December 21, 2014

Nationals mull Gio Gonzalez, but at what cost?

According to this report by esteemed MLB.com beat reporter Bill Ladson, the Washington Nationals have made Oakland A’s left-handed starter Gio Gonzalez their “top priority” this off-season, according to an unnamed baseball source.  The report mentions that Oakland is looking for a package of up to four young players.  Ladson specifically mentions that pitcher Brad Peacock and Derek Norris have been mentioned as possible trade candidates.

It’s no secret Oakland is looking to shed payroll and collect prospects in order to lower costs as they continue to try to swindle San Jose into building them a new baseball palace and get permission from Commissioner Bud Selig to move there.  Gonzalez became arbitration eligible this off-season and is due a HUGE raise from last season’s $420,000 contract.  He does not become a free agent until 2016, but should his career stats stay in line with his production of the last two seasons, that might not matter a whole lot to the dollar figures in his contract.  He’s going to get expensive quickly, and that doesn’t figure into Oakland’s plans.

The last two seasons, Gonzalez has quietly been one of the more productive starters in the American League.  He doesn’t get a lot of attention since he plays in relative obscurity in the Oakland market on a not-great team.  But his ERA has been solid (3.23 in 2010, 3.12 in 2011), though outperforms his FIP and xFIP fairly significantly due to extremely low home run rates and a high percentage of runners left on base.  It’s not uncommon for a pitcher to outperform his FIP and xFIP over the course of one season, but it’s interesting when a pitcher does so in back-to-back seasons in an identical manner (see: Lannan, John).

Gonzalez has classic power pitcher numbers: high strikeouts, high walks.  He’s averaged 8.6 K/9 over his four-year career and 4.4 BB/9.  He’s been able to mitigate his high walk rate with a low H/9 rate (7.7 in ’10, 7.8 in ’11) and low HR/9 rate (0.67 in ’10, 0.76 in ’11).  That’s predominantly why he’s been able to strand runners at rates over 77 percent.  He does generate a fair number of ground balls, but hardly elite.

Here’s the big caveat with Gonzalez:  His extra-base hit rates are, in a word, extraordinarily low.  He gives up extra bases at two-thirds the rate the average Major League pitcher does.  By the way, did I mention he has played his home games in the cavernous Oakland Coliseum the last two seasons with one of the best outfield defenses in the game?

What happens when you take a pitcher that gives up a lot of walks and few home runs and put him in a offense-neutral or offense-friendly park?  I think you see where I’m going with this.  Not surprisingly, his home numbers for his career are significantly better than his road numbers in equal playing time.  His ERA is three-quarters of a run higher on the road, with a correspondingly worse average, OBP and slugging against.  His road numbers are not terrible, I should point out, but still significantly worse than the favorable conditions of the Mausoleum.

Bottom line: Gonzalez is a good, but not elite pitcher.  He has had the benefit of playing in one of the biggest ballparks in the game over his career.  If he had enough innings to qualify, he would rank only above Oliver Perez in walks allowed per nine innings among active pitchers.  He’s going to get very expensive very quickly.  The Mat Latos comparisons are not fair. 

Again, Gonzalez has been a very productive pitcher for the A’s the last two seasons, I don’t want to confuse anybody.   His strikeout rates are excellent and very enticing.  But baseball isn’t played in a vacuum.  When conditions changes, results often change.   Don’t let his All-Star designation last season cloud your judgment.  With his walk rate, he’s not an “ace”, and no one should put a trade package together for him as such.  He’s worthy of acquiring, and would bolster the Nats rotation in the No. 3 slot, but not at the cost of depleting the farm system of much of its almost-MLB ready talent as rumored.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

Comments

  1. Dave I couldn’t have said it better myself. I think Gio Gonzalez is a nice young pitcher, but his years of team control are going to be pricey, and moving out of Oakland will negate any benefit of an N.L. move. He’s a good number 3 pitcher on a playoff team, but not worth giving up Peacock, much less Peacock plus Norris.

    If it was a deal of Norris plus Destin Hood and 1 other guy, I wouldn’t have a problem, but it shouldn’t be much more than that.

    • Dave Nichols says:

      Steve, thanks for the comment. As I commented below, if Oakland is going to continue to pursue a “Latos” deal for Gonzalez, I think Rizzo should walk away, much as he reportedly did last season with the Greinke deal which reportedly was for Zimmermann, Desmond, etc.

      • Agreed, if Oakland can get that kinda deal for Gio all the power to them, but any deal involving Peacock is a no go in my book.

        At this point I say the go Oswalt for a year, even if they slightly overpay, which lets be honest they can afford. Sure it is only a one year measure and we have to go back to the drawing board next year. But there are some strong FA names next year (Greinke, Cain, Hamels), plus our internal options could be ready. It’s not perfect, but it allows us to compete without mortgaging the future.

