SEATTLE: Starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez #47 of the Oakland Athletics smiles after spearing a line drive off the bat of Kyle Seager of the Seattle Mariners in the fifth inning at Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Gio Gonzalez is all over the trade rumor pages. Gio Gonzalez issues a boatload of walks. Gio Gonzalez is good nonetheless. You heard it here first!
Wednesday, Gio Gonzalez is back in the news. I don't know if Gio Gonzalez has been not in the news over the course of the past several weeks, but Wednesday, word came out that the Nationals are looking to make a push for a trade. The Nationals have shown interest before, so this isn't exactly anything new, but it's later in the offseason now, and some other options have gone away, so it makes sense that the Gio Gonzalez rumors would intensify.
The Nationals aren't the only team said to be in pursuit, either. The Red Sox and Blue Jays are among those who have reportedly had conversations. Though the price is high, it's looking likely that Gonzalez will be dealt. Which means there have been a lot of rumors, which means there has been a lot of talk.
Much of that talk has been in an analytical vein, and much of that analysis has focused on Gonzalez's control problems. It's no secret that Gio Gonzalez has had some control problems. Last season, he led the league in walks. The season before, his walk total was one walk higher. Among starters, Gonzalez has baseball's fourth-highest walk rate since 2009, and third-lowest strike rate. These are concerns. How much can you trust a pitcher who throws that many balls?
But...well this isn't going to be revolutionary to you, or to any of the other teams in the league, but what matters isn't Gio Gonzalez's inconsistent control. What matters is Gio Gonzalez's overall value, and that's where Gio Gonzalez shines.
Gonzalez really broke in as a major league starter in 2009. Since 2009, he's posted an ERA in between Ricky Romero and Ubaldo Jimenez. He's posted an FIP in between Matt Garza and James Shields. He's posted an xFIP in between Garza and Daniel Hudson. This is good company.
And you could argue that Gonzalez took a big step forward in 2010. Since 2010, he's posted an ERA in between Hudson and Jaime Garcia. He's posted an FIP in between Edwin Jackson and Shaun Marcum. He's posted an xFIP in between R.A. Dickey and Matt Cain. This is good company, too, even if it's still a little weird to think of R.A. Dickey as being successful. Dickey has a 3.08 ERA over the last two years. Before that, his career ERA was 5.43. Anyway.
It's also worth noting that Gonzalez has surpassed 200 innings in each of his two full seasons. Barely surpassed, but surpassed, so Gonzalez looks good from a pass/fail perspective. Put it all together and you have a starting pitcher who's been both effective and durable.
Also, that starting pitcher is just 26 years old, and he has four more years of team control. The first of those will be impossibly cheap, relative to baseball standards. The following three will be increasingly less cheap, but still cheap when compared to what a similar pitcher would get as a free agent. Given success, Gio Gonzalez's salaries are going to be pretty team-friendly.
So you understand why Gonzalez is being treated as a big-time target, then. Yes, he could stand to walk fewer batters. And then he could stand to walk fewer still. That would make him better. But he's already good, because limiting walks is only one component of what makes a pitcher successful. Gonzalez gets his strikeouts, Gonzalez gets his ground balls...you already know this stuff. Gonzalez is good, and, salary-wise, he's going to be cheap.
The way Gonzalez gets talked about is kind of similar to the way Jonathan Sanchez gets talked about, or to the way any number of other inconsistent strike-throwers get talked about. "If he could just allow fewer walks, he could elevate himself to being an ace." Sure. Clayton Kershaw used to walk a lot of dudes. He stopped walking so many dudes, and now he's an ace. Gonzalez could do that. The potential exists.
But he doesn't have to do that to be a big-time success, or to justify a blockbuster trade. Gio Gonzalez is just fine the way he is, and by focusing on his potential or flaws, people can lose sight of what he's already become.