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Projecting Gio Gonzalez

The Nationals clearly believe in Gio Gonzalez.  They paid a hefty price to acquire him from Oakland, and then locked him up through at least 2016.  Fantasy leaguers always pay extra attention to solid starters moving from the AL to the NL; what can we expect of Gio in 2012?

Gonzalez's vitals for the 2011 A's:

  • 3.12 ERA, 3.78 SIERA
  • 1.32 WHIP
  • 8.8 K/9
  • 4.1 BB/9
  • 0.76 HR/9
  • 47.5% groundball rate
  • 7.8 H/9
  • .287 BABIP vs. .289 for A's in general and .287 for Nationals

The walks are the obvious red flag.  If Gonzalez pushed that down to league average, around 3.1, his WHIP would go from 1.32 to 1.21, all else being equal.  With a little control, Gonzalez's WHIP would go from liability to asset, given how hard he's been to hit the last few years.  And I do expect him to continue to be difficult to hit.

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo discussed Gonzalez with reporters upon acquiring him in late December, saying, "We see his walks trending in the right direction, we see him having general command, and as he progresses into his career, he's going to improve on his command each and every year."  While it's true that Gonzalez has improved his walk rate each year, the progress has been minimal.  Tossing out the 34-inning 2008 sample, Gonzalez has gone from 5.11  in '09 to 4.13 in '10 to 4.05 in '11.  He spent all of 2010-11 in a big league rotation and his walk rate was virtually the same.  He allowed the most walks in the AL in 2011 and tied for third-most in 2010.

Gonzalez did not show improvement as the 2011 season wore on; here are his walk rates by month:

  • April: 4.20
  • May: 3.90
  • June: 4.08
  • July: 4.50
  • August: 4.65
  • September: 3.29

Sometimes though, as Rizzo suggested, the league switch does the trick.  Working in the AL East for the Blue Jays from 2004-06, Ted Lilly was a consistent 4+ BB/9 lefty.  Upon moving to the Cubs in the NL, his walk rate immediately dropped under 3.0 and stayed there, and lately has been closer to 2.0.  ESPN's Keith Law believes Gonzalez is likely to maintain some value in Washington, "while leaving the club frustrated that he's not better."

Baseball HQ projects a very mild improvement for Gonzalez's move to the NL, with a 4.0 BB/9.  That'd lead to a 1.35 WHIP, but they still call for a 3.37 ERA.  If you think Gio can manage 3.5 BB/9, then his WHIP would at least drop below 1.30.

Over at Mock Draft Central, Gonzalez's average draft position is 109.55, meaning he's going in the 10th round of a 12-team mixed league on average.  His main asset is strikeouts, but you can get those from Brandon Beachy, Anibal Sanchez, and perhaps Cory Luebke, all drafted after Gonzalez.  The trio lacks Gonzalez's control issues, but only Sanchez can be counted on for innings.  Matt Garza goes a few picks before Gonzalez.  I'd rather have Garza, but only if he starts the season with an NL club.

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