A month ago, baseball statistics Web site FanGraphs.com took an interesting plunge into seemingly meaningless numbers: the number of strikeouts by pitchers against opposing pitchers. The Web site, and writer Jeff Sullivan, found that of 312 pitchers that recorded at least one strikeout against an opposing pitcher last season Gio Gonzalez finished in first place by a wide margin.
Per FanGraphs.com, Gonzalez struck out 41 pitchers last season, a sizable margin ahead of second place Wandy Rodriguez, who struck out 34 pitchers. Tommy Hanson and Jeff Samardzija, tied for third, each struck out 29 pitchers. In fact, the website found that Gonzalez struck out more opposing pitchers than any other pitcher in the past 40 years. So Gonzalez’s domination of the nine-hole hitter was historic.
Still, what’s the meaning? Gonzalez’s career season of 21 wins and 2.89 ERA was his first in the National League. Gonzalez did what he was supposed to: utterly dominate the easiest out in the lineup. Pitchers hit .019/.037/.019 against him and he struck out 41 of the 57 pitchers he faced, allowing only one hit and walking one. And while Gonzalez’s rate stats — strikeout and walk percentage — were career-highs for a full season, if his success against pitchers is factored out he actually didn’t make such a large jump.
Gonzalez’s raw strikeout rates jumped from 2011 (22.8 percent) to 2012 (25.2 percent) but the adjusted strikeout percentage for 2012 was actually 21.7 percent. The raw walk percentage fell from 2011 (10.5 percent) to 2012 (9.3 percent) but the adjusted percent for 2012 was 9.8 percent.
By all accounts, Gonzalez improved last season. His old Oakland pitching coach Curt Young mentioned to me last summer that he noticed Gonzalez’s improvement, confidence and sharper command from the few clips he had caught of Gonzalez on television. FanGraphs.com breakdown of Gonzalez’s season points out an interesting sliver of his success but it’s not his fault he was in a new league and facing pitchers. He did what he was supposed to against them, and they were a factor, not the sole reason, for his improvement in 2012.
Gonzalez does still have room for improvement. Winning 21 games is a difficult feat and hard to repeat. His 3.43 BB/9 ratio was the highest of the all pitchers ranked in the top 25 in ERA last season. Gonzalez didn’t suffer from those \walks because he allowed such few hits (6.7 H/9) and astoundingly few home runs (NL-best 0.4 HR/9), and because of his superb secondary pitches. An ideal target would be for Gonzalez to continue to improve his command and aggressiveness, and shave the BB/9 rate under three.
“His command has gotten better,” pitching coach Steve McCatty said. “He knows what he wants to do a little better. He’s got more confidence. He’s still young. But, yeah, he’s getting better.”
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Since Tuesday was an off day, this takes a day off.
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