Washington Nationals: Gio Gonzalez’s 2017 report card

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 12: Gio Gonzalez /

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez enjoyed a tremendous bounce-back season in 2017. What grade does he deserve?

Throughout Gio Gonzalez‘s six seasons with the Washington Nationals, he has been among the most enigmatic players in the league. He finished third in NL Cy Young Award voting in 2012, but has been rather erratic ever since.

2013, 2014, and 2015 were solid seasons for Gonzalez, but he was consistently near the bottom of the league in walks allowed. He got results, but he was usually working out of jams and it was never pretty.

Then, Gonzalez’s control issues caught up with him in 2016, as he pitched to a 4.57 ERA, the worst of his Nats tenure. However, the Nats exercised their club option on him and retained him for 2017.

Gonzalez was rumored to be a trade target of the New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates, among other teams, prior to the 2017 season, but ultimately remained with the Nats.  Looking back, we can now say that this was one of Mike Rizzo’s best decisions.

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The Nationals had arguably the best starting rotation in the league in 2017, and Gonzalez played a major role in this. When all was said and done, he went 15-9 with a 2.96 ERA, the fifth-best in the National League.

In addition to his spectacular traditional stats, sabermetrics also point to Gonzalez being an elite pitcher in 2017. According to Baseball Reference, Gonzalez had the second-highest WAR among NL pitchers, behind only Max Scherzer.

For most of 2017, Gonzalez was actually in the conversation for the NL Cy Young Award. An unspectacular finish to the season took him out of the running to be a finalist, but he should still receive some votes. The fact that Gonzalez was in the conversation at all speaks to the phenomenal season he put together.

While Gonzalez was by no means a bad pitcher over the previous few seasons, he was not the pitcher he was in 2017. There are a few things that likely attributed to his sudden resurgence.

According to FanGraphs, Gonzalez’s ground ball percentage was on par with his career-norms in 2017, but he induced the most soft contact of his career. He has one of the best curveballs in the league, but had a tendency to leave it up a bit in previous seasons, making it extremely hittable. In 2017, he did a much better job of keeping it down in the zone, a pitch nearly impossible to square up.

Gonzalez also had a new primary battery-mate in 2017. Matt Wieters did not produce much offensively, but has received some credit for Gonzalez’s resurgence.

People around the team have said that Wieters focused on speeding Gonzalez up between pitches, which made him more effective. Gonzalez also said that he enjoyed pitching to Wieters because he is a large target behind the plate.

Now, Gonzalez enters what could potentially be his last season with the Nats. His 2018 option vested when he reached 180 innings in September, so he is guaranteed to come back in 2018, barring anything unexpected.

However, 2018 is Gonzalez’s last season under contract. He will be 33 at the the end of the 2018 season, so he will theoretically be beginning to decline. He has always been somewhat erratic, but if he has a similar season to 2017 in 2018, there is no reason not to bring him back for a couple more years.

Next: Jordan Zimmermann a possible trade target

After a few unspectacular seasons, Gonzalez bounced back with a Cy Young-caliber season in 2017. Because of this, he gets a well-deserved A.