Adrian Gonzalez was pretty fantasy baseball valuable this year. The Los Angeles Dodgers’ first baseman wasn’t, in the preseason, expected to be quite so fantasy baseball valuable. That made him a good deal. He was 11th on the RotoGraphs consensus rankings list at first base coming into the 2014 campaign and finished as a top-five commodity after it.
A-Gon is kind of boring, to many fantasy baseball players. I recall conversations prior to the season in which folks basically said as much. He had the look of a reasonable consolation prize if you missed out on the sexier first basemen. A big reason was that he’d seemed to have lost the ability to contribute significant power production, which made the evaluation understandable, but which also seemed a little premature. Mike Podhorzer acknowledged that he had no notable explanations for his “bullish” ranking of Gonzalez but that folks just seemed to be undervaluing him, and Pod was right.
The stage may be set for that roto and head-to-head trend to continue, year after year. Gonzalez’s 2014 statistics – a .276 batting average, 27 home runs, and 116 RBIs – don’t knock your socks off. His total of runs driven in led Major League Baseball, but RBI is a circumstantial stat, so it receives no respect in the statistics community. If it weren’t for them, then he’d have been just another guy, one who may have also been a little lucky in the HR category.
Gonzalez may have several good years left, but his age-32 campaign is probably as good as it gets as his career begins to wind down. In terms of plate discipline, strikeout rate, and other indicators, pretty much across the board, Gonzalez has already begun to display some signs of the downside of the bell-curve shape that baseball players’ careers seem to follow, statistically.
It’ll be really easy for pundits to pan A-Gon. They might even write multiple paragraphs just to tell fantasy baseball players not to draft him highly in 2015 based on his 2014 production. The community in general doesn’t like old players, and next year will be his age-33 season. Egad.
Gonzalez’s power is, in fact, in decline. He hit 27 homers in his first season after he’d undergone major shoulder surgery, also his first with the Boston Red Sox, despite Fenway Park’s bottom-10 park factor to right field, so post-surgery weakness was difficult to blame for the 18 and 22 he hit in his next two seasons. His once reliable ISO to the opposite field, however, has dipped well below .200 in two straight seasons. That conspires to affect his AVG negatively as well, but it indicates that his power is becoming dependent on his ability to pull the ball.
Still, many hitters continue to make their livings that way. Dodger Stadium’s park factor to right field is in the top half of the league, so his current environs have helped him to stave off the decay a bit. Gonzalez’s average home run distance dipped in 2012, but it has rebounded to pre-surgery levels since.
An RBI total isn’t indicative of player value. But some players have consistently delivered them. Gonzalez is repeatedly in position to do so, and his skills as a hitter aid his quest to do so. He’s driven in 100 or more in seven of the last eight seasons, and in the one he didn’t, the mark was 99. Nothing about the Dodgers’ and his situations seems likely to change much and thus affect his prospect to approach the century mark again. His 2015 Steamer projection of 88 is a tad low.
Gonzalez, then, could again come at a discount. Rankings based on 2015 Steamer projections adjusted for position, thanks to Daniel Schwartz, suggest that A-Gon looks like a top-50 asset and the sixth-best 1B heading into next season. But, really, does he look like the sixth-sexiest 1B? Edwin Encarnacion is curvier. Prince Fielder could join E5, and Brandon Belt or Matt Adams or Eric Hosmer or somebody else could accompany them. A lot will happen (although not necessarily change) between now and next spring to drive up interest in some players, too.
Maybe the sale on Gonzalez won’t be so noteworthy next year since he’s coming off one in which the backdrop makes him look better. That’d be a little disappointing. But that’d probably be the only aspect of owning him that would qualify as disappointing. He’s been pretty valuable in every year of his career. Even if his numbers suffer a little more (.265 AVG, 20 HR, and 90 RBI?), he’s still going to be quite a commodity when all is said and done. That kind of thing isn’t sexy, but it gets the job done. His floor is higher than that of most others. Players like him show an advantage to rankings based on projections and not just preferences, as Pod essentially pointed out.
Nicholas Minnix oversaw baseball content for six years at KFFL, where he held the loose title of Managing Editor for seven and a half before he joined FanGraphs. He played in both Tout Wars and LABR from 2010 through 2014. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasMinnix.