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2021 Marlins Season Preview: Gio Gonzalez

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Gonzalez got off to a slow start this spring, but the Marlins will need him at some point...right?

@giogonzalez47/Instagram

LHP Gio Gonzalez

Opening Day age: 35 | Bats: right | Throws: left | Listed at 6-0, 205 lbs.

Acquired by Marlins as a minor league free agent signing (March 4, 2021)


It’s been nearly a decade (Mark Buehrle, 2012) since the last time the Marlins had a pitcher on their roster with a résumé like Gio Gonzalez’s. The two-time All-Star left-hander hasn’t been selected to the 40-man yet, but health permitting, he’s poised to contribute to his hometown team at some point in 2021.

As you’d expect from any pitcher who has gritted through nearly 2,000 major league innings, Gonzalez has lost some oomph on his fastball. He averaged about 93 miles per hour on the pitch throughout the first half of the 2010s; since 2017, however, he’s been hovering around the 90 mark. There has been a corresponding degradation of his peripheral numbers:

  • 2016: 3.76 FIP (177.1 IP)
  • 2017: 3.93 FIP (201.0 IP)
  • 2018: 4.16 FIP (171.0 IP)
  • 2019-20: 4.43 FIP (119.0 IP)

While typical major league starters have more difficulty getting outs as the game progresses, Gonzalez seems to be an exception. For his career, the Hialeah native has allowed a .243 BA and .705 OPS the second time through an opposing lineup, and a near-identical .250 BA and .702 OPS the third time through and beyond. That being said, it’s hard to say whether that is still representative of who Gonzalez is today because his most recent teams—the Brewers and White Sox—rarely let him attempt to face that many batters in a single outing.

Gonzalez’s signature weapon continues to be his curveball. It historically accounts for just one-fifth of his total pitches thrown but two-fifths of his total strikeouts. Since the dawn of the MLB pitching tracking era (2008), his 756 Ks on curveballs ranks third behind only A.J. Burnett (924) and Adam Wainwright (831). Every single year, that pitch gets 12-15 miles per hour of separation from his fastball and performs better than league average in terms of weighted on-base average.

The key to Gonzalez’s curveball is spin mirroring. That is what makes it look “exactly like a fastball,” as the man himself told FanGraphs in 2012. Even at this stage of his career, Gonzalez can deceive batters by sticking with the grip he has always used and having the conviction to deploy it against lefties and righties alike.

Baseball Savant

Of course Gonzalez would have preferred that his free agency led to a guaranteed contract or an agreement earlier in the offseason. But all things considered, “to represent the Marlins and to put on that uniform, it’s pretty cool,” he says of this opportunity to play in South Florida which keeps him nearby many friends and family members.


What’s next?

2021 ZiPS projection: 4.14 ERA, 4.32 FIP, 1.37 WHIP, 1.5 fWAR

2021 PECOTA projection (50th percentile): 4.47 ERA, 4.74 FIP, 1.47 WHIP, 0.7 WARP

In his first Grapefruit League appearance against the Nationals on Saturday night, Gonzalez was awful. No sugarcoating that. Entering in the bottom of the sixth inning, he allowed six straight Nationals batters to reach base (four hits and two walks), falling behind in counts and surrendering hard contact. Wacky spring training rules permitted him to exit the game—prospect Jake Fishman cleaned up the mess—and re-enter in the seventh. That frame wasn’t much prettier. Gonzalez’s final line: 0.1 IP, 8 H, 7 ER, 2 BB, 0 K.

Addressing the media postgame, Gonzalez said all the right things, confirming that he feels healthy and saying he wouldn’t let the disappointing results from an exhibition game affect his confidence.

Gonzalez was doubtful to make the Opening Day roster regardless. The Marlins value his history of durability and want to get him fully stretched out for starting duty before considering whether or not he merits a spot. They also signed him anticipating that key players could suffer injuries at some point. Thus far, the Fish have been very fortunate in that regard: every pitcher who reported to camp last month as a top contender for a major league job is currently healthy.

It goes without saying that Gonzalez is behind Sandy Alcantara, Pablo López, Elieser Hernandez and Sixto Sánchez on the depth chart. Trevor Rogers and Nick Neidert should also be getting priority over him. He’s more or less in the same “tier” as Daniel Castano.

Although Gonzalez pitched briefly at Triple-A in 2019, someone with his credentials presumably has no appetite for spending a full summer down there. Expect to find out that his contract contains a midseason opt-out clause allowing him to test free agency if not added to the active roster by a certain date.

Poll

Over/Under 30 innings pitched for Gio Gonzalez with the Marlins this season?

This poll is closed

  • 64%
    Over
    (20 votes)
  • 35%
    Under
    (11 votes)
31 votes total Vote Now