Since his call-up in 2012, Miguel Gonzalez has made a habit of defying projections and advanced statistics. Throughout each of the last three seasons we've heard cries from fans and "experts" that this his success is not sustainable. He's not actually this good, we've heard. He's going to regress to the mean. Before this year, it hadn't happened yet.
Then, 2015 came along. For the first few months, it looked like this would be another classic Gonzalez season: as he recorded the first out of the 5th inning against Boston on June 9th, his ERA was sitting at 3.33 despite a FIP of 4.63. Gonzalez left the game that inning with a groin injury and spent 15 days on the DL. Since his return, he was atrocious, leading many of us to think (hope) that the groin was still affecting him. Finally, he missed almost the entire month of September with a shoulder injury. Was that caused by a change in his delivery related to the groin problem? Was that same change why he was so ineffective in the second half? Nobody knows for sure, but that's certainly the answer we'd all like to believe rather than "Miguel Gonzalez is just bad now." Here are his numbers before and after that injury, showing how stark of a difference it was:
First of all, there's clearly some luck involved here. Neither the .235 BABIP pre-injury or especially the .348 BABIP post-injury are anywhere close to his career average of around .270, so he probably wasn't as completely different of a pitcher as the ERAs make it look. But he was different. His K's were down and his walks were up, and more balls were getting hit hard enough to fly out of the park. Hopefully that's related to his injury, something that shouldn't be an issue come April.
Gonzalez is eligible for arbitration this winter, and MLB Trade Rumors projects that he'll earn a $4.9 million salary for 2016, which really isn't much. Assuming Wei-Yin Chen moves on, the O's are not exactly in a position to start letting more starting pitchers walk. Even after such a terrible year, the Steamer projections have Gonzalez as a 1-WAR pitcher with a 4.46 ERA next year. Maybe he'll go back to vastly outperforming the projections, but even if they nailed it this time, he'd be worth the money. The going rate for a win right now is about $6-7 million on the free agent market, so $4.9 million is somewhat of a bargain. Not only that, the O's don't exactly have many guys waiting in the wings to replace him. There's a very good chance that if Gonzalez walks, whoever takes his spot could be absolutely horrendous. If you can pay $5 million to replace a -1 WAR pitcher with a +1 WAR pitcher, that's even more of a no-brainer.
I'd be shocked if Gonzalez isn't back next year and pitching in the rotation on Opening Day. The O's are likely to put more stock in his first three and a half seasons than his last few months, and I don't blame them. Gonzo's second-half performance will have his doubters claiming they were right all along, and that he's going to be ineffective next year. Maybe they're right. But those doubters were predicting the same thing before 2013 and 2014, too. They were just much quieter by the end of those seasons because Gonzalez shut them up.
The O's are going to need all the starting pitching they can get next year, and a bounce-back season from Gonzalez would be a huge boost to the rotation. Given his track record of defying expectations, I wouldn't bet against it.