Late last week, word got out that the Athletics are open to trading pretty much everyone on their roster not named Jemile Weeks as they continue to remain in a holding pattern with their stadium situation. Since Weeks is a second baseman like his older brother, that means Oakland’s entire starting rotation is up for grabs, the same rotation that is chock full of young arms with upside.
I plan on exploring the rest of A’s starting staff later in the week, but I’m going to start today with Gio Gonzalez since he’s generated the most buzz in Yankeeland during the last few weeks. The left-hander has quietly developed into Oakland’s ace after being acquired from the White Sox in the Nick Swisher trade, the third time he was traded before his 23rd birthday. He’s been a 3+ fWAR and a 4+ bWAR pitcher in each of the last two years, his first two full seasons in the big leagues. Let’s break down the good and the bad….
- Working with two fastballs (two- and four-seamer) in the 91-94 mph range a hammer curve with two-plane break in the upper-70’s, Gonzalez misses plenty of bats (career 8.59 K/9 and 9.1% swing-and-miss rate) and generates a health amount of ground balls (47.5%). That’s helped keep his FIP comfortably better than league average, 7% better in each of the last two seasons.
- Gio’s changeup isn’t much more than a show-me pitch, a low-80’s offering he’s thrown fewer than 7% of the time in the big leagues. Despite that, he actually has a reverse split because his curve is that good. Righties have posted a .321 wOBA against him in 1,786 plate appearances while lefties have gotten him to tune of .341 wOBA in 547 plate appearances. I suspect the platoon split will even out a bit once he starts facing more same-side hitters.
- Other than a bout with shoulder stiffness during Spring Training in 2009, Gonzalez has been perfectly healthy as a pro. He’s never been on the DL and has eclipsed the 200 IP plateau in each of the past two seasons. He’s thrown at least 150 IP every year since 2006.
- MLBTR projects Gonzalez to earn $3.6M in 2012, his first time through arbitration as a Super Two player. He’ll be arbitration-eligible three more times before becoming a free agent after the 2016 season. That’s as friendly as contract situations get.
- Gonzalez has fought a career-long battle with his fastball command, and it shows in his walk rates. His 4.05 BB/9 in 2011 was his lowest since 2007, but it was still the highest in the AL (A.J. Burnett was second at 3.92 BB/9) and second highest in MLB among qualified starters. His 91 walks led the league this year, one year after his 92 walks finished second to C.J. Wilson. Gio’s career unintentional walk rates are 4.35 uIBB/9 in the bigs and 3.97 uIBB/9 in the minors.
- Although his walk rates have improved each year in the show, Gonzalez has also thrown fewer pitches in the strike zone each season. He bottomed out by throwing just 42.5% of his pitches in the zone in 2011, down about 2.5% from two years ago. In ten career starts against the patient offenses of the Yankees and Red Sox (five each), he’s managed to complete six innings of work just four times.
- It happened more than seven years ago, but Gonzalez did get kicked off his high school team following an altercation with his coach that actually had to do with his brother’s playing time. He fell a bit in a draft because of the subsequent makeup concerns.
- Gonzalez is a bit on the small side, listed at 6-foot-0 and 205 lbs. on the Athletics official site. Old school types will question his durability because of that, fair or not.
Gonzalez just turned 26 in mid-September, so (theoretically) his best years are still ahead of him and any team that trades for him would be getting basically all of his peak seasons. That means he will not be easy to acquire, and Billy Beane would have every right to ask for Jesus Montero as part of a package to acquire the southpaw. For comparison’s sake, the Mariners turned Doug Fister and his four years of team control into three young, big league ready players (a starting pitcher, a reliever, a platoon corner outfielder) and a top five caliber prospect (in a typical farm system, not all of baseball), and he didn’t have the same kind of track record as Gonzalez at the time of the deal, plus he’s 18 months older. The first Dan Haren trade is an apt comparison as well, though he had three years of team control left, not four.
I’m very much on the fence with Gonzalez. Lefties that can miss bats with many peak years ahead of them are about as valuable as baseball commodities get, but the lack of control is very scary. Let’s put it this way, I have an easier time envisioning Gio developing into Oliver Perez than I do Randy Johnson. Gonzalez has ace-potential, I’m not denying that one bit, but he has a major hurdle to clear before reaching that ceiling. If you’re giving up multiple young players and high-end prospects, I feel like you need to get more certainty in return. Gio would undoubtedly improve the Yankees rotation, but by no means is he a sure thing.