It’s thought to be somewhat inevitable that the Padres will trade star 1B Adrian Gonzalez at some point this season.
Obviously, Gonzalez is a great player, so he commands a lot of value in a trade. However, I was wondering when the best time to trade Gonzalez would be–essentially, when would Jed Hoyer be selling highest?
Gonzalez turns 28 in May, so it looks like he’s right around his peak, unlikely to get much better than he was in 2009.
In order to answer the question of when to trade him, then, one must look at his 2009 stats and see if any are likely to regress.
Gonzalez’s HR numbers have gently trended upward since he became a starter in 2006, so he’s likely to hit around 40 homers again this season. His defensive value has stabilized right around average for a first baseman.
Two numbers jumped out at me that could be problematic in 2010 however: walks and BABIP.
Let’s look at the walks. Gonzalez walked 52 times in 2006, 65 in 2007, and 74 in 2008, before jumping to 119 walks last season.
That seems fluky at first glance. Since Gonzalez was one of the few quality offensive players for the Padres last year, perhaps he was just pitched around more, so his walk spike is less his doing and more the opposing pitcher’s.
Indeed, he was intentionally walked 22 times, saw 53.2% first-pitch strikes, and just 45.2% of pitches in the zone.
Those are all indicators that pitchers were afraid and/or unwilling to throw Gonzalez strikes very often, suggesting that his lack of protection (pre-Kyle Blanks) boosted his OBP.
What’s really interesting, however, is that those numbers were not too far off his 2008 numbers. In 2008, Gonzalez saw 18 free passes, just 54.4% first-pitch strikes, and 47% of pitches in the zone.
In fact, the amount of intentional walks and first-pitch strikes to Gonzalez saw its biggest change in 2007-08. His biggest zone percentage difference was 2006-07. His walk numbers only slightly changed in those years.
So what the hell happened in 2009?
Gonzalez came to the plate with a better approach.
Gonzalez cut back on his chasing pitches outside the zone (22.7%, down from 28% in 2008), while increasing his offering at strikes (71%, up from 69.6%). Basically, he gained better bat control and pitch recognition skills, which in turn made him a more fearsome hitter, which made pitchers pitch around him even more than they had in 2008.
So it looks like the plate discipline is sustainable despite its questionable first appearance. What about Gonzalez’s BABIP?
It’s been trending down every year: .340 in 2006, .315 in 2007, .308 in 2008, and just .278 last year. That seems to indicate a decline in speed. His batting average has dropped 27 points from 2006-09, despite Gonzalez’s increasing homer rate.
I checked out Gonzalez’s batted-ball splits to see if anything was going on trendwise:
Batted Ball Type 2006 2007 2008 2009
Grounder 43.8% 36.9% 43.1% 38.8%
Liner 22.9% 19.4% 20.4% 20.9%
Fly 33.3% 43.7% 36.6% 40.4%
If there’s a trend there, I sure don’t see it. The high liner and grounder rates show 2006 would have the highest BABIP of the four years, but 2007 would have the lowest Expected BABIP, when it actually had the second highest. Gonzalez’s xBABIP for 2009, even factoring in his well-below-average speed, would be around .300.
I doubt that Gonzalez’s speed declined so precipitously in 2008-09 that he should lose 30 points of BABIP. There really wasn’t much change in his batted-ball distribution in the two years.
He hit 36 homers (on a 36.6% FB) in 2008, and 40 homers (on a 40.4% FB) in 2009; a dead-on correlation.
He hit fractionally more liners in 2009, but more grounders in 2008, so his BABIP should have been right around the same both years. The .308 figure for 2008 looks right; the .278 one for 2009 looks fluky.
I’d expect Gonzalez to be scary-good in 2009. His average should rebound a bit with his BABIP, making him something like a .300/.450/.600 hitter, even at Petco, and a monster trade chip. It’s the right decision to let his BABIP rebound some before trading him.