There May Be Some Hype, But Is Marco Gonzales Really Worth Buying Heading Into 2019?

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

It seemed like 2018 was a coming out party for the Mariners’ Marco Gonzales, a former St. Louis Cardinals’ first round draft pick. Despite that pedigree he hadn’t gotten much attention, though he clearly opened some eyes with these numbers:

166.2 IP
13 Wins
4.00 ERA
1.22 WHIP
145 Strikeouts (7.83 K/9)
32 Walks (1.73 BB/9)
44.9% Groundball Rate
.319 BABIP

It’s obvious what his carrying tool is, as he used elite control to keep himself productive.  That said with a minor league career 2.3 BB/9, including a 2.5 at Triple-A, you have to wonder how maintainable that number is.  Even a small regression could spell doom, unless there’s upside in his strikeouts and/or groundball rate.

In terms of strikeouts, it’s not a skill he’s ever shown before (7.9 K/9 over his minor league career).  Having averaged 90.89 mph on his fourseam fastball and 90.81 on his sinker, it’s obvious that he’s not an overpowering pitcher.  He also doesn’t feature a true wipeout pitch, which would help us to anticipate an improvement in his strikeout rate (Whiff%):

  • Changeup – 12.39%
  • Cutter – 11.78%
  • Curveball – 11.56%

The cutter is a new pitch for him, having not thrown it in his previously limited time in the Majors, though he utilized it 22.21% of the time.  He was productive with it (.224 BAA, .397 SLG), but it’s development doesn’t offer upside in strikeouts.  If he’s not going to overpower hitters and he doesn’t appear to have deceiving stuff, why would we expect an improvement?

Maybe he’s still working his way back from Tommy John surgery, which cost him virtually all of 2016, but he’s now had 293.0 innings since returning to the mound.  If that was the issue we’d have expected to have seen signs of it already.

As for the groundball rate, a 1.06 GO/AO over his minor league career tells you that it’s never going to be a strength.  Pitching in Seattle may help to limit the risk of home runs, but there’s certainly room for a regression to his 0.92 HR/9.  Just consider this split:

  • Home – 0.45
  • Road – 1.34

With there being a good chance that the home runs mount at home, even if it’s just up to the 0.80 range (though it could go higher than that), the risk continues to grow.  While his Hard% wasn’t outrageous (34.0%), it appeared that when hitters squared him up they were on a line (25.1% line drive rate).  That brings risk to maintaining a strong BABIP, with last year’s mark being a believable expectation.

You put it all together and you get:

  • A pedestrian strikeout rate
  • Risk of significantly more home runs
  • Control that could regress, even just a little bit
  • Potential to carry a bloated BABIP

None of that sounds promising, and while there may be hype surrounding him entering the season he’s simply not a pitcher you want to target.

Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball, MILB.com, Baseball Reference

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Make sure to check out all of our 2019 projections:

Player
Date Posted
Dylan Bundy10/22/18
Foltynewicz, Mike10/09/18
Gibson, Kyle10/29/18
Hoskins, Rhys10/16/18
Hosmer, Eric11/05/18
Wheeler, Zack10/02/18

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