Adrian Gonzalez and the Petco Challenge

When fantasy players think of the top first basemen in the game, Adrian Gonzalez is not the first name that comes to mind. But the first overall pick in the 2000 draft put up his third straight solid season, posting .279-36-119 line with 103 runs scored. Gonzalez established career highs in HR, RBI and R despite playing in a home park that killed his numbers.

In Petco Park, Gonzalez had a .788 OPS while on the road his OPS checked in at .946 for the year. He hit as many home runs on the road (22) as Ryan Howard, although the NL home run leader enjoyed a 26-14 edge in their respective home parks.

Home park aside, there is a lot to like about Gonzalez. He upped his BB% to 10.7 percent last year and his ISO to .231 – both career highs. His BABIP was a reasonable .311 and it was supported by a 20.4 percent line drive rate.

Gonzalez achieved his career high 36 homers thanks to a 20.7 percent HR/FB rate, which ranked ninth in the majors. However, just 36.6 percent of his batted balls were fly balls, which ranked 74th last season and one which he should be able to improve in 2009.

When projecting Gonzalez the two keys are to figure how well he will do in Petco and if he can rebound versus southpaws. Last year, lefties limited him to a .213/.287/.387 line in 261 plate appearances. His OPS was 59 points lower against lefties in 2008 than for his career, including an AVG 35 points beneath his lifetime marks against lefties.

Regression cuts both ways. Any drops in power and/or production should be matched or exceeded by an increase in batting average. Gonzalez is entering the prime of his career and a $25 season is well within his reach. While up to four first baseman may go in the first round of your draft, Gonzalez makes an excellent consolation prize in round four and allows you to concentrate on scarcer positions in the first few rounds.

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