Nationals Baseball: Gio : Love him or List him?

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Gio : Love him or List him?

Gio Gonzalez is having a bit of a mini-renaissance right now. Since the All-Star Break he has pitched to a 3.00 ERA, holding opposing batters to a .209 / .257 / .358  line. He has gone 5-1 turning a disappointing 5-8 record to a respectable 10-9. Part of it is luck (BABIP down around .245) and part of it is skill (BB/9 down to 2.3, when it had been solidly over 3.0 previously. HR/9 down significantly as well) but it has happened and it begs the question, will Gio be here next year or not?

If you look at it on a strictly 2017 estimate of performance you'd probably say yes, despite what we've seen for the year. Yes, Gio's career has been a on a general slow decline since the Cy Young worthy year he put up in 2012. He's trended being more hittable and striking out fewer and that very basic combination has predictably led his ERA to trend up.*  Of course ERA is somewhat a function of the team defense behind him and the relief pitching after him but the xFIP has trended up as well. Ultimately his numbers bounce around a bit as his walks and HRs shift but the fair expectation would be next year would be slightly worse than this year. An xFIP of around 4.00 an ERA somewhere on the 3.70 to 4.30 range.

That's not a terrible range. It puts him in the #3-#4 range for an average NL rotation, and his pay is not onerous at 12 million dollars. You may or may not find that talent level for that price. The combination of those facts should have you take a flier on Gio for one more year hoping for something more toward the 3.70 than the 4.30.

But the Nats don't have an average rotation. They have a very good one that they rely on to carry the team in some fashion. Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark, and Ross, when healthy, push Gio to the 5 hole and while he is and would continue to be an excellent number five, that is traditionally a spot where you try out young talent if you have it. The Nats do have it in Giolito and Lopez. While Gio may be more reliable, the chance at developing talent for million less has got to be tempting to a team that appears to be at it's maximum desired payroll range with some large raises due. Also to be considered is that 2017 is not necessarily a one-off deal. Gio has a vesting option for 2018 if he reaches 180 innings in 2017, meaning the Nats would be on the hook for his 12 million in 2018 regardless of his performance in 2017. How likely is he to reach 180? If he's healthy he should do it. If he misses more than a couple starts he shouldn't. I'd make it a coin flip right now. Since he seems to be slowly declining it's easy to imagine a "worst case" where he pitched to a ~4.40 ERA next year but pitches all year and the Nats are on hook for a pitcher in 2018 who might start to skirt the 5.00s.

When Stras re-signed the balls were set in motion. The 1-4 spots looked set and the payroll got that much bigger. It looked like in order to free up a spot and to get some monetary fliexibility, Gio would be pitching his last games in a Nats uniform in 2016. Maybe the Nats let him walk, or more likely they trade him for something of value. A LH starter on a reasonable contract is worth something decent. But things have conspired since that point in the opposite direction. Strasburg and Ross have had significant injuries which highlight the need for true depth for a rotation. Both Giolio and Lopez (and Cole) have failed to show that they are definitely ready for a rotation role at the start of 2017. After a slide through May and June, Gio has come back with two solid months of pitching.

It's easy to say "keep him" right now. Recency bias abounds in his and Giolito's and Lopez's performances. But we must be more prudent than that. It is very likely Lopez or Giolito will be ready for an extended trail early next year. It is very likely Gio will decline and will be the first one to give up his spot. Do you want to pay 12 million for a place holder? Do you want to gamble that if injuries happen, as they are want to do, that you could be paying 12 million for a nothing in 2018?

In the end I lean toward keep him. I lean toward depth in a pitching staff and given Strasburg's and now Ross' injury concerns I don't want to have to rely on Giolito AND Lopez to fill in. The lefty role matters too if only to give teams a change of look. Also, while it's certainly possible Gio tows the line and the Nats get hooked for another year, it's probably just as likely he pitches himself out of the rotation for one of the young guys (just think how close he might have been to this at the end of June this year) or he sustains a mild injury (or worse) himself, making the vesting option moot. Plus while the worry is he goes 4.40 4.90 the next couple of years 4.20 4.40 is possible too and at 12 million a year that's not terrible. And if he does better and the team has its usual odd season swoon, well you've got a decent trade chip still.

For me the negatives don't outweigh the positives.  Things could change if Gio crashes and Lopez or Lito crushes, but beyond that I think we haven't seen the last of Gio. At least for one more year, get ready to sit back, relax, then get frustrated that this game seems to be taking forever as Gio works toward 115 pitches over 6 innings.

*Other fancy stats have trended in the wrong direction too. Hard%, FB Speed, Contact in the zone. It all hasn't gone strongly in one direction, some impt ones bounce around just like BB-rate and HR-rate but there hasn't been anything trending positive. So the overall effect is he's getting worse. Like he should! He's getting older! This happens!


PotomacFan said...

Gio, for all his ups and downs, is definitely worth $12 million per year for 2 years. Now, that doesn't mean the Nats keep him. They can sign and trade. But for now, I would keep him. He's definitely worth his salary and is an above average #4 or #5 starter. And he's been incredibly healthy for most of his career. I'm not worried about working in someone new (e.g. Cole, Giolito, or Lopez) into the rotation. There is no way the starting 5 make it through the year (let alone the All-Star Break) without an injury. That will provide the opportunity for one of the new guys to show his stuff.

Mythra said...

