03 September 2015

Has Gonzo's Luck Finally Run Out?

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.


Philip said...

gonzo has a lot of virtues as a pitcher and person, but it seems as if all his luck just ran out and he is pitching the way his stats say he should.
He should be tendered and then traded before next season for whatever he will bring back.
( I wanted Dan to do that with Norris, but no...)
The rotation next year will need a lefty, but will have to include Bundy and Gausman(no options so no choice; they are up or out) as well as Tillman and Jiminez and the TBA Lefty, so Miggy won't be necessary, and should be the one on the block instead of Bundy, who still has a high upside but who wouldn't bring back much.
i don't want the Orioles to turn into the Rockies, who had two stars and a bunch of junk.
What they do with Miguel will help determine not just His future, but the future of the club.

Matt Perez said...

I don't think what they do with Gonzo will have much of an impact on the club. He's not very valuable at this point. Given that the Os need starting pitching, I think tendering him makes sense. I wouldn't be surprised if he can put up an ERA in the low 4s next year. But I wouldn't expect anyone to give up much to get him.

I imagine Bundy will be in the bullpen to build up innings.

Philip said...

Matt, given that we need a lefty, are you suggesting we start the season with: Tillman, Jiminez, Gonzalez, Gausman, the TBA Lefty and sticking Bundy in the pen?
I agree that Gonzalez isn't very valuable and might be better remaining, but shouldnt Bundy be in the rotation, at least to start the season?
And trading Miggy-this gambling against his return to outperforming his peripherals-would make room for Wilson of Wright, each of whom might be worth a spot

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I get that it's nice to have at least one left-handed starter, but I'm not sure that it should be a top priority to sign one. I think it's more important to upgrade the rotation period, not just try to find a lefty to fit in the bunch. If one fits, great; if not, I don't think it's a huge deal.

Also, I wouldn't pencil in Bundy for anything beyond a relief role. That's clearly the low bar since he has to be on the major-league roster next season, but until he's able to throw effectively and pain-free for an extended period of time, he can't be counted on, let alone as a starting pitching option.

Matt Perez said...

Bundy will almost certainly be on a strict innings limit. As a starter, he'll surpass that limit extremely quickly. In addition, he hasn't pitched in the majors since 2012 and may not be able to be an effective starter. I think his best chance at success is in the bullpen and I would expect him to be the long man or the most worthless member of the bullpen. If he does well, then maybe the Os convert him to a starter later.

As Matt K said, if the Os can add a left-handed starter then great but I wouldn't focus on it. The roster I would choose wouldn't have a lefty... which is painful when dealing with a bullpen that has Brach and Givens. Wilson and Wright haven't earned starting spots in the rotation and probably won't be successful. I'm happy with them being Plan B options but would prefer someone better.

Jon Shepherd said...

Just to provide some minor resolution for folks who may not understand shorthand. Organizations do not limit by innings, they refine their concepts of workload a bit more these days. I do not specifically know Baltimore's considerations, but it will likely have to do with weighted pitches from warming up and in-game situations.

In some places where you see more of a battle between the stat and qual people, you see front offices push guys as starters because it minimizes warm up pitches and the club can better control workload between starts.