Gio Gonzalez of the Washington Nationals is an excellent southpaw with a sick curveball, but he may have been the worst starter on his team in 2014. This is not an indictment on Gonzalez, but rather the fact that his fellow starters led by Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann were flat out nasty. His “down” season affords you the chance to land a top 20 SP at a bargain.
Why Gio Gonzalez will rebound:
A 3.57 ERA was the worst out of the five starters on the Nationals, but Gonzalez’s decent ERA in 2014 is not what matters for next year. He produced a FIP of 3.09, struck out over a batter per inning, and batters hit fewer liners off of him in 2014. When you throw in a 3.43 SIERA that is even better than his 3.80 career SIERA, you have to be encouraged for next season.
Line drive rate is often a good indicator for future success and the fact that 18.6% of batted balls off of Gonzalez are line drives is a positive sign. It is 4.1% improvement from 2013 and 0.6% better than his career mark. If batters are not making as strong of contact on Gio, then I think it could pay off in 2015.
Gio Gonzalez also managed a career-best O-Swing% of 29.4%. That means that Gio was able to have batters swing at pitches outside of the strike zone more than ever before. Additionally, batters only made contact with the ball 59.7% of the time when they swung at a pitch thrown outside of the strike zone. That 59.7% mark is the second best of Gio Gonzalez’s career and his best since 2009.
Besides hitters swinging at balls, Gonzalez has always managed to have a high strikeout rate. He has never had a strikeout rate below 20% in his entire career. His worst K/9 in the last four seasons is 8.78. Gio Gonzalez is very likely to strikeout a batter an inning again next season.
I believe there is a chance that we see Gonzalez flirt with 200 strikeouts next year if he stays healthy. He averaged 198.7 strikeouts per season from 2011 to 2013. Plus, the Washington Nationals are heavy favorites in the NL East next year, so Gio could find himself with 15+ wins if he makes 30 or more starts.
Why Gio Gonzalez may fail:
At age 28 in 2014, Gonzalez threw less curveballs than ever before. I mentioned above that Gonzalez has a very good curve, but he only threw it 16.9% of the time. That is by far the lowest rate of his career, which stands at 24.4%. Since a curve can be hard on a pitcher’s arm, then Gio Gonzalez may be throwing it less to protect himself. My fear is that less curveballs means less strikeouts and effectiveness.
My only real problem with Gio Gonzalez from a fantasy perspective is his atrocious career walk rate of 3.90 BB/9. While his BB/9 dropped to a career best 3.18 walks per nine in 2014, that figure is still not too hot for a pitcher of his caliber. His career WHIP of 1.30 is the only thing that prevents him from being a top tier SP, but he could offer serious production in the other relevant categories.