Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
To quote Seinfeld's Cosmo Kramer, Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez is out there and he's loving every minute of it.
So are his fantasy owners.
But that hasn't always been the case. Gonzalez endured some lean years in the wake of Beer-Gate, a clubhouse scandal that will forever be remembered as the downfall of the 2011 Boston Red Sox.
For a while, it seemed like Gonzalez might never recover from it. So frustrating were his struggles that I even referred to Gonzalez as a "glorified singles hitter" in one of my articles.
Despite the criticism, Gonzalez has been firing on all cylinders in 2014. The 31-year-old is leading the league in home runs (nine) and is tied for second in RBI (25). His .313 batting average is the second-highest of his major league career. If the season ended today, the NL MVP conversation would begin and end with Gonzalez's name.
So how did Gonzalez get his mojo back? Or better yet, did he ever really lose it?
Well yes and no. Gonzalez still made excellent contact in the year and a half immediately following his exile from Boston (.294 AVG in 728 at bats), but he wasn't showing much power. During that stretch, A-Gon averaged one home run every 29.1 at bats. His career average is once every 21 at bats. The 22 blasts Gonzalez registered in 2013 felt like an enormous letdown after watching him launch 30.3 home runs per season from 2007 to 2012.
The power that's been eluding Gonzalez for so long has suddenly come back in full force. Right now he's on pace for 49 HR and 135 RBI. Those would both be career highs.
Power surges have a habit of being fluky but this one by Gonzalez has actually been pretty convincing. He's already gone deep five times at Dodger Stadium, never an easy place to go yard (third-to-last in park factor last season).
Gonzalez is also getting plenty of distance on his hits, averaging 398.4 feet per home run, his highest since 2009. That's comparable to Ryan Braun's average (398.0 feet) and significantly higher than Miguel Cabrera's this season (383.0). According to ESPN's Home Run Tracker, only three of Gonzalez's homers have fallen under the "just enough" distinction with the rest easily making it over the fence.
It's not all luck either. Gonzalez has made some noticeable adjustments to his approach. He's been more aggressive, swinging at 53.8 percent of pitches compared to his career average of 49.2. Gonzalez is also taking bigger cuts, as evidenced by his 77.7 percent contact rate, the lowest he's produced since 2009.
That's an important detail because 2009 was the year Gonzalez set a career- high with 40 home runs, fifth-best in the National League. Gonzalez hit just .277 that season, the second-lowest average of his career, which makes sense given his reduced contact rate. Perhaps that will catch up with Gonzalez eventually but for now, his .313 average isn't anything to be concerned about.
Throughout his career, Gonzalez, a left-handed hitter, has done most of his damage against right-handed pitching. That narrative has mostly held true in 2014 with eight of his nine blasts coming against right-handers. But while some hitters are almost a guaranteed out against lefties (Ryan Howard and Chris Davis being notable examples), Gonzalez holds a respectable .279 career average in 1,687 lifetime at bats versus southpaws.
Maybe it's time for me to stop calling Gonzalez a singles hitter and call him what he really is: one of the game's best.