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Should the Astros sign Gio Gonzalez?

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As we continue to explore potential fits for the Astros rotation, I stumbled across Gio Gonzalez. I know the initial reaction to a 4.21 ERA pitcher last year may not scream like an ideal signing, but I think there is more here than meets the eye.

Who is Gio Gonzalez

Gonzalez, 33, is a 6’0 203lb Left Hander pitcher, who was taken with the 38th overall pick in the 2004 draft. Here is what John Sickels had to say about him in his prospect retrospective:

Gio Gonzalez was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the supplemental first round of the 2004 draft, out of high school in Miami, Florida. He was considered a certain first round pick as an amateur, but his stock dropped somewhat after an argument between his mother and his high school coach (over his brother) got Gio dismissed from the team.

The White Sox liked his 88-90 MPH fastball along with his big-breaking curve, and he got off to a good start with a 2.25 ERA and a 36/8 K/BB in 24 innings in the Appalachian League. They jumped him up to Kannapolis in the Sally League in August, a huge jump for a high school kid, but he more than held his own with a 3.03 ERA and a 27/13 K/BB in 32 innings. Highly impressed with this, I gave him a Grade B+ in the 2005 book and ranked him as the Number 31 pitching prospect in the game.”

MLB Performance

For his career line, Gonzalez sports a solid 127-97 with a 3.69 ERA (supported by 3.63 FIP) across 1,814 innings. Gonzalez is a 2 time all-star, and has placed within the top 10 on Cy Young voting twice in his career.

Gio’s rough start to his career skews his numbers a little, with his first 2 seasons being well below average. If we removed those, from 2010-2018, Gonzalez’s numbers look even better at 120-86, 3.49 ERA (supported by 3.51 FIP), across 1,681 innings. He has been a strong strike-out type pitcher throughout his career with his K/9 coming in at 8.6 for this period against a 3.6 BB/9.

As we look at filling a #3/#4 type spot, Gonzalez screams the type of starter we would be looking for, averaging 187 innings a year over the past 9 years. He simply provides a durable, above average starter year after year. During that time he’s put up 3+ fWAR per season every single year other than last year.

MLB / Statcast

So let’s take a look at his arsenal for 2018

Statcast / MLB.com / AWS

4-Seamer – 29.3% of pitches, 90.1 MPH, 2,227 RPM, .274 xWOBA, 24.6% Whiff

Sinker – 27.1% of pitches, 89.3 MPH, 2,120 RPM, .344 xWOBA, 12.4% Whiff

Changeup- 22.9% of pitches, 82.7 MPH, 1,631 RPM, .338 xWOBA, 29.4% Whiff

Curve – 20.7% of pitches, 75.7 MPH, 2,715 RPM, .311 xWOBA, 32.4% Whiff

What stands out here is that his Sinker is simply a terrible pitch, neither getting results from soft contact nor strikeouts with the pitch. It seems like an elimination of this pitch would actually help produce significantly better results. Here was what Fangraphs take on it was:

Gio Gonzalez

Damn you Brewers, you stole my thunder. Gonzalez’s sinker was dragging him down (5% SwStr%, 51% GB%) while his pop-up inducing fastball was putting up elite results (11% SwStr%, 26% GB%). With the Nationals, he threw his sinker 28% of the time and the 4-seamer 26% of the time. With the Brewers, it was 40% four-seamer and 19% sinker. His ERA was 4.57 with the Nationals and only 2.13 with the Brewers. Going forward, he just needs to drop the sinker and go with his other pitches”

MLB.com Twitter

This was not new for 2018, across his career, his Sinker has been below average but he has been carried by his other pitches, which graded out significantly better.

2019 Projections

Depth Charts projects a 5-6, 4.39 ERA across 92 innings for Gonzalez in 2019, good for 0.8 WAR. This seems like a surprising take considering he has not pitched that low of an inning count in the past decade.

What would it take?

As a Free Agent, Gonzalez’s signing is a bit easier to get a feel for than a trade candidate.

“27. Gio GonzalezAthletics. Two years, $24MM. Gonzalez, a 33-year-old lefty, can offer stability to the back end of a team’s rotation. He’s averaged 32 starts per year over the past four seasons, mostly with the Nationals. Gonzalez has always had issues with control, but with the right defense and a bit of good fortune he’s capable of a sub-4.00 ERA. While his fastball velocity has fallen off sharply, landing at just over 90 miles per hour over the past two seasons, Gonzalez still gets as many swings and misses as ever. Teams like the A’s, Angels, Reds, Braves, and Giants could be in the mix for a player with this type of stability.”

The comment in regards to velocity falling off sharply seems slightly overstated but should be noted as Fangraphs shows it being fairly steady (0.1 drop last year, and a 2 mph drop since 2014), Statcast showing a 0.1 gain on his 4-seamer compared to last year, but again down about 2-2.5 mph from 3 or so years ago.

Summary

Gonzalez is not an ace, nor does he need to be for our rotation. His days 3.22 ERA that he achieved from 2010-2014 are over, looking more like a high 3’s pitcher to me. That’s not an exciting signing to a lot of people, but I believe provides a similar value to what Dallas Keuchel provided for us last year, and a point of interest is that there were only 38 pitchers who pitched the qualified number of innings (162 IP) with an ERA under 4.

The proposed contract of 2/$24 Million would not break the bank, and would provide the reliable veteran experience and assumingly the predictable performance that would be beneficial to round out a rotation and provide us some redundancy as we look at the rotation. Overall, I do think that 2/$24 is a tad high considering his recent and projected performance, not meeting the $/WAR figure, but I do believe there is a significant improvement possible for Gonzalez with some of Strom’s tutelage – removing the sinker as a primary component.

Would I do it? Well I’m still a believer that we don’t NEED another starter, but in many ways, Gio Gonzalez provides us with an option that does not mortgage the future. $12 Million per year is a significant amount of money, but with the consistency of Gio’s past performances I would feel more comfortable with him than a lot of the other players that have been rumored. The suggested 2 year contract seems amicable for both sides, somewhat limiting our risks on an aging pitcher, as well as providing additional rotation depth as we look at potential departures after next year.

I am not as big of a proponent of the Lefty / Righty starter as many others, but Gonzalez being a lefty is an item of importance to a lot of people. He would replace the void left by Keuchel’s (potential) departure, and I believe provide a similar value at a significantly lower price.

What do you think? Would you want the Astros to pursue signing Gio? What would you offer him contract wise if so? Tell me your predictions for performance in 2019.

Poll

Should the Astros pursue Gio Gonzalez?

This poll is closed

  • 65%
    Yes
    (468 votes)
  • 12%
    No
    (93 votes)
  • 21%
    Meh
    (156 votes)
717 votes total Vote Now