The Yankees and Orioles are down to a best-of-three series now, and I’m not sure Buck Showalter would rather have anyone on the mound in Game Three tonight than the man scheduled to start: right-hander Miguel Gonzalez. He embodies the Orioles, the out of nowhere surprise that continues to look more and more like he belongs with each passing week.
Gonzalez, 28, signed with the Orioles as a minor league free agent after spending a few seasons in the Red Sox’s farm system. They originally claimed him from the Angels in the Rule 5 Draft back in 2008. Gonzalez took advantage of the opportunity the Orioles gave him by pitching to a 1.61 ERA (1.79 FIP) in 44.2 innings with their Triple-A affiliate. With their pitching staff in need, Baltimore called him up in late-May and he has since emerged as arguably their best starter. Funny how that works.
2012 Performance vs. Yankees
The Yankees saw Gonzalez as a starter twice, and he pitched pretty well both times. Done let those four runs in 6.2 innings in late-July fool you, he held the Bombers to just two runs on four hits and zero walks in the first six innings of the game before tiring out in the seventh. Those 111 pitches were the second most of his career, and both numbers 110 and 111 were hit out of the park for homers. If Buck Showalter had gone to the bullpen two batters sooner, Gonzalez would have finished with a much prettier 6.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 8 K line.
The late-August start was the best of his season by Game Score (74), a seven-inning masterpiece in which he retired 15 of the first 16 batters he faced. Gonzalez’s two highest strikeout and swinging strike totals of the season came at the hands of the Yankees. Those 111 pitches in July generated 20 (!) swings and misses, one of the highest totals in all of baseball this summer. He pitched extremely well against New York in New York during the regular season.
Pitch Selection (via Brooks Baseball)
Gonzalez uses three offspeed pitches and will use them a lot, especially early in the count. Right-handers will see his low-90s fastballs and mid-80s slider while left-handers get the whole kitchen sink, including the low-80s changeup and upper-70s curveball. The changeup has splitter movement, meaning it tends to dart down rather than fade away and off the plate. Hitters come up empty on more than 40% of the swings they take against the pitch (42.8%, to be exact), so if he has that working, it could be a long night for a Yankees lineup that figures to feature four lefties and two switch hitters.
Performance & Results
The effectiveness of the changeup shows up in Gonzalez’s strikeout splits, as he whiffed nearly twice as many left-handed batters as right-handed batters this season. The wOBA split is zero for all intents and purposes, but it’s worth noting that righties had a .214 BABIP against Gonzalez while lefties were at .310. Give him another couple hundred batters faced, and those ball-in-play results will even out. Very few pitchers (as in basically zero) sustain a near-100 point BABIP split.
Gonzalez seems like a candidate to show a reverse split going forward because of the changeup, but that is unlikely to happen all at once in Game Three. The Yankees have not just seen the Baltimore starter twice, they were dominated by him in their own building both times this season. Saying they need to be ready for the changeup, specifically the lefties, is much easier said than done. Considering how often Gonzalez likes to go to his offspeed pitches early in the count, the best approach might just be to sit on something soft earlier and swing away if he catches too much of the plate. Working the count and taking a strike or two didn’t work during the season, that’s for sure.