27 August 2015

Is Miguel Gonzalez Broken?

In Matt Perez's solid midseason post on Miguel Gonzalez and his continued ability to outpitch his peripherals, he concluded:
When it comes down to it, Gonzo has been good the past few seasons and is well on his way of having another strong season. Sometimes it’s just better to be lucky than good and no one is going to care about his FIP if he continues to perform at such a high level.
Gonzalez's surprising, confounding success has been a popular and intriguing topic among many O's fans and writers, both on this site and others. The worry with Gonzalez has been: How long can he keep this going? It's possible we've received the answer, and unfortunately it's coming in the thick of the O's hunt for a playoff spot.

Since late June, Gonzalez has been terrible. It's late August now, so he's dealing with a continued stretch of poor results. Overall, Gonzalez is still technically outperforming his FIP -- he has a 4.78 ERA and a 5.08 FIP -- but not nearly to the ridiculous extent of his three previous seasons. I wrote a couple weeks ago for MASNsports.com that Gonzalez hasn't been able to maintain the low BABIP and high strand rate of years past. But it's not like he's been a completely different pitcher. His strikeouts are up a bit, his walks are about the same, he's getting more ground balls, opposing batters aren't hitting the ball as hard against him, he has maintained his velocity, etc. 

That brings us back to Ryan Romano's excellent analysis in the offseason breaking down how Gonzalez pitches with the bases empty vs. with runners on base. Ryan noted that Gonzalez opts for more sinkers instead of four-seamers with runners on base, which led to fewer fly balls and multi-run homers. We obviously know that Gonzalez has pitched much worse this year with runners on base, but let's see if he's altered his pitch usage from years past.

With runners on base this season, Gonzalez has opted for fewer four- and two-seamers and replaced them with sliders. With the bases empty, Gonzalez has thrown even fewer two-seamers and fewer splitters. So maybe it's not surprising that he has allowed a bunch of non-solo home runs in 2015.

Let's check out his pitch locations from previous seasons to this one.

Bases empty:

And with runners on:

Gonzalez has kept the ball lower than normal with the bases empty, while he's been keeping the ball more in the middle of the plate (along with inside and outside) when the bases are occupied. It's obviously a smaller sample of innings than what Gonzalez had from 2012-2014, but perhaps this partially explains why Gonzalez's BABIP has jumped significantly and his HR/FB rate has more than doubled when runners are on base.

These seem like fixable problems. It would be more concerning if his velocity dipped or he stopped getting strikeouts (not that he's spectacular in either category). Then again, we're also talking about a pitcher who appeared out of nowhere and produced quickly. It wouldn't be that surprising if he slowly flamed out, though it would be disappointing.

Still, it's not like the Orioles have a bunch of great starting pitching options heading into 2016 -- and they definitely don't right now. The O's will likely have to replace Wei-Yin Chen in the rotation next season, and if Gonzalez is no longer the 2012-2014 version, eventually they'll have yet another hole in the rotation to fill.

Gonzalez was a great find, and he's really helped the Orioles these last few years. But if you're worried about him going forward, you're not alone.


Jon Shepherd said...

It seems my insistence on the club dealing Norris or Gonzalez last off season looks far better than probably my process going about it.

Simply, I could not find something I would consider a true skill to explain there performance. With Gausman in the wings, it made sense to try to deal a pitcher I could not explain.

That said...front offices often talk themselves into believing performance over skill identification.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Yeah. The O's tried to trade Norris this offseason after they realized they wouldn't be able to unload Jimenez. I'm pretty sure they also dangled Gonzalez at the trade deadline last year, probably because they really didn't want to part with Eduardo Rodriguez, but finally relented.

The starting rotation looks like a real problem.

Unknown said...

I can't count how many times Miguel has served up an absolute meatball down the middle when he's way ahead in the count. He also seems to give in to hitters' counts too often. Sometimes the best pitch is the one that hits the dirt before it hits the opponent's bat. He's won 9 games this year and he's in the middle of a bad stretch but he should be able to right himself. He needs an outing with some early run support so he can relax and pitch the way he's capable. Os bats have done him few favors since the break.

