Where Is the Love for Gio Gonzalez?

Gio Gonzalez has been a model of consistency since his first full season in the Major Leagues. Gonzalez was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 2004, and after getting traded away to the Philadelphia Phillies, was traded back to the White Sox in 2006. During the 2007 season, he was able to show off his skills by leading the minor leagues in strikeouts, with 185. In 2008, Gonzalez was traded yet again, to the Oakland Athletics.

Gonzalez was called up during the 2008 season, but struggled, significantly. He finished his 2008 campaign with an ERA of 7.68. His main problem was giving up the long-ball. Gonzalez gave up nine home runs in 34 innings that year, it was obvious his pitch selection needed work.

Now, Gonzalez features a four-seam fastball that tops out at 97 mph, a two-seam fastball, a curveball, and a changeup. Early on in his career, he would pump fastballs into the zone, and hope for the best. He only had three pitches, a four-seamer, a curveball, and a changeup, but he relied heavily on the four-seamer/curveball combination. In his early years, he lived and died by the fastball, which led to his struggles.

The 2009 season was a better one for Gonzalez. His pitch selection and command had improved significantly. He had learned how to work a count to his favor, and still get the strikeout. Although he finished the season with a 5.75 ERA, things were starting to come around for him.

The 2010 season was really Gonzalez’s coming out party, he was no longer just a spot-starter. He was the ace of an Oakland rotation that also consisted of Trevor Cahill, and Dallas Braden. Both pitchers were also very impressive that season, notably Braden, who pitched a perfect game on Mother’s Day. Gonzalez really stood out among the pitchers on the A’s staff. The following season his ERA went down, and his strikeouts went up. General manager Billy Beane took notice, and felt he could get good value by moving Gonzalez. So again, he would be on the move, traded to the Washington Nationals.

Since 2010, Gio Gonzalez has been one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball, so why doesn’t he get the credit he deserves? Well, for one, since the Nationals drafted Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, he’s been significantly overshadowed. Gonzalez finished third in the 2012 Cy Young voting, behind Clayton Kershaw and R.A. Dickey. That season, the Washington starter boasted a 2.89 ERA, with a 21-8 record and 207 strikeouts, he also had a lower FIP than Dickey and Kershaw that season.

Strasburg was drafted in hopes that he would be the next elite pitcher; five years in the league, and he hasn’t lived up to expectations. Sure, he’s been very good, but he’s only pitched one full season since he was called up in 2010. Jordan Zimmermann and Gonzalez have really carried the weight of the Nationals starting pitching over the last few seasons. This season, Max Scherzer is undeniably the ace of that staff. It took a seven-year, $210 million contract for Scherzer to become the ace, though. Gonzalez is making $11 million this year, $12 million next year and has a $12 million team option that will likely be picked up in 2017. There’s also a $12 million vesting option in 2018, that will become guaranteed if he pitches 180 innings.

Gio Gonzalez is one of the best values in all of baseball, but he goes unmentioned much of the time.

The ERA doesn’t tell the whole story. This season has been somewhat uncharacteristic for Gonzalez. His ERA is 3.56. His K/9 is down, but his FIP this year (3.02) is exactly the same as it was last year. That means, he’s inducing more groundballs, and striking out fewer batters. In fact, his groundball rate has increased to 56% this season, which is up 12% since last season.

Since the All-Star break, Gonzalez is 3-0 a 1.88 ERA and 28 strikeouts. However, in his last eight starts, he has a 5-0 record with an ERA of 1.48, and 43 strikeouts. Per Elias Sports Bureau, the only other pitcher in Washington’s history to do that in an eight-game stretch is Hall of Famer Walter Johnson.

Now, nobody is comparing Gio Gonzalez to Walter Johnson, but when Gonzalez is on, as he is now, he has some of the best stuff in baseball. Zimmermann, 29, is getting $15 million this season. Scherzer, 31, is getting $17 million (but is owed $196 million over the next 13 years), Gonzalez, 29, is owed at most $36 million over the next three seasons. For the price, Gonzalez may be the best bargain at starting pitcher in the entire league, and it’s time to start appreciating how good he truly is.

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