads us to this.
Going back to 2006, Gonzalez has never played in fewer than 156 games, or had fewer than 631 plate appearances. First basemen tend to occupy utility and corner infield spots, so it’s not always an easy position to find a quality guy on the waiver guy. If you plug Gonzalez in as your first baseman, it’s highly unlikely that that would be an issue for you.
When he’s on the field, you also can generally count on a solid batting average. The .338 batting average in 2011 really does stand out, so don’t count on that again. But, have a glance at what he’s done in the seasons around that.
- 2010: .298
- 2012: .299 (.300 with the Red Sox, .297 with the Dodgers)
- 2013: .293
I guess you could point out a slight regression if you want to be cynical, but emphasize the word slight. It’s nice to know that a player will be between .290 and .300 and if he deviates, it’s more likely to be high than low.
What I don’t like:
The regression in the batting average is slight. Unfortunately, the regression in power has been anything but slight. Just look at the numbers.
- 2007: 30 HR/.502 slugging
- 2008: 36 HR/.510 slugging
- 2009: 40 HR/.551 slugging
- 2010: 31 HR/.511 slugging
- 2011: 27 HR/.548 slugging
- 2012: 18 HR/.432 slugging
- 2013: 22 HR/.461 slugging
You can point out that Dodger Stadium has something to do with that, but there are a few easy responses.
- He called Petco Park home in until 2007, and managed to hit 30 or more homers with a slugging percentage above .500 every time.
- It doesn’t matter if it is the reason, because Dodger Stadium is going to be his home park in 2014. That means 81 games there, and 9 or 10 at both AT&T Park and Petco Park.
The fact is that Gonzalez just doesn’t hit the long ball with the same frequency that he used to. He’s become a much better pure hitter than in 2007-2009, when he was between .277 and .282 all three years. But the addition of 10-15 points in the batting average has definitely hurt his power, and that’s not something I expect to see changing any time.
The (Early) Final Verdict for 2014:
Gonzalez was 10th on the ESPN Player Rater at first base in 2013, trailing Chris Davis, Paul Goldschmidt, Freddie Freeman, Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Cuddyer, Matt Carpenter, Joey Votto, Eric Hosmer, and Prince Fielder, though it is worth noting that Cuddyer and Carpenter will not have first base eligibility in 2014, at least at the start of the season. He’s also ranked 65th overall and was the 43rd best offensive player.
What’s troubling for Gonzalez’s fantasy value is that while he’s not an old man by any means, all of those guys are younger than he is, excluding Cuddyer who again, isn’t going to be a first baseman in 2014.
I love Gonzalez’s consistency in average, and I firmly believe that if he does stay healthy, he’ll be on a very short list of candidates to lead the NL in RBI in 2014. Unfortunately, first base is a position where power is generally a necessity. It may not have been in the early 2000’s when guys like Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Miguel Tejada, Rich Aurilia, and Jeff Kent were consistently putting up power numbers from non-power positions. Today, you have Robinson Cano, Hanley Ramirez, and Troy Tulowitzki, but that’s about it.
So, while Gonzalez is steady, I’d advise that you look for some guys with bigger pop there before settling on Gonzalez. He really doesn’t rival them in power, and they’re close enough to him in average. The 65th best player will go somewhere around the beginning of the sixth round in a 12-team league, which is too high. If you’re going to take a first baseman who will be below 25 homers, do it a few rounds later on more of a gamble, like a Mark Trumbo or Brandon Belt.
Gonzalez is a really good player, but the regression is noticeable and consistent. He’s safe in a few areas, but a real risk in a few others, and that’s just not something you want for your fantasy team at first base