31 March 2016

Does Miguel Gonzalez's Orioles Career End Here?

With the regular season only a few days away, major-league teams must make the final moves to prepare their rosters for the 162-game haul. Some clubs must decide who will serve as the fourth outfielder; others will choose the backups for the starting catcher and infielders. And for teams like the Orioles, it means they must conclusively determine their starting pitching situation.

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 tampered with developed, Gonzalez stands out as perhaps the biggest success. Before the Orioles signed him in the 2011 offseason, he was an oft-injured 27-year-old farmhand with 5.0 innings in Triple-A and zero innings in the majors. Then he broke out in 2012, twirling a 3.25 ERA over 105.1 innings to support the team's Cinderella run. That kicked off a three-year stretch of solid starting pitching, in which Gonzalez posted a 3.45 ERA in 75 games (69 starts — nice) and 435.2 innings. Dan Duquette and Co. seemed to have found a diamond in the massive minor-league free agent rough.

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.


Roger said...

Based upon performance, it's hard to believe that the $5M couldn't be better spent elsewhere. If they had released him before arb then there would have been more options still left on the market to consider. Now, Miguel gets $2M anyway and there are few options for an upgrade.

That being said, it's hard to believe that Wilson/Wright/Worley would not represent an upgrade that's cheaper. I am absolutely convinced that Wilson, in particular, will be a worthy SP. No one likes his low K totals but his command and consistency will play well. He looks a helluva lot better than Jimenez/Gallardo this spring.

Jon Shepherd said...

I imagine MiGo was a bet and it did not work out.

Pip said...

It is indeed sad, but Gonzo leaves with career earnings of several million dollars, a pension and free health insurance forever, so shed no tears.
Wilson and Wright are up now because Dan gave Zack Davies to the Brewers for two awful months of Parra.
(Davies was sent to AAA, but with the assurance that he's first up when the need arises. And he had a very good spring.)
And Dan makes trades like that all the time.
For THAT, we should shed many tears.
Meanwhile, Jon/Ryan, how is the waiver wire/opt-out/release department looking?
Lots of arms being dumped, none of interest to a GOOD team, but perhaps of more than passing interest to us.
Anything that has caught your eye in the last 24 hours or so?

Ryan Romano said...

Yeah. They gambled that he could rebound from 2015, but his spring training play (and velo, mainly) convinced them that he wouldn't.

Anonymous said...

He was plucked from the Mexican league, "for Chrissakes", as Earl would say. We got 3 good years from him, very lucky! 5.1 mill?!? Should have been non-tendered to begin with. Thanks, and good luck with the White Sox!

Anonymous said...

1.2 million, actually.