Left-Handed Relief Series: Mike Gonzalez
As the offseason began, we heard something that is oh so familiar for Yankee fans. Brian Cashman is looking for rotation help and left-handed relief pitchers. With Boone Logan as the only lefty in the bullpen, Cashman is at least expected to explore the market, both through free-agency and trades, in search of a second lefty. Considering it will be a miracle if Pedro Feliciano pitches for the Yankees at all next season, the Yankees could use some outside help.
Over the next week or two, I’ll be looking at the free agent market for lefty relief pitchers...
• Gonzalez has been very strong against left-handed batters (.214/.265/.311 in 2011). For whatever reason, he had pretty horrible numbers against lefties in 2010, but with a .440 BABIP and a slew of singles, it was most likely a case of extraordinarily bad luck.
• The bad luck of 2010 is exemplified by a 3.55 xFIP, compared to a 4.01 ERA. The past two years, Gonzalez’ ERA has been in the 4s, but his xFIP and FIP were both much lower (2.79 FIP / 3.55 xFIP in 2010; 4.11 FIP / 3.73 xFIP in 2011).
• He gets quite a lot of strikeouts, averaging a 10.65 K/9 since his 2008 season.
• Gonzalez gets a pretty fair number of swings and misses, with a 24.4 contact percentage last year. To give a little context, Boone Logan achieved 24.9%, while CC Sabathia managed 23.5%
• Must not use him against righties! In 2011, Gonzalez did not fare well against right-handers at all. He allowed a .287 BA / .375 OBP / .525 SLG. Yikes. Although I will say, his career SLG versus righties is much, much lower at .335, so make what you want of it.
• Gonzalez does not give up many ground-balls. You could say this is less of an issue because of all the strikeouts he gets, but add in a career 4.12 BB/9, and it gets a bit doubtful. However, the ground-ball issue could be solved as easily as pitching him only against lefties. In 2011, Gonzalez allowed a 51.4% GB rate and a mere 24.3% FB rate against lefties. Those two numbers basically reversed with each other, versus righties.
• His breaking pitch/slider is good, but really nothing overly special. In 2011, Gonzalez’ wSL was at 4.0 (4 above average). Comparatively, CC’s wSL was at 14.6 above average. However, it does surpass Boone Logan’s measly 0.4 wSL. No real need to read too much into this, as a 0.4 wSL can strikeout lefties, just as a 4.0 wSL can strikeout lefties.
• His control is by no means anything to rave about. Gonzalez holds a 4.12 career BB/9, but the Yankees aren’t unfamiliar with relief-pitchers who strike out and walk a lot of batters. David Robertson for one strikes out and walks more hitters. However, no one has any particular fondness for that scenario where a lefty specialist is brought in…only to walk the lefty.
Mike Gonzalez would be a nice pickup for the Yankees, as a lefty-specialist type. However the adjective “nice” would disappear if they signed him for more than a one year deal. The Yanks have seen enough failed multiyear contracts for relief pitchers in the past ten years to not risk another, with Mike Gonzalez. Considering Gonzalez is 33 years old, and had a good year last year, I’m sure he’s up for a multiyear contract. In addition- earlier in the offseason, Javier Lopez, another solid lefty reliever, signed with the Giants for 2 years at $8.5MM. Therefore, I highly doubt the Yankees could sign Gonzalez for less than 2 years. Because of that, I’d be more than happy to watch some non-Yankees team give him a 2 year deal.