Over the past few weeks, writers for this blog have written a lot about Miguel Gonzalez (there is no truth to the rumor that this blog will be renamed Gonzalez Depot). Earlier in the year, I wrote that Gonzo was successful because he somehow found a way to get batters to hit the ball straight at fielders and I questioned whether that would continue. Now that it’s been a few months, I figured it makes sense to check and see whether that happened.
This first chart (data harvested via ESPN Stats and Information) shows Gonzo’s performance from the start of the year until June 10 (I’ll call this the first half of the sample for brevity) and then his performance for June 10 until September 2nd (the second half). It shows that he has a slightly worse K-BB% and that he’s given up two more home runs in the second half of the sample compared to the first half of the sample. But his main problem appears to be that his BABIP increased from .236 in the first half to .350 in the second half.
The problem becomes even clearer when looking at these numbers based on whether there the bases were empty, there was a man on first base or whether there was a runner in scoring position. Gonzo was able to reduce the percent of home runs allowed with RISP in the second half of the season compared to the first half as well as improve his K-BB%. But his OPS in those situations increased from .760 to 1.083 probably because his BABIP increased from .088 to .422. All of his numbers are worse in the second half with the bases empty against left-handed batters in the second half and so it’s no surprise they’re hammering him. Earlier this season he was successful because he was able to limit damage with runners on base but that’s not happening anymore.
The explanation isn’t that he’s giving up harder contact or more line drives. This chart shows that he’s given up roughly the same proportion of contact in the first half and the second half. The problem is that opposing batters have been more successful regardless of what type of contact they’ve made.
This next chart shows that Gonzo has allowed more line drives with runners in scoring position and fewer fly balls. However, batters have finally started having some success with ground balls in the second half and are having far more success hitting line drives with runners in scoring position in the second half.
When looking at his pitch data, it seems clear that his fastball has been hit harder in the second half then in the first half. In part, this is because opposing batters had a BABIP of .208 against his fastball in the first half but a BABIP of .350 in the second half. What’s interesting is that in the first half, opposing batters had a BABIP of .205 and a wOBA of .248 against fastballs slower than 90.8 miles per hour while having a BABIP of .193 and a wOBA of .323 against fastballs between 90.8 and 95 miles per hour. In other words, he was successful when his fastball wasn’t effective.
In the second half of the season, batters have absolutely killed fastballs that were slower than 90.8 mph with a BABIP of .462 and a wOBA of .626 and have been slightly weaker against fastballs that were faster than 90.8 mph (BABIP of .321 and a wOBA of .418).
This seems to suggest that Gonzo’s problem is that his luck has run out. Earlier in the year, he was able to get batters out when throwing slow fastballs. When batters were able to make contact (most of the time), the ball went straight to fielders. In the second half of the season, balls have simply been hit away from fielders.
It makes sense that batters would crush slow fastballs so it seems that Gonzo was extremely fortunate that he wasn't drilled earlier in the season. Going forward, he was probably lucky earlier in the season and probably unlucky in the second half of the season. I would think that Gonzo's true performance is somewhere in the middle. The problem is that being somewhere in the middle of these two extremes will result in an ERA in the high 4's and will probably mean that he won't be successful. This suggests that Gonzo needs to find a new method to outperform his projections or else he’ll be in trouble come 2016.