Admittedly, it has been all-too frustrating to watch reliever Michael Gonzalez pitch so far in 2011... 2010 was no cakewalk for him, either--but that's a different story. So far this year, we have all cursed angrily at our television sets and called for Gonzalez's head as we have watched him give up 12 ER in just 12.2 IP... 12 EARNED RUNS IN 12.2 INNINGS PITCHED??? Seriously...?! It seems as if every time the guy with the outlandish rocking motion has taken to the mound so far in 2011, it's been a guarantee that he will either cough up the lead or help the opposition widen the gap.
With all of that having been said, the number of points my blood pressure jumps when Mike Gonzalez comes in to pitch should not--in all fairness--be the numbers by which his performance is gauged. So... what numbersshould his performance be gauged by? Well, typically a pitcher's performance is gauged by such mainstream statistics as ERA and WHIP. So far in 2011, Gonzalez's ERA and WHIP have been 8.53 and 1.895, respectively. Awful. Want to know how many wins below replacement Gonzalez is already posting in this young season? Too bad, I'm going to tell you anyway. Gonzalez is already at a -0.8 bWAR level in 2011, which would equate to roughly -3.2 bWAR over the course full season at his same level of current "production."
So... where's the silver lining? Why does the title of this article implore you to stick it out (for now) and not lose faith in the oft-ridiculed south paw? Well, last year we all heard about how Gonzalez's velocity was down due to the fact that he wasn't fully healthy, and that's what was causing him to underperform. Eventually, he sort of evened-out to post a mediocre 2010 season, tempering some of the battle cries of angry fans.
So far in 2011, however it appears that Gonzalez has gotten that mid-90s velocity back that has him (still) with an impressive career 2.92 ERA, 147 ERA+, 10.6K/9, and a 1.252 WHIP, among other things that may shock and impress you. But, then... if the lack of velocity/ injury was the excuse in 2010, what in all of actual hell is going on so far in 2011?
So far this season, Gonzalez's K/9 rate is down (8.5, from 11.3 in 2010), however so is his BB/9 rate (3.6, from 5.1 in 2010)… so even though he is striking out less guys, he is also walking less, too. This actually means that his overall K/BB rate is up (if only even slightly) to 2.40, from 2.21 in 2010. Does Gonzalez truly need to strike guys out at an 11.3 K/9 clip in order to be even merely effective? Probably not… but then why has the number of hits that Gonzo has given up so far in 2011 (hilariously already more hits than he gave up in all of 2010) skyrocketed??? The way I see it, this has almost everything to do with BABIP against him. Batters in 2011 have posted a .432 BABIP against Mikey, compared to a .316 mark last season, and a .314 career mark. These numbers absolutely suggest that a .432 BABIP is in fact a very, very large fluke.
So what about the home runs that he has given up so far in 2011? Given the fact that batters are BABIPing at a .432 clip against Gonzalez, it’s obvious that he would give up more home runs. More balls in play = more balls in play that go over the fence at the end of the outfield. In his career, roughly 17% of hits that Gonzalez has given up have landed in fair territory over the fence. So far in 2011, roughly 16% of the hits that he has given up have gone for round-trippers. The only reason Gonzalez is posting a 2.1 HR/9 rate and a 13.5 H/9 rate so far in 2011 appears to be this monstrously high .432 BABIP against.
A quick glance at his peripherals shows that Gonzalez's FIP is 5.30 (meh), but his xFIP is 3.78. That's a drastic departure from his 8.53 ERA. The xFIP statistic is the same as the FIP (expected fielding independent pitching), however it adjusts HR/FB rate down (or up) to league average. There is good reason to believe that Gonzalez’s BABIP will come plummeting down over the course of a full season. When his BABIP against plummets, so too will the amount of home runs he is giving up. When this happens, look for his ERA to regress towards that 3.78 xFIP number.
Personally, I am kind of sick of arguing in favor of certain guys with the excuse of “bad luck” (see: entire 2011 Orioles team). But in a case so glaring as this one, perhaps a little bit of defense is needed before someone calls in an angry mob to execute an innocent man.