Since finishing third in NL Cy Young voting in 2012, Washington Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez has been unable to regain his All-Star form.
Entering the 2013 season, the Washington Nationals couldn’t have been more excited for what the future held for left-hander Gio Gonzalez. Fresh off leading the NL in wins, FIP, HR/9 and K/9, Gonzalez appeared poised for a great career. He was heading into his age-27 season, sported a fastball that averaged 94 and had a contract that extended over at least the next five years.
Unfortunately for both Gonzalez and the Nats, things haven’t gone according to plan. The now-31-year-old has seen his ERA increase every season since that 2012 campaign. He’s seen his fastball velocity drop down to 92, allowed a career-high 19 home runs last season and may not even see his team option picked up in 2018.
While his strikeout numbers have remained consistent, Gonzalez’s allowing more hits and throwing less innings. His hits per nine innings has sat above nine each of the past two seasons, a number Gonzalez never touched after becoming a full-time starter in 2010. He’s also spent several stints on the disabled list, having been unable to reach the 180-inning mark at all since 2013.
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According to the data at Brooks Baseball, Gonzalez has moved away from his fastball in favor of more changeups and sinkers. Hitters smacked line drives on 32 percent of balls in play last year off his fastball, compared to just 22.4 percent in 2012.
As a result, he’s tried to mix in more offspeed — but has found little success. All three of his other pitches have seen jumps of at least five percent in line drive percentage since 2012. That drop in velocity has taken its toll.
Gonzalez has shown flashes of his former self over the years. He posted a 3-1 record to go with a sparkling 1.86 ERA over his first eight starts last season, but then followed it up with a 1-7 mark and 7.66 ERA over his next nine. Despite his up and down history, Gonzalez is still aiming to pitch at a high level this year.
In an interview with MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, Gonzalez said he hopes to make the All-Star team this season.
"“I told Dusty that was a big goal in what I want to do this year, to focus and compete at a high level and try to make the All-Star team. Right now, I just want to snap out of this little funk I’m in. I want to get back to where I belong. I really want to do something this year.”"
The former first round draft pick still has a few weapons left in his arsenal, but it’s up to him and pitching coach Mike Maddux to utilize his strengths and hide his weaknesses. Gonzalez’s curveball generated a 15.2 percent whiff rate last season, his highest mark since 2010. Perhaps if he mixes the knee-buckling pitch in two-strike counts more often than his fastball, Gonzalez can find some success.
Gonzalez’s chapter of Nats history has yet to be completed, but he’s running out of time to etch his name among the best starters to take the mound for this team.