POTD Gio Gonzalez: Comps and Defining Attributes


Q.  Where do you start, in talking about Gio Gonzalez?

A.  I'd start by watching this video about four or five times.  It contains everything that is wacky and wonderful about Gio.  

Note the pitch at the 0:48 mark, which is for some reason thrown in 1.5x fast forward, and after which Gonzalez barely manages not to fall down.


Q.  In the words of John McEnroe:  You can NOT be SERious.

A.  Here's the link.


Q.  What are his defining attributes?  A comp for Gio would be, like what?

A.  Thusly:

1.  Must be lefty.


2.  Must come around the corner sidearm.  Not just a low arm slot, but stepping to the 1B side of the CL and then swivelling the hips around the corner.  

You don't want LHP's who get on top of the ball.  Steve Carlton, Chuck Finley, Jeff Fassero, David Price, Mark Mulder, Scott Kazmir, Matt Young (who is BP's #1 comp), those guys don't apply.

This attribute is an important part of his development profile.  His pitches are shaped differently than other LHP's, his repertoire is totally different, and his path to improvement is different.  Gio Gonzalez is not Cliff Lee; he's a different kind of athlete.


3.  Must have a signature sidearm curve/slider that destroys hitters.  Like El Sid, Erikkkk, Randy Johnson.  Included in this is a very high K rate -- Gonzalez' was #5 in the American League last year, ahead of David Price, barely behind Justin Verlander.

Sabathia and Lester are neither way on top of the ball, nor guys who come around the corner.


4.  Should have good velocity, but at 97 mph, Randy Johnson isn't comparable to Sid Fernandez, Erik Bedard or Gio Gonzalez.


5.  Gio Gonzalez is one of those young lefties who is in a death match with his own mechanics.  Great performances are mixed with implosions.


6.  It would be nice if the comp threw a heavy fastball, got lots of groundouts.  There are sidearm lefties who throw fly balls, but that really isn't Gio.  But this is negotiable.


6a.  Gio has other idiosyncrasies, such as a reverse platoon split, the fact that he's short, etc., but I wouldn't call those defining.


You want guys who pitch like El Sid and who get results like El Sid.  There aren't a shipload of them.  Erik Bedard is something like that, a bunch of relievers are like that (such as George Sherrill), but there really haven't been a lot of LHP's who are in the El Sid family of sidearm LHP's with 9 strikeouts.

El Sid, Erikkk, Gio Gonzalez, would be glad to hear other suggestions.  They're not common.


Q.  So Gio's strikeouts are legit, though?

A.  For sure.  That slider is poisonous.  He throws it with super arm action, really snaps the arm through hard, and it has the tightest spin in baseball.  You can see RIGHT hand batters check-swing for strike three -- consistently.  

He throws the slider back door, or at the RHB's foot, just like Randy Johnson used to.  It's a Bedard-class breaking pitch.

Like we sez, Gonzalez' strikeouts are right there with Price's and Verlander's.


Q.  He's at 4 BB's and is well capable of ugly implosions.  Is SSI bullish on his chances to get his release point?

A.  Gonzalez completely lacks grace and balance, and often finishes his pitch almost standing up.  Ordinarily I'd say that his mechanics rule out improvement.

This is a young "Bucking Bronco" lefty, though.   As a general rule, these high-K lefties do indeed tend to make progress on their walk rates.  Here:

  El Sid Erikk Price J. Santana
Y1 4.0 4.7 3.8 4.1
Y2 3.9 3.6 3.5 2.7
Y3 3.4 3.2 2.5 2.1
Y4 3.1 2.8 (2012) 1.7

You could find 50 lefthanders like this.  CC Sabathia's walk rate was 4.7 and 3.8 in his first two years; now it's 1+.  

Interesting, too, to realize that Erik Bedard was wild in his first few years.  Now he's one of the most precise pitchers in the league.  It was just reps.


Q.  Does Gonzalez specifically look like he'll make progress on his mechanics, or is there some fatal flaw there?

A.  Yeah, he's basically sound, and he's showing signs already of locking in.  In August 2011, he flashed a Bedard groove.


There are LHP's who hit the league at 9K and don't make progress on their walks, of course.  Scott Kazmir.  ...Gio looks to me like he's in a position to make progress.

I would bet you $10 to $1 that this is precisely the evaluation that MLB general managers are making.  They know that Gio has struggled with his mechanics, but they have seen Gio's come and go, and they've seen the Gio's iron out their release points over the course of a few years.  Happens all the time.

STATS ARE BACKWARDS-LOOKING.  It is exactly here, in projecting a young pitcher's future, where the sabertistas' dogma is least welcome.  There is no "correct" evaluation of Gio Gonzalez, 2012-14, based on past stats, no "correct" expectation and no "correct" ROI.  You had to have seen Erik Bedard, and you have to decide whether Gio is Erikkk the Healthy Sequel.

That's why the big trade packages being thrown around.  GM's aren't thinking about where Gonzalez has been.  They are thinking about where he is going.  They are in fact going to pay for the UP scenario, are going to pay for what Gio isn't yet, and I think they should.






Sandy Koufax be a crazy comparison.  Koufax, to my undiscerning eye, is over the top as opposed to side-armed, but there is something in the deliveries that seems familiar in the motions, and I kind of get the same feeling of all the velocity happening as the arm crosses the head, as if most of the arm motion is just for show.  Certainly, Koufax had a similar early career, and also wasn't a big guy, although 6-2 was probably bigger in the 50s.


Steve Carlton had less-than-radioactive velocity, yet with the high K rate based on the crackling slider.  
Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson, Lefty Grove built their games around challenge 97 mph fastballs out and over the plate... as y'know Koufax' and Johnson's breaking pitches were wipeout too, but sheer velo was the bread and butter ...
Gio has pretty good giddyup for his template though...

zumbro's picture

I remember a few afternoons in front of the telly watching Carlton eat up righties with his slider. Living in central PA in the early seventies, I saw a fair amount of that...stomach turning the whole time thinking of how tough the 1-2 of Gibson and Carlton would have been in St Loo.
'Couse Carlton wasn't exactly small...still, I think a pretty good comparison.

Add comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd><p><br>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.


  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.