Jon Shepherd said...

Four is at most what you would count to. Four of Gonzalez's 24 home runs allowed this year have come in 0-2 and 1-2 counts. I would have to look at the databases to see the placement of those pitches.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Here are the pitch locations of those four home runs. So yeah, three of those locations are bad.

Still, for the most part, Gonzalez has pitched lower in the zone this season. Anyway, he's outpitched his peripherals for years, and the run could be over.

Jon Shepherd said...

Still seems like a rather unremarkable number. In comparison, Chen has given up 6 home runs in similar circumstances. Additionally, if one only throws down in the zone and not up then I wonder how beneficial it becomes to throw low. It appears part of Gonzo's success has been about keeping hitters off balance and taking advantage of the interplay of his fastball and offspeed pitches. If you isolate yourself to the bottom third, then you can get zeroed in on. Additionally, "pitches in the dirt" are useful typically for pitchers with blazing fastballs and sharp breaking balls. A pitcher like Gonzalez is not going to be successful depending on the a swing and miss like that. His approach is more about passing through or near the zone at a time where the bat has already gone through or will soon go through.

Boss61 said...

Does this rotation strike fear in the hearts of opponents (assumes no Chen or Gonzo):

McFarland or Stevie Johnson


Didn't think so. But the capsizing ship is righted with David Price, who might be worth the price.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Mike Wright is an option. Dylan Bundy would be too, if he's ever able to stay healthy. Not sure why Steve Johnson would be in consideration.

I think Price and Greinke are pipe dreams. Jimenez's deal was the most expensive free agent contract the O's ever handed to a pitcher, and that was $50 million. Price and Greinke could see three or four times that. Should the O's do it? Maybe. Will they? Likely not.

Jon Shepherd said...

They could sign Price if they wind up fielding a 20 man active roster for the next several years.

Anonymous said...

Jimenez's deal was the most expensive free agent contract the O's ever handed to a pitcher, and that was $50 million.

With the benefit of hindsight, it seems that signing Jimenez might be one of the worst recent moves made by the Orioles front office... because it creates TWO extra question marks in the 2016 rotation.

(Why two? Because Jimenez hasn't been consistently effective with this team to justify his price tag, and the money saved from his contract would have been enough to allow the organization to re-sign Chen... even if the price tag is $12-15M/year for 4 years.)

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Yeah, it doesn't look great, but until recently his deal was at least looking better. If he pitches like 2014 Ubaldo for the rest of the season, though, then that doesn't seem promising.

Jon Shepherd said...

Jimenez has provided surplus value so far this year. He would need to completely tank to counter that. He is about a +3 MM guy at the moment. He should finish around +5. He is the kind of pitcher you actually want as a 4 starter. A guy who has the potential run off a few ace-like performances while also shouldering some stinkers.

For the Orioles, the price tag is a bit of an albatross, but he is valuable where he is. If he is too much dead weight, the club can probably move him for a very modest return. Maybe a hard throwing reliever prospect or a fringe non-tender candidate.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I agree. And the O's already need to figure out at least one or two spots in the rotation next year; that's without worrying about what to do with Jimenez. He can be incredibly frustrating to watch, but he's at least competent.

Philip said...

I liked Miguel, but he outperformed his peripherals so much I wondered if the peripherals themselves were flawed in some way.
I wanted to trade him to the Mariners for Michael Saunders and let Gausman I to the rotation, a very good idea( I still believe) that wouldn't have worked well for either team.
I think Steve Johnson can do well, and there was mention of Mike Wright.
I don't think TJ can reliably start in a regular basis, but what about Tyler Wilson?
Also, the Astros are laden with quality pitching. Do we have anything of interest to the Astros that could acquire Collin Mchugh?
Mchugh was a non-prospect that had potential that never seemed to develop, while he bounced from Mets to Rockies to Astros, but it seems that the problem was diet-related.
He discovered a gluten allergy and when he changed his diet, he improved enormously, but probably isn't in Houston's long term plans, and I think he has two years remaining before free agency. Would love to get him.
He's also a really fine human being, FWIW.