      • @Dave “… if Oakland is going to continue to pursue a “Latos” deal for Gonzalez, I think Rizzo should walk away…”

        No Dave, not walk away—–RUN AWAY. Peacock and Norris may be too much for an A’s pitcher. A’s aces when they leave Oakland don’t have a great recent history. Look no further than the total failures in Barry Zito and Mark Mulder. Barry Zito is a head scratcher going from pitcher’s park to pitcher’s park while getting to go from AL to NL but its an area of concern. Gio Gonzalez’s disparity between home and road stats is alarmingly wide.

        Isn’t Gio Gonzalez a slightly better version of John Lannan?

        • Dave Nichols says:

          Andrew, as Gonzalez’ K/9 rates attest, he’s a typical power pitcher, not a nibbler like Lannan. they’re similar that they both continue to outperform their underlying stats, though they do it in different ways. where they are similar is the BB/9 rates and high strand rates. but as commenter Peric pointed out below, Lannan’s park neutral numbers don’t even compare to Gonzalez.

  2. But his ERA has been solid (3.23 in 2010, 3.12 in 2011), though outperforms his FIP and xFIP fairly significantly due to extremely low home run rates and a high percentage of runners left on base. It’s not uncommon for a pitcher to outperform his FIP and xFIP over the course of one season, but it’s interesting when a pitcher does so in back-to-back seasons in an identical manner (see: Lannan, John).

    That’s why (as most of the newer GM’s do) you look at park and defense neutral stats. Oakland is a cavernous park that favors the pitcher and his xFIP.

    So, you look at other stats:

    Gio Gonzalez: 204.6 xIP, tRA 4.09, pRAA 8.8

    That’s about where Buehrle is. Its not as good as John Danks and David Price.

    So, comparing to the Nats:
    the good:
    Jordan Zimmerann: 161.5 xIP, tRA 3.48, pRAA 14.6
    and he had an innings and pitch count limitations.

    the worst:
    John Lannan: 182.3 xIP, tRA 5.04, pRAA -15,1

    So, Gonzalez appears to be a great deal better than Lannan in every single possible way even
    with defense and the ballpark taken into account. Comparing him to Lannan is almost an insult.

    • Dave Nichols says:

      I was not comparing Gonzalez to Lannan in any way other than the fact that they have been able to repeat success despite outperforming their FIP and xFIP. I think the confusion was in my statement “identical manner”. I didn’t mean to imply Gonzalez and Lannan take the same route, just that they each used their own identical manner from year-to-year to acheive success. I hope that clarifies my statement. and thanks for the comment.

  3. Looking at the other possibility mentioned John Danks:

    176.4 xIP, tRA 3.90, pRAA 11.3

    But for the package the Nats are rumored to be offering I agree with your conclusion.
    It ought to be for this guy who has also become very expensive for his small market
    team. And he has exceeded 200 innings more than once:

    David Price 224.7 xIP, tRA 3.70, pRAA 19.6

    • Dave Nichols says:

      Agreed. Price would be an interesting target, and much more in line with the “ace” designation in a package similar to the Latos deal, which apparently Oakland is insisting upon for Gonzalez.

  4. Donny Samson says:

    I’m unsure why everyone is so in love with Peacock. Guy had a good year and I’m really happy he’s on our system but talent experts like Keith Law have put his upside as a #3 or 4 starter but he maybe a bullpen arm because of his inability to be great with his third and fourth pitches.

    His stock will never be higher then right now. Let’s wait around until he has an average year at AAA and then he has no value. It’s to make a move towards contention now. Peacock, Millone, Detwiler etc..they all COULD be good. Gonzalez has been a great pitcher for 2 years in the majors. Those other guys have like 7 good major league starts combined.

    You say Gonzalez will “get expensive” That’s very relative. If he goes 16-8 with a 3.50 era and is the #3 starter on a play=off team then sign me up for the price tag. A rotation of Stras, Zim, Gio, Wang and Lannan or a prospect is a play-off caliber rotation.

    With Flores, Ramos and Norris we have a plethora at catcher.

    Deal Norris Peacock and whatever else reasonable and let’s try to push to the 90 win level now.

    • Dave Nichols says:

      Donny, thanks for the comment. As I tried to illustrate in my analysis, I think Gonzalez is a good, but not great pitcher as you called him. His win totals and ERA are healthy, but the underlying stats, including normalizing for the home ballpark, indicate he’s merely good, especially when you consider his BB/9 and LOB rates. I think Gonzalez is a good candidate to acquire as a “No. 3″ behind Strasburg and Zimmermann, just not at the “No. 1″ price tag Oakland is going to insist upon.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Gonzalez, 26, was an American League All-Star last season, a campaign where he finished 16-12 with a 3.12 ERA, 1.317 WHIP, 197 strikeouts and 91 walks, which led the junior circuit.  That followed his 2010 season where he posted a 15-9 record with a 3.23 ERA and 1.311 WHIP.  For his career, he’s average 8.6 K/9 while walking 4.4 per nine.  For a more elaborate analysis of his career statistics, please click here.  […]

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