Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
History buffs will remember that Theodore Roosevelt used the slogan "Speak softly and carry a big stick" during his time as America's 26th president.
No player embodies this century-old creed quite like Boston Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.
Maybe they should start calling him the "Trust Buster."
The Boston media is always on the hunt for a good sound bite and when Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz are in attendance, they usually get it. Hence the strange assortment of nicknames the two have acquired over the years (Big Papi, Laser Show, Muddy Chicken and La Luna).
But does anybody even know what Gonzalez's voice sounds like?
He's Boston's silent assassin, quietly dominating the box scores while Bobby Valentine and Carl Crawford eat up all the headlines.
That's not to say people don't know about Gonzalez. Sure they do. The guy's a four-time All-Star and a three-time Gold Glove award winner.
But even Gonzalez's most passionate supporters couldn't have predicted the kind of second half he's having, especially after the 30-year-old underachieved during the season's first three months (.274, 6 HR, 43 RBI).
Gonzalez has absolutely punished American League pitching in recent weeks. His .369 average since the break is second-best in the AL behind Oakland outfielder Yoenis Cespedes (.376) and his 40 RBI in that time are the most in the major leagues. The .654 slugging percentage Gonzalez has posted in 34 second half games ranks fourth in the American League while his slick 1.065 OPS is the AL's third-highest.
Over this past weekend in the Bronx, Gonzalez hammered a pair of home runs, giving him nine since the start of the second half and 15 for the season. His batting average, which dipped as low as .256 during a prolonged slump in mid- June, has since risen to a much more Adrian Gonzalez-like .307.
The recent surge in run production for Gonzalez has him tied with Los Angeles slugger Albert Pujols for fifth in the American League (85 RBI). Gonzalez should be close to reaching his fifth-career 100-RBI season by the time September rolls around.
We'll never know for sure why Gonzalez wasn't himself in the first half of 2012 but I have a few theories. Hitters are creatures of habit and when that careful balance gets altered, things can go downhill pretty quickly, even for hitters as polished and versatile as Gonzalez.
With the rash of injuries Boston faced early on in the season, Gonzalez found himself hitting as low as three and as high as sixth in the Red Sox batting order. Adjusting to a new slot in the lineup on an almost nightly basis clearly took its toll on Gonzalez, who has since settled in as Boston's everyday cleanup hitter and appears much more comfortable.
The barrage of injuries also forced Gonzalez to move to the outfield, a spot on the field that he is still relatively unfamiliar with (21 career starts in right field compared to 1,082 lifetime appearances at first base). It seemed like Gonzalez was so paranoid about the possibility of screwing up in right field that he briefly forgot how to hit. Gonzalez struggled to a .254 average with just one homer during his 18-game tenure as Boston's starting right fielder.
Now that Gonzalez has been able to eliminate some of these distractions, he looks like his old self again, perhaps even better. In fact, though Gonzalez is swinging at more pitches than usual (he has swung at 51 percent of the pitches he has seen in 2012 versus 46.7 percent for his career), he's making better contact than he has in any of his previous eight major league seasons. Gonzalez has made contact on 83.7 percent of his cuts this year, up from 81.7 percent in 2011.
By making better contact, Gonzalez has been able to cut down on strikeouts and put the ball in play more frequently. Gonzalez has struck out in 16.4 percent of his at bats this year, his lowest strikeout rate since 2004 when he appeared in only 16 games as a rookie for the Texas Rangers.
Gonzalez's ability to handle lefthanders (.305 in 167 at bats this season) and his knack for hitting to all fields have made him especially challenging to pitch to during his current hot-streak. Gonzalez bopped a towering two-run shot to left field on Saturday, giving him six opposite field blasts for the season. Eleven of the 27 bombs Gonzo hit in 2011 went to the opposite field.
Even with the Red Sox slipping further and further out of the Wild Card race, Gonzalez has remained one of the most trusted names in fantasy. His dual eligibility at outfield and first base makes Gonzalez even more valuable than he's been in the past by giving owners a chance to slot two top-hitting first baseman into their lineup at the same time. I've actually employed this strategy on my own team by using Gonzalez as one of my five outfielders and starting Adam Dunn at first base.
Don't expect Gonzalez to tweet a lot or say something that might end up on a t-shirt, but you can definitely expect him to continue carrying a big stick.
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