By now you know that the Washington Nationals pulled off a blockbuster trade Thursday afternoon, acquiring left-hander Gio Gonzalez in exchange for four highly-regard prospects.
Gonzalez was one of the most sought-after pitchers on the trade market this offseason and the A’s made no secret they were trying to move him in return for a slew of prospects in preparation for a projected 2013-2014 return to contention. The price was high, so let’s talk a little bit about what the Nationals got in Gonzalez.
— He’s just 26-years old, won’t be 27 until next September, and is under team control through the 2015 season. Gonzalez is a Super 2, so he’ll go through the arbitration process this offseason to determine his 2012 salary — along with teammates Jordan Zimmermann, Tyler Clippard, Michael Morse, John Lannan, Jesus Flores and Tom Gorzelanny.
— He throws a fastball, curveball and changeup but relies most heavily on his fastball and curveball, throwing his fastball almost 65 percent of the time in 2011 and his curve nearly 28 percent. His curve is said to be his money pitch — devastating, as one evaluator described it — and when he’s on, Gonzalez can have no-hit potential. He’s also struggled with consistency and command. He walked a major-league-high 91 batters last year and his 4.1 walks per nine innings were the most in the major leagues as well.
But his strikeouts per nine innings also ranked as the 11th-best mark in all of the major leagues and he’s struck out 346 hitters in the past two seasons, 171 in 2010 and 175 in 2011. The Nationals had just three pitchers in 2011 break the 100-strikeout threshold and only Jordan Zimmermann ventured into the 120’s with 124 — and he was shut down at the end of August due to an innings limit. Obviously having Stephen Strasburg and Zimmermann healthy for a whole season will help the Nats in the strikeout department but Gonzalez won’t hurt — and he’s also a ground ball pitcher, with a 47.5 percent ground ball rate, which plays into the Nationals’ and pitching coach Steve McCatty’s philosophy of pitching to contact.
— His fastball averaged 92.8 mph in 2011 and his curveball averaged 80 mph. His career averages basically mirror those — 92 mph on the fastball, 79 on the curve.
— He’s a Miami native and even attended the same high school (Monsignor Pace) as Nationals first baseman Chris Marrero. In an interview with MLBNetworkRadio on Wednesday, Gonzalez admitted that his first preference would of course be able to play at home for the team he grew up watching. But fear not, Nationals fans — in describing his answer to why he would love to play for the Marlins, one of the first names he mentioned of players he grew up watching was that of Livan Hernandez. Surely the fact that Hernandez holds a unique place in Nationals history as well will appeal to Gonzalez.
— Prior to Gonzalez’s switch to the National League, Fangraphs projected his 2012 numbers: 11-13, 3.83 ERA, 209 IP, 208 K, 8.96 K/9 innings, 4.18 BB/9 innings, .241 opponents BA.
— A lot has been made of his home/road splits with his numbers inside Oakland’s spacious Coliseum markedly better than those on the road.
In Gonzalez’s two full seasons in the major leagues, those splits are as follows: 2010 - 2.56 ERA at home, 3.92 away; 2011 - 2.70 ERA at home, 3.62 away.
Well let’s get one thing out of the way: none of those numbers are bad and he improved the road numbers from 2010 to 2011. According to Fangraphs’ Chris Cwik, “those worries are overblown. While Gio’s ERA is nearly a run higher on the road, both his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) (3.97 to 4.15) and xFIP (expected Fielding Independent Pitching) (3.90 to 4.05) are actually better away from the Coliseum. Nearly all of Gonzalez’s peripherals remain the same no matter where he pitches, so a change of scenery shouldn’t affect him as much as people may think.”
— He’s known to be a very good teammate, a sentiment that comes through in this graph from the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser: “Gonzalez will be missed in Oakland’s clubhouse. He’s among the most likable players in the game – numerous Major League Baseball officials have told me that Gonzalez was their favorite All-Star this past summer because he was so friendly and treated everyone from the parking attendants to the fans to the sponsors beautifully.”
— Despite being just 26, Gonzalez has now been traded four times, including twice by the White Sox (to the Phillies and then to Oakland) and once by the Phillies, back to the White Sox. Here’s the roster of players he’s now been traded for: Jim Thome, Freddy Garcia, Nick Swisher, A.J. Cole, Derek Norris, Tommy Milone, Brad Peacock.
– According to multiple national reports, the Nationals also acquired minor league right-hander Rob Gilliam in the deal. The 24-year-old eighth-round draft pick from 2009 spent the 2011 season pitching at high Single-A in the A’s system.
Here’s what Baseball America had to say about Gilliam:
Gilliam has three things going for him: arm strength, control and a feel for three pitches. He finished third in the California League this season with both 156 strikeouts and 164 1/3 innings, and he’s more than just a throw-in for Washington. Gilliam sits in the 92-94 mph range and while his slider and changeup grade as below-average presently, both could become average offerings with further refinement. That could mean a future in the bullpen, but it also gives him an outside shot at a future as a mid-rotation starter.