Nationals fans were not sure what to expect when the team traded four valued prospects for Gio Gonzalez in December 2011. The Nats sent pitchers Tom Milone, Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole and catcher Derek Norris to the Oakland A’s to secure Gio’s services. Nats fans were familiar with Milone and Peacock because they had seen them pitch as September callups and both pitchers appeared to perform well. There had been buzz about how good a prospect Derek Norris was for quite some time. Fans and some members of the media wondered whether Mike Rizzo had just pulled the trigger on a great trade, or whether, if Gio did not perform well, whether the Nats had just cashiered their starting pitching future.
There was discussion about how Gonzalez was known for control problems, and walked too many batters. Folks speculated that Gio’s numbers might get better without having to face a DH on a regular basis, and speculation that his numbers would look worse not getting to pitch regularly in Oakland’s park.
Rizzo seemed to have no doubts about what he had acquired in the trade, because he locked Gonzalez down to a long term contract on January 15, 2012, three weeks after the trade was completed.
Gonzalez went on to have the best year ever for a Nationals pitcher.
2012 Prediction (ZiPS): 14-10, 3.55 ERA, 32 starts, 195.3 IP, 83BB/190K
2012 Actual (with Washington): 21-8, 2.89 ERA, 32 starts, 199.1 IP, 76BB/207K
As can be seen from the pre-season prediction from ZiPS vs. the actual performance numbers, Gio had a much better season than expected. Each year that Gonzalez has been in the majors he has improved his wins, total walks allowed, ERA and WHIP. Gonzalez improved his statistics by a much larger magnitude this year. Instead of the steady progression of improvement he made in his prior three years as a starter, Gio made a major leap to elite pitching status this season.
Gio’s twenty-one wins were the most in a season for a Washington pitcher. He was named to his second consecutive All Star team. He won the Warren Spahn Award–given to the best left handed pitcher. He is in the running for the Cy Young award.
Nationals fans now know what they have in Gio Gonzalez. He is a pitcher just hitting his prime, who features a good fastball and a great curveball. Nats fans can look forward to having Gio on the mound every fifth start, racking up wins and getting hitters to whiff at that nasty curve.
The Gonzalez trade with the A’s granted the Nats another benefit late in the season. The A’s were comfortable enough utilizing Derek Norris as a back up catcher that they were willing to trade Kurt Suzuki to the Nationals. Suzuki made valuable contributions to the Nats down the stretch.
Gonzalez is an outsized personality. He is always smiling and joking. He has been known to get Stephen Strasburg to laugh and Jordan Zimmerman to crack a smile. When he is on the mound, though, he is all business.
Season Highlight: On August 8th, Gonzales threw his second complete game of his career when the Nationals were playing the Houston Astros. Gio hit his first career home run during that game off Armando Galarraga, a two run shot that made all the difference in the game. The Nats won the game 4-3.
Chien Ming Wang