As a lefty who can spin curves that put Beyonce to shame (okay, not really), Gio Gonzalez garners attention. Gio whiffed 10.3 batters per nine innings on the farm and rated among Baseball America’s top 100 prospects prior to the 2006-2009 seasons. Yet, Gonzalez’s errant control has aggravated decision-makers enough that the 24 year-old has been traded three times-twice by the White Sox.
Last season, Gonzalez was pummeled for a 5.75 ERA in 98.2 frames for the A’s. Or was he? While Gio’s control remained poor (5.11 BB/9), he struck out 9.94 batters per nine innings and posted an above-average 46.1 percent ground ball rate, leading to a 4.02 expected FIP (xFIP). Gonzalez’s decent work was obscured by a .369 BABIP and a near-14 percent home run per fly ball rate. Prior to 2010, I wondered if Gonzalez could trade some of those K’s for fewer free passes:
It’s difficult to say what kind of pitcher Gonzalez will become as he gains more experience in the big leagues. We can dream of a day when he’ll still be whiffing bunches of batters, without the walks flowing as freely as Gatorade in the dugouts.
Granted, pitchers almost never make gains in one area without sacrificing in another. For that walk rate to go down, Gonzalez is going to have to toss more pitches around the plate. That means more contact and fewer K’s. But the trade-off would certainly be beneficial. Easier said than done, though.
So far, Gonzalez has done just that. Last year, he located 44.6 percent of his pitches within the strike zone, with a 53 first pitch strike percentage (the MLB averages are 48-51% and 57-58%, respectively). In 2010, Gio has put 47.6 percent of his offerings over the plate, while getting strike one 56.2 percent of the time.
In ’09, Gonzalez threw his four-seam fastball for a strike at a league average 64 percent rate, while his upper-70’s breaking ball was thrown for strikes just 53.7 percent of the time (58% MLB average). In 2010, his four-seamer is getting strikes 66.8 percent and the curve is up to 57.4 percent. Those gains have lead to a decrease in his walk rate. No one will mistake Gonzalez for a marksman on the mound, but his 4.4 BB/9 figure is promising.
The extra strikes have led to an increase in contact rate (from 74.4% in ’09 to 78.2%), but that’s still below the 80-81% MLB average. Gonzalez’s swinging strike rate is down from 10.3% to 8.9%. Again, though, that’s better than the big league average, which is slightly above eight percent. Gio is still getting a good number of whiffs, with 8.48 K/9.
With better luck, a few more grounders (48.7 GB%) and improved control, Gonzalez has posted a 3.82 xFIP. And odds are, he’s still there for the taking: Gio is owned in just 12 percent of Yahoo leagues. He’s a volatile talent, but Gonzalez appears to be making the necessary strides to establish himself as a quality major league starter.
A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at email@example.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.