Name: Giovany Aramis “Gio” González
DOB: September 19, 1985
From: Hialeah, FL
Position: Starting Pitcher Rotation: Second Pitcher
Hand: Lefty (But Bats Right Handed)
With the Nats Since: Acquired via Trade with Oakland before 2012 Season
Just Who Is This Guy?: If you really don’t know Guy Smiley, the Nats powerful left-handed hurler from Hialeah, read our 2013 preview first.
What Happened in 2013: To the untrained eye, Gonzalez had a much worse 2013 than 2012. Ten fewer wins with the same number of losses, an inflated ERA… to a slightly more discerning eye, Gio Gonzalez had a slightly down year coming off of an exceptional 2012. Gonzalez’s 2013 campaign was pretty similar to his 2011 year in Oakland-and is probably on par with what a person should expect from him. He was still a 3+ fWAR pitcher, and his 3.41 FIP would still be rated in the above-average to great category. Those ten less wins are a great reason not to much pay attention to wins by pitchers. Those no decisions were just as much the fault of an anemic Nats offense as they were of the slight downtick in his performance.
It might also have been a bit of anxiety over being investigated (and ultimately exonerated) as a steroid use.
What happened in 2013? Gio Gonzalez put together a pretty great year, not as good his last, on a team that didn’t perform as well overall.
What’s Expected in 2014?: Largely, the Nats should expect Gio to pitch like he did last year. It’s a pretty safe bet that Gio is going to have a season somewhere between 2012 and 2013 which ought to be plenty good for the Nats given how stacked their rotation is this year. Last year I wrote:
Gonzalez will pitch second for the whole year this year. Although his stated intentions are to improve from last year, even performing about 90% of his 2012 year will place him as one of the best #2 pitchers in the league. Repeating this performance fully would be exceptional.
He didn’t quite get to 90% of 2012, but he got close-and that’s still probably how to think about his 2014 campaign. Gonzalez’s big bugaboo in Oakland was giving up walks, but he walked the same number of batters in 2013 as 2012. So it seems he has that under control too.
If It All Goes Right: By nearly all accounts he could be a 20+ game winner, an All-Star candidate (if not All-Star) and could get Cy Young votes. For my money, Gonzalez has proven himself to be a great regular season pitcher. While I don’t particularly believe that there is much (if any) of a thing called a “good post-season pitcher” to me, this is the one area where he didn’t perform. All going right includes some post-season victories, which is as much on the Nats as a whole as on him.
If It All Goes Wrong: I have hard time seeing it go wrong for Gio, even if the team performs poorly. This is a good opportunity to talk about PECOTA, or the Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm. Developed by Nate Silver (yes, THAT Nate Silver) the basic idea is to determine which other historical players does a current player most resemble across a variety of factors, to help calculate how their career might project. So we all know that, eventually, players start to go downhill with their abilities but the trick is figuring out when. PECOTA looks at everything a player does in his performance (a bunch of stats, etc.), his physical attributes (height, weight, handedness, injuries, etc.), what position he plays and other factors to come up with “comparable” players.
Kind of like if you’ve ever bought a house, and the appraiser determines the value of the property by finding similar houses in the neighborhood- PECOTA performs a similar task for the value of the player.
Gio Gonzalez’s comparable players are Jon Lester, Erik Bedard, and Ubaldo Jimenez. All three of these guys fell off the table after a few years of dominance. Jimenez and Lester bounced back some, and nothing is a guarantee one way or another for Gio, but it is scary to see those names in his profile. If anything, it should serve as a reminder to fans that at any moment something can click (or unclick) and it all goes away.
The good news is that if the worst thing I can think of is he suddenly craps the bed, then there isn’t much to worry about. Gonzalez has shown he can pitch well and nothing would indicate he won’t do the same this year or the next.