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.