Gio Gonzalez: National League Ranking


Sep 12, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez (47) pitches against the New York Mets during the first inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the month, we will be ranking each Nationals starter and a couple of bench players to see where they rank at their positions in the National League. Earlier this week, we ranked Jordan Zimmermann and Tanner Roark. Today we will be continuing our series with Gio Gonzalez.

In these rankings, we will be using statistics from the last two seasons to give us a bigger sample size – to see just how good Nationals players are. In this effort, we will see which parts of the team need to be fixed and which are solid compared to the rest of the league. The first step for the Nationals is to win the division, so if any National League East player comes across in our findings, we will be sure to point it out. If not, the main goal is winning the National League Pennant and going to the World Series.

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I will analyze standard offensive and defensive statistics, as well as advanced statistics. This will give us a full picture of who the best players are at that position. To put the players in some type of order, we will be using WAR. That gives us a baseline to start the analysis.

You’re going to notice a trend with my reviews. I chose players that have the reputation of being solid veterans, of good players, but of whom I’m not quite sold on. My eyes haven’t convinced me of their dependability.

So this is sort of my analytical therapy.

I probably shouldn’t be surprised to see Gonzalez ranked 11th in the NL in total fWAR over the last two years, but I am. Shocked. Gonzalez’s 6.2 fWAR places him just ahead of the Braves Julio Teheran and the Rockies Jorge de la Rosa. He also sits just above the Mets Matt Harvey who spent last season recovering from Tommy John surgery. That 6.2 over the last two seasons means Gonzalez has earned roughly 42% more in terms of win shares as opposed to the median of 3.6 for all qualified starters. Not bad.

If you’re wondering if that number jumps up for those actually pitching across two seasons, it doesn’t. For pitchers making at least 50 starts, the median jumps to a whopping 3.7, or Gonzalez earning 40.3% more in terms of win shares.

I’m looking at only the last two years. Add in 2012 when Gonzalez lead the Major Leagues with 21 wins and a 2.82 FIP, third with a 9.35 K/9, and fourth in fWAR at 5.1, and now we’re discussing a pitcher that jumps to seventh in the NL in cumulative fWAR at 11.3, less than ½ a win behind Stephen Strasburg and a full win behind Jordan Zimmermann. In those three years, his 9.12 K/9 ranks fourth in the NL.

The strikeouts are pretty special, admittedly. Gonzalez is something of a strikeout maestro. Over the last three years, Gonzalez ranks fourth in the NL (behind Strasburg, Clayton Kershaw, and Francisco Liriano) in K/9 and for giggles, if we open that up to the Majors, Gonzalez sits at a comfortable ninth.

For his career, Gonzalez has struck out 8.86 over nine, placing him 20th in all of baseball since the start of the Expansion Era in 1961. You read that correctly. Gonzalez strikes out more per nine that notable K masters such as Roger Clemens, Johan Santana, and David Price. One name, a few places down the list was Sid Fernandez, and he’s the one that Gonzalez reminds me of the most. Lots of strikeouts. Lots of walks.

That’s the thing. With Gonzalez, the strikeouts help to minimize the damage done when he gets erratic and begins walking batters. Over the last three seasons, Gonzalez has walked 3.38 batters per nine, 17th in the Majors and eighth in the NL. Over the last three years, Gonzalez has 16 occurrences where he’s walked four or more batters in a game, which is shockingly only 13th in the Majors over that time. If you’re wondering, Ubaldo Jimenez tops that list with 30 with Justin Masterson at second with 27.

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Gonzalez strikes out a lot, walks a lot, and connecting the dots here, Gonzalez is fairly difficult to hit. In his career, batters hitting a measly .228 against the lefty. Over the last three years, that average drops to .218 and that places Gonzalez fourth in the Majors and third in the NL behind perennial Cy Young recipient Kershaw and the equally dangerous Johnny Cueto. Gonzalez is amongst the elite.

Am I name dropping? Is it intentional? You bet it is. Gonzalez is legit, and if the walks are maddening to watch, they also make him a difficult pitcher to square up a fastball. For fun, I looked up the most games thrown with a Game Score of 80 or more (Game Score is a Bill James derived metric that measures the strength of a pitchers start by adding and subtracting points for strikeouts, hits allowed, runs, etc. The higher, the better.) and Gonzalez sits at seven such games over the last three years, tied for 12th.

There aren’t any other Nationals up that high. Zimmermann is tied for 22nd with five and Strasburg has three.

If we drop that number to 70 Gonzalez is tied for fifth with 27 such games.

When he’s on, he’s about as unstoppable a force as there is east of the Mississippi, and there are many days when that fourseamer that averages over 93 mph and his sinker can leave batters simply clueless. Batters hit .196 against that fourseamer last season, which is Rod Carew-esque compared to the .155 against his curve.

Like Sid Fernandez back with the Mets in the 80s and early 90s, with Gonzalez you have to live with a few bad outings where finding the strike zone is nearly impossible. There will be days he struggles. Watch out, though, when he’s on because there’s are only a handful of pitchers in the Majors that can be as electrifying and dominant.

Fangraphs has Gonzalez projected to return to career averages for K/9 with an increase in ERA and FIP. His fWAR is projected to come in at 2.0. I don’t know how I feel about that exactly. He hasn’t had a season below 3 since throwing fewer than 100 innings with Oakland in 2009. I find that number to be low.

I’m not quite ready to buy into the Gonzalez from 2012, when he finished third in the NL Cy Young balloting, but I’m ready to give the guy a break.