With the influx of new starting pitching prospects into the system from trades it was inevitable that some of the old wave of starting pitching would get their chance in the bullpen to resurrect their careers. If you look at Severino Gonzalez’s season in the right light it looks like he might have a bright future. But below the surface lurks some serious problems from his past days as a starter that remain uncorrected.
What Was Written Before the Season:
Gonzalez still remains on the Phillies 40 man roster throughout the offseason turnover of the Phillies’ roster. Gonzalez made his major league debut in 2015 to disastrous results, after being meh in AAA to start the year. He still lacks impact stuff and while he has control, hitters make very hard contact off of all of his pitches.
What Happened in the Minors:
Stat Line (AA): 6 G 10.2 IP 1.69 ERA 0 HR 2 BB (4.6%) 9 K (20.5%)
Stat Line (AAA): 15 G 35.1 IP 3.31 ERA 3 HR 6 BB (4.0%) 26 K (17.3%)
There was a lot of change for Severino Gonzalez this spring has he transitioned from being a full time starter to a full time reliever. He showed up to spring training physically larger and with more velocity on his fastball to go with it. Early in the spring he was sitting low 90s touching 94, but by into May-June he was sitting a 92-94 touching 95-96. Between AA and AAA Gonzalez showed middle relief tendencies. He continued to display good control, while missing a below average number of bats. He did still show remnants of his starter days, averaging over 2 innings an appearance for the IronPigs.
What Happened in the Majors:
Stat Line: 27 G 35.1 IP 5.60 ERA 4 HR 7 BB (4.6%) 34 K (22.5%)
Much like his time starting 2015, if you are a devotee of FIP you will walk away feeling like Gonzalez was unlucky in the majors. His FIP was 3.37 and on the surface a BB/9 of 1.8 and a K/9 of 8.7 are really not that bad at all. But when we turn to some metrics that try to account for quality of contact we get a different story as Baseball Prospectus’ DRA turns its nose up at Gonzalez to the tune of a 5.60 DRA. Now why such a big gap? It really comes down to how opponents hit against him, specifically his ground ball rate.
That is the 4th lowest ground ball rate among major league relievers with at least 30 innings. That in of itself is not career ending. Among the top 11 are Koji Uehara (21.4%), Craig Kimbrel (29.4%), Sean Doolittle (29.5%), Jason Grilli (29.6%), and Kenley Jansen (30.0%). Now of course there is a big difference between those players and Gonzalez:
Gonzalez finds himself in a place where he is not generating weak contact and he is not keeping batters from putting the ball in play. It only gets worse though.
First Half: 13.1 IP, 13 H, 3.38 ERA, 1 BB (1.9%), 17 K (32.1%)
Second Half: 22.0 IP, 27 H, 6.95 ERA, 6 BB (6.1%) , 17 K (17.4%)
Gonzalez came out on fire and he had success with striking batters out and keeping them off of the bases with free passes (he also had a slightly higher ground ball rate). In the second half it all fell apart, his ground balls went down, his line drives went up. He managed to keep his walk rate under control in July and August at the expense of strikeouts, but a disastrous September brought that in balance with a 12.71 ERA and 4 walks in 5.2 innings. He found himself buried on the bullpen bench while the team imploded.
Ultimately Gonzalez found himself almost the same as a reliever as he had been as a starter. His stuff was better on paper, but he lacked the ability to generate weak contact, and while his strike throwing ways kept the walks down and got him a decent amount of strikeouts, hitters were able to just him around the ballpark on multiple occasions.
On paper there is no reason why Gonzalez cannot by a competent up and down reliever. None of his stuff is dominant, but he does have some velocity and throws strikes. The problem continues to be that major league batters just are not fooled by what he is doing and continue to hit around hard. To have any sort of meaningful future Gonzalez will need to convert control to command and add a pitch to his arsenal that can make hitters offbalance. Without that it seems like more of the same until his FIP comes into line with what we already know.