Baltimore knows that Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Yovani Gallardo, and Kevin Gausman will (in some order) occupy the 2016 rotation. Tillman rebounded somewhat in the second half of 2015, and his solid work prior has earned him the Opening Day start for the third straight year. Jimemez and Gallardo have solid resumes and pricey contracts, both of which will grant them some job security, deserved or not. And once Kevin Gausman returns from his shoulder injury, his flame-throwing arm will allow him to take the hill every fifth day.
The doubt comes beyond that. Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson each started some games last season, but neither has really impressed to this point. While Vance Worley has some talent, the fact that the Pirates put him on waivers tells you about his potential. Yet each of these three apparently has more potential than Miguel Gonzalez, with whom the Orioles have decided to part ways. After a solid run for the Birds, it looks as though Gonzalez has reached the end of the road.
Out of the many pitching prospects that Rick Peterson has
Then the wheels came off in 2015. Gonzalez deflated to a 4.91 ERA over 144.2 frames. It could have been a fluke, but since he'd outperformed his FIP in the prior years (more on that in a moment), this appeared to indicate that his luck had run out. He sealed his fate with a ghastly stint in Sarasota, stumbling his way to a 9.78 ERA in 19.1 spring training innings. That takes us to where we are now: Gonzalez on waivers and the Orioles looking elsewhere to round out their rotation.
In retrospect, we should note that Gonzalez's decline happened not in 2015, but in 2014. Over the first two years of his career, Gonzalez allowed 3.87 runs per nine innings and tallied a 3.64 DRA, both above-average marks. DRA reflected some of the more advanced areas in which Gonzalez excelled — chiefly, his ability to limit production at the plate. Despite facing difficult competition (he had an opponent TAv of .265 over those two seasons), Gonzalez held hitters to a combined TAv of just .254*. Because DRA focuses so much on plate appearance outcomes, this helped Gonzalez's case immensely.
*TAv is scaled so that the MLB average is .260.
When the success at the plate went away, Gonzalez should have given up more runs. In 2014, batters knocked Gonzalez around to the tune of a .278 TAv, driving his DRA up to 4.91. He didn't have quite as low a BABIP in that year as he did in the preceding ones, and home runs plagued him like never before. But Gonzalez got lucky: He allowed just 3.45 runs per nine innings and cruised through the season (when healthy). Gonzalez had the same problems in 2015 that he had in 2014 — too many hits and long balls leading to an inflated TAv — except his good fortune vanished. His 5.04 RA matched his 4.80 DRA and doomed him to the waiver wire.
For two or three years, depending on your preference of peripherals or results, Gonzalez was a respectable, major league-caliber starting pitcher. That's a phenomenal feat for someone who endured as many hurdles — a recurring knee ailment, Tommy John surgery, numerous trips up and down the minor leagues, and the premature death of his close friend — as he did. Still, 31-year-old pitchers who lose their touch usually won't get it back. While the memories he gave us during the 2012 and 2014 runs make this a painful decision, ultimately it'll benefit the team to run out someone such as Worley or Wright.