A year ago, Miguel Gonzalez was a sure thing in the Orioles starting rotation. Labeled a model of true consistency that grew stronger year after year, Gonzalez had become a fan favorite in Baltimore. His legend was growing by the start.
Then, before the train could officially leave the station for the heat of 2015’s campaign, Gonzo quickly encountered the toughest roadblocks of his major league career. Injuries piled up, home run numbers escalated and the 4.90 season ERA eventually summed everything up fairly compactly.
It was a cruel season, and the results ultimately flaunted the harsh reality.
Maybe worse, the onslaught of concerned fans and critics chimed in to overshadow one particular fact that shouldn’t be overlooked: Gonzalez still embodies the consistency that has been sought in Baltimore since Mike Mussina departed.
No, the projection isn’t quite as squeaky-clean as the Orioles might’ve hoped for, but there’s plenty of room for enthusiasm leading up to pitchers and catchers reporting. Bad luck was abundant and the right-hander’s season crumbled … but ultimately, is there really any spot for a gloomy outlook approaching 2016?
Gonzalez was able to finally reach his potential in 2012 when he played his way onto the Orioles. He was able to keep a successful stride going for the next three seasons.
That stride was interrupted for a few months over the course of 2015’s summer, but there’s no reason to believe it’s completely broken. After all, baseball is a game of rebounding and thriving again after unkind seasons. It’s happened to the best of ‘em. In Gonzalez’s case, there absolutely is a real "stride" that can stay legitimate with health.
In each of his three seasons from 2012 to 2014, Gonzo ground out consistently low numbers that bettered the MLB’s averages. He was the bulldog of every manager’s dreams. Though quickly forgotten, the numbers told the only story that needed to be mentioned.
His ERA numbers of 3.25 (’12), 3.78 (’13) and 3.23 (’14) tremendously beat the league averages, and his hits per nine innings numbers proved to be as valuable as anyone else in the rotation over the three-year span. The consistency became prevalent, all but dominating proof that his long-term spot in the rotation was established.
However, the numbers in 2015 elevated enough to alarm even the quietest fans – perhaps for good reason. If you didn’t track the season on a daily basis and weren’t aware of the obvious lingering injuries, you could make the assumption that Gonzalez’s peak was already reached at 31 and the downward spiral was beginning.
If the stat sheet was the only indicator, that doom and gloom mentality might’ve been fair.
Luckily, the tale of Gonzalez – and every other baseball player on the planet, for that matter – isn’t told in black and white. Sure, we might be dealing with a "what have you done for me lately" league, but it ultimately tends to be very forgiving to players with injury-riddled seasons. That forgiveness particularly elevates when dependability has been attached to the resume.
Despite the numbers and ugly 9-12 win-loss record, there are still plenty of constant and unwavering factors that follow Gonzalez into 2016 with plenty of hope to be had. Per Fangraphs, Gonzalez’s maintained his average career velocity even through the obvious agitation of the season, and kept his pitch selection fairly steady with his 2012-2014 average.
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Though the issues with command (3.2 BB/9) led to a rise in home-run rate (1.5 HR/9) and more batted balls, it all can be suitably summed up with a simple fact: location was off. There weren’t drastic changes in pitch selection or a drop-off on the gun. One can hope that it was the nagging injuries throwing off his rhythm and comfort going to the plate, increasing the long-ball and walk rates, which caused the ERA to skyrocket.
All in all, isn’t that about the most encouraging summary of a bad season that can be had? There's a reason to hope things can be better.
The minute details and tendencies stayed the same – the prospect of continued stability still has the upward arrow. Unfortunately, the lack of week after week comfort crept onto the scene, spiked the wrong numbers and knocked the season downhill before it could be salvaged. It wasn’t providential, but it happened – bottom line. And while it’ll take a nice start to 2016 to get swept under the rug, it can be done.
It’s way too early to call Gonzalez’s career path an uphill battle, just as the perception that his effectiveness won’t be the same – if not better – is incorrect.
With last season in the rear-view mirror, it’s about time for the "fan favorite" tag to be placed where it has belonged all along.