Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/15/14

Lost in the improbable and rather infatuating season from R.A. Dickey and yet another commanding performance by Clayton Kershaw sits Gio Gonzalez and his measly 5.4 WAR season. Gonzalez went 21-8 for the Washington Nationals with a 2.89 ERA, 2.82 FIP, and 25.2% strikeout rate and yet garnered only one first place vote in the Cy Young balloting. It’s not that Gonzalez so much deserved more attention from the Baseball Writers Association, but his season might have been as surprising as Dickey’s yet few seem to be talking about it outside of the Capital. When Gonzalez came over from Oakland for Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole, Tommy Milone, and Derek Norris, reactions were mixed. If you could boil all the sentiments down into a prognosticator sludge, the general consensus was probably that Oakland did well to get highly regarded A.J. Cole and ready to nearly-ready prospects for what was likely a middle of the rotation kind of arm. To be sure, some were much higher on Gonzalez, but there were just as many that expected him to underwhelm the senior circuit. It’s not that Gonzalez didn’t have good stuff. The major source of Gio-scorn was that he’d amassed about 500 professional innings with a walk rate of about 11%, which made it difficult for him to go deeper into games and seemed to prevent him from improving upon the three-to-four win player he had been with the Athletics. What he could do was strike people out, but the jury was out if he was closer to Yovani Gallardo or Jonathan Sanchez . Turns out, it was neither. Upon arrival in Washington, Gonzalez not only started to strike more batters out (to be expected in the move to the NL), but he also improved upon his free passes. His walk rate dropped from 12.3%, 10.8%, and 10.3% from 2009 to 2011 down to 9.3%. A nine percent walk rate still isn’t likely to make your pitching coach thrilled, but with a 25.2% strikeout rate, he was starting to resemble the 2010 version of Clayton Kershaw when he had a 25% K rate and a 9.6% BB%. The trend north for strikeouts and the trend south for bases on balls started to bring his FIP much more in line with his ERA, where the disparity between the two in previous seasons provided fodder for the nonbelievers, and perhaps rightly so. Part of his success wasn’t mastery of some new pitch, but rather tweaking the repertoire he already had. His curve had historically been quite excellent, but he always had trouble throwing it for a strike with well over 40% of his curves being thrown for a ball. In 2011, it seemed that hitters got wise to that and the value of the pitch plummeted from 1.57 runs above average per 100 pitches in 2010 to just a hair below average at -.06. If you look at his heat maps, there’s little change in location of his fastball, curve and change. There’s no appreciable difference in his release points. What he did in Washington was simply threw more fastballs and fewer curves. He threw roughly 72% fastballs, evenly split between four and two-seam fastballs and his first pitch strike percentage was at a career high of 59%. His use of the curve went from 28% to 21%. Gonzalez used to start left handed batters off with a curve about 30% of the time in 2011, but reduced that to just 18% in 2012. For right handed batters, it was 20% in 2011 but just 13% in 2012. When he is ahead in the count or having two strikes, Gonzalez still went to the curve about 40% of the time. But but not showing the curve early, it became more effective as an out pitch with opposing batters losing about 100 point off their batting average in 2012, hitting just .124 and slugging just .160 off his curve in 2012. But one of the major improvements that Gonzalez made was his approach to right handed batters. In 2011, his strikeout rate was 21.7% and his walk rate was 10.8% vs. RHB and in 2012 that improved to 23.9% and 9.2%. Interestingly, it was relying less on the curve against right handers that fueled this. He threw almost 30% curve balls against righties in 2011 and that dropped to 19% in 2012. With two strikes, he used to throw the curve almost 50% of the time, and that dropped to 35%. But as the saying goes, less is more. He threw the curve fewer times in two strike counts against righties, but increased his whiff rate by actually throwing it outside the strike zone more often. A couple cherry-picked examples that will be nothing new to you if you watched the Nationals all season: Yes, he struck out right handed batters on curve balls in the past, so this isn’t breaking news, but admit that you like gif’s, and we can all move forward. What’s striking to me about Gonzalez’s success in 2012 is that it wasn’t anything particularly new to what we already knew about him. He modified his repertoire to help him get ahead in counts more frequently, and simply utilized his curve ball more effectively than he had in the past. It’s possible, even likely, that his home run per fly ball rate will regress some in 2013, but if Gonzalez can continue to refine himself the way that he did in 2012, including reducing free passes, this success ought to be sustainable going forward. If he can come close to replicating the kind of results he had in 2012, you can bet that he’ll garner more respect when it comes time to vote for the hardware.

GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Jon Jones thinks he can beat Cain Velasquez

Larry Bird jokes about pose of Dominique Wilkins’ statue

Barry Switzer urged Cowboys to draft Murray with great quote

SF Giants file brief in support of gay marriage to Supreme Court

Jay Cutler available to teams in trade

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Brian Hoyer praises Johnny Manziel for checking into rehab

Dockett: I would have signed with Cardinals for less money

Report: Darrelle Revis' decision to come down to Patriots, Jets

Maurice Jones-Drew announces his retirement from NFL

Ndamukong Suh is biggest prize, risk in free agency

Associated Press will have 'robots' writing game stories

Five areas the Eagles must address this offseason

WATCH: Craig Sager emotional in warm welcome back to TNT

Likeliest landing spots for Ndamukong Suh

Tigers pitcher Alfredo Simon drives a chrome Mercedes

WATCH: Ronda Rousey breaks guy's ribs who doubts her ability

Michelle Beadle’s campaign to be cast in ‘Sharknado 3′ pays off

Ten teams who have tightened the belt

Dodgers will have a tough time dumping Andre Ethier

Brian Cashman: Derek Jeter should be final Yankees captain

Tom Brady, Rory McIlroy to play round at Augusta National

No one knows who will win the 2014-15 NBA MVP

Giants TE on plane that slid off runway in New York

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Larry Bird trash talks Dominique Wilkins’ statue

Likeliest landing spots for Suh

Jay Cutler available to teams in trade

Ronda Rousey breaks guy's ribs

Ten teams who have tightened the belt

Mayweather waited for Pacquiao to get old, right?

Maurice Jones-Drew announces his retirement from NFL

Ndamukong Suh is biggest prize, risk in free agency

AP will have 'robots' writing game stories

Manning officially returning to Broncos

No one knows who will win the MVP

Pop rips notion of NBA Finals in July

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.