As much as my wife and I scream at the inevitable bad inning meltdown from Gio, if you say from Day 1 on Spring Training that he's the #5 starter, then expectations are tempered. Look back at ST this year and everyone was calling him a #3. With this rotation and the talent in the pipeline at the position of most depth for the Nats, Gio is not a #3. He's a 5th starter, plain and simple. Sure, he might be a #2 or 3 in Atlanta, but they'll also likely lose 100 games again next season. On a playoff team like LA, Cubs, or Nats, he's not a top rotation guy.

10-9 is respectable for a 5th starter. If Gio is matched up against other team's 5th starter from the start, those numbers might go up. But I agree, holding onto Gio shouldn't stop Lopez, Cole or Giolito from getting a shot to mature and join the club. You put your best 5 on the roster. The LHP element is overblown. The easiest path to the Show is pitching left handed, it doesn't mean the LOOGYs and LHP are the best talents on the team. Oliver Perez is proving that lately by stinking up the joint, but still on the roster when not hurt.

I'd lean towards Harper's conclusion, but it still won't stop me from grabbing the Tums every 5th day.

Rob Evans said...

I lean towards trading him for some offense somewhere, anywhere. Give his spot to one of the youngsters at a lower price and then use the remaining money on the player you traded Gio for if needed.

Can't stand watching Gio pitch. Way too unpredictable command for me. If I'm gonna have a "crafty veteran" in my rotation, he better be able to command his stuff. Otherwise I'm giving that spot to a young up and comer... just my $.02.

cass said...

Is there some reason not to pick up the option and trade him if there's an offer that blows Rizzo away but otherwise keep him for depth?

These are basically two separate questions - is he worth more than his option year contract and is he worth more to the Nats than what the they could get for him in a trade. These questions seem independent of each other.

elchupinazo said...

@cass I don't know if they're separate, mostly because you can't consider them separately in a real-world scenario. Rizzo's not going to decide that Gio's worth more than his option contract, and therefore off the trading block. If anything, you answer question #1 to set a baseline, and then use that to inform how you answer #2.

If he's not worth the money, then you see who's out there who is. If he is, then you can start getting real picky about who you might bring in.

JE34 said...

I lean towards keeping him - he is useful for creating days off for lefty power hitters, if nothing else. But one must expect a bullpen investment to match - he has pitched 7 innings just 3 times this season.

Like Mythra... I also often find him difficult to watch, especially when in full muttering-to-himself mode. Is there a better/cheaper option out there? The devil you know... and so forth. I don't think we can count on Cole/Giolito/Lopez just yet.

G Cracka X said...

Great title, and nice breakdown Harper. I also vote for love.

'You can never have enough starting pitching' is a good motto. Spots can always be made for young talent who have earned the right to start in the majors. Sure, trade him if you get good value, but otherwise I'd keep him unless something changes.

Wow, I'm surprised I'm saying that given that I thought this was going to be his last year after the game he pitched in Milwaukee (which occurred during a string of bad games for him at the time)

Froggy said...

I agree with Harper and say love him...

...until about the trading deadline next year and see if worrying about being in his FA year has gotten inside his nutcase head or not.

If he's trending towards more command or remaining consistently around 4.00 what really does Rizzo have to lose? And if one of the youngsters is pitching better Gio would be a good trade chip in that case.

Zimmerman11 said...

Thanks for keeping at it through this indifferent stretch of games... I'm looking forward to seeing if Stras and Ross can come back healthy for a few starts and if Zim can get something going or if he's toast. Other than that just praying no big ouchies from here 'til October.

I think it's "toes the line" not "tows the line" ... going back to bare knuckle boxing matches where "gentlemen" would stand on a chalk line and trade punches to the face.

KO said...

Any chance he moves to the bullpen? He would be pricy but reliable and could be converted back to a starter for the occasional spot start for depth. Looking at his splits, this year first time through the order he has an ERA of 2.6 and a WHIP just over 1, which suggests first time facing batters, he's good. If he could convert this to a long reliever and spot starting lefty, would this be a good choice for the nats?

Anonymous said...

Is it safe to assume that Ramos is definitely gone next year? Sadly, I suspect it probably is. Man, will I miss the hell out of that guy.

Money is going to be a real issue for this team going forward. Roark is going to get a little something in arbitration... little by little it's really starting to add up.

I know that the Lerners CAN afford to pay everyone, and I wish that they WOULD pay everyone. But the realist in me knows that they're only willing to go so high with the payroll. Especially with the whole MASN debacle seemingly stuck on the slow road to nowhere.

WiredHK said...

I love that idea, KO, and think Gio would make the perfect long man relief option (for when our young guys have their inevitable blow up games). The major sticking point is would Gio accept that role (i.e. the Tanner role from 2015)?

Chas R said...

I would luv to sell high on Gio while we can, but conservatively they will need insurance until Lopez and Giolito can establish some reliability.

Bjd1207 said...

@Sammy Kent - How'd you like that matchup pitching last night?

Anonymous said...

Elimination numbers for those interested

Anonymous said...

In a world in which Mike Leake gets 5/75 and Ian Kennedy gets 5/70, Gio is a big bargain at 1/12 (or 2/24). It would be negligent NOT to pick up his option. Whether he remains a Nat of couse depends on what he can fetch in a trade. I bet a pitching-starved contender (Red Sox), would part with something nice. But having Gio as the 5th starter is not a bad place to be. Eventually something will have to be done about the logjam though. But too much starting pitching has never been a problem for anyone anywhere.

Chris M. said...

Ben is really good and memorable player. Looking forward to see him playig big baseball. I normally watch the games here: There are good quality stable streams, so I never missed any game last season.

Kenny B. said...

I can't think about Gio objectively because of the rose tint from his 2012 season. It could happen again, right?