Average or Excellent: The Two Miguel Gonzalez’
One of the interesting things mentioned about Dan Duquette when he was being considered by the powers that be was a consideration that was freely mentioned to the media via the usual unnamed sources. That peculiar idea was that Dan Duquette was one of the most well connected people around with respect to the international market. At the time, it seemed a bit silly that a man who had been out of the professional game for a decade and whose only foray into international amateur ball was a failed venture in Israel would be someone who would have incredible connections. Furthermore, his tenure with the Red Sox showed more so that he was great at dropping large sums of money into Korean prospects that became nothing of note, withering in the minors before their release. Other teams were successful in Asia. Other teams were successful in Latin America. It would be difficult to argue that Duquette’s Red Sox were one of those exceptional teams.
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The idea of him having his finger on the pulse of international baseball was considered even more silly by those writing outside of the beltway when the front office hirings began to happen after Duquette signed on. Ray Pointevit, who was in his 70s and outside of organized professional ball for a while, was signed on as the executive director of international baseball. On the face of things, it was a good story. He made a name for himself in Baltimore as a scout and is certainly a recognizable name. However, he was also in charge of funneling a lot of questionable talent from Korea and was involved in the circus of the Million Dollar Arm competition in India. By this time, he seemed more like a character that would have been dreamed up by some modern incarnation of Joseph Conrad. Anyway, it appears that honeymoon ended quickly as it now sounds that Pointevit’s presence has receded a bit either by the emergence of local scouts in Korea, restrictions the KBA has placed on the Orioles in response to Pointevit horrible fiasco with the Kim Seung-Min affair (which doubled in its awfulness when the guy Pointevit talked up about having scouted for two years wound up being nothing at all like his scouting report as well as some allegations that perhaps Pointevit was a bit too cuddly with his former Korean talent scouting company), or maybe it is just time for the elder statesman to enjoy retirement…or maybe he is still just as involved, but I simply do not hear about him anymore. Anyway, you do not hear too much about the Orioles’ Pacific rim endeavors and they have spent very little money out there.
Anyway, the other curious hiring of a one time great was Fred Ferreira, scout extraordinaire of Latin America. Where Pointevit connected Duquette to the emerging markets with the Red Sox. Ferreira was his life line during his Expos days. Whether by design or by monetary restrictions, the direction the team has gone in the Latin American market. They have ignored high ticket bonus babies and have focused instead on lower mid-level amateurs and older players who have had some major questions attached to them. One of those current signings has just splashed the MLB stage, Henry Urrutia. He was not highly sought after as there were concerns over his ability to hit for power and contact, plate discipline, and general inability to show anything promising when he wore a glove. Also, as a mid-20 year old, teams are less likely to dream and look beyond deficiencies. At this point, it seems the Orioles got at least an excellent minor league hitter. We will see how he does at the MLB level over the next couple of months.
However, I have no interest in diving into Urrutