LAD 2016 1st Base postmortem
Adrian Gonzalez has been the Dodger full-time 1st baseman since he was acquired on August 24th, 2012. Adrian made about as big a splash as anyone could, slugging a memorable three-run home run in his first Dodger at-bat. At the time of the trade, the Dodgers were three full games back of the Giants, they would finish eight games back going only 18 – 18 over their final 36 games. The Dodgers did not make the postseason in 2012, but they have won the NL West every year since that time with Adrian playing just about every game.
The Dodgers have played 522 games since acquiring Adrian, and he has played in 502 of them. He is a workhorse but I’m not sure if the Dodgers really wanted to play him this much in 2016. The early injury to Scott Van Slyke, and then the reluctance of Dave Roberts to use Scotty when he came back left me unsure if they ever intended for Adrian to get more days off or not.
Over those 3 1/2 years, Adrian has almost always been the Dodgers clean up hitter. The butter and egg man.
This year, Adrian’s clients must have been on a diet, because the butter and egg man wasn’t delivering as many eggs and the butter tasted more like margarine. The bad streaks are getting longer, the good streaks are getting shorter, and the home run power was dropping precipitously. His ISO dropped to 150 a 25% drop from his 2015 ISO of 2015. The slug% from .480 to .435. His career slug% is .492.
For the first time since becoming a Dodger, Adrian Gonzalez was more of a drag on the offense than an anchor. Using FanGraphs we can compare Adrian to his peers at 1st base in the NL. Using 400 plate appearances as the cutoff this is how he measured up.
Like many hitters, Adrian is a streaky hitter but the streaks in 2016 didn’t last long enough for him. If you look month by month for Adrian related to home runs you see someone who had two monster months in 2015 and 2014, but only one in 2016. Below is a simple chart of the number of months since 2013 that Adrian hit at least five home runs in a month.
|2015||Twice||8 and 8|
|2014||Twice||8 and 8|
|2013||Twice||5 and 5|
With the present not very productive, how does the future look?
It is not surprising that at age 34 Adrian Gonzalez had his least productive season. The Dodgers are on the hook for two more years at $21,500,000 for each year. It would appear for now that the Dodgers will be stuck with Adrian for two more years. Unlike Carl Crawford, he is still useful but it would behoove the front office to find a more viable backup 1st base option in 2017 to help take the load off of Adrian. He may simply need more games off as he gets older, and given his struggles against LHP, it would probably be a great idea to make sure that secondary 1st base option is right handed. Will they go with Scott Van Slyke again or possibly make a play for a Danny Valencia/Steve Pearce/David Freese type who don’t have the health history of Van Slyke while having a better history against left-handed pitchers.
Mark Teixeira gave 35-year-old 1st baseman hope in 2015 when he bounced back from his 2014 season to post his best season since he was 29. His 36-year-old season in 2016 was not so kind and he decided to retire.
Only 28 seasons of a 1st baseman since 2005 have played 1st base at the age of 35 or older, with at least 400 plate appearances. Most of the dismal seasons happened age 36 or older, the odds look good that Adrian can still be productive in 2017 at age 35. Can he be better than he was in 2016?
If the Dodgers don’t trade Cody Bellinger the future would appear to be Cody Bellinger, who many consider the Dodgers top positional prospect. Cody is athletic enough to play the outfield as well as first base. He’s considered a top notch defensive 1st baseman. You could tell the Dodgers thought highly enough of him this spring that they gave him a long look in the spring which was quite unusual for a player who had never even played AA ball. This summer after a slow start, Bellinger proved to the doubters that the power he displayed in the Cal League was not a mirage.
As a 20-year-old in AA, Bellinger hit 23 home runs and posted a .221 ISO. Those 23 home runs were the most of any 20 year-old in the league. They would have been the most of any 21-year-old in the league if not for his 21-year-old teammate Willie Calhoun. Bellinger posted a .979 OPS in AA in August and was promoted to AAA to help them in the playoffs.
Replacing the good Adrian Gonzalez circa 2014/2015 might have been a tough task, but the 2016 version of Adrian sets a lower bar. That said the Dodgers probably want to get better at 1st base not tread water and expecting Bellinger to be better than Adrian would probably be asking too much in 2017. Still, Bellinger let the Dodgers know they might have a replacement, the question might be when, and it might be sooner than people think.
It would not shock me if the Dodgers did trade Adrian Gonzalez this winter. He’s already been involved in four big trades, it might be five soon enough. The contract isn’t horrible. This front office is creative and I’m not sure they really want Adrian Gonzalez to be the cleanup hitter in 2017. At least I doubt they want the 2016 version of Adrian Gonzalez to be the cleanup hitter in 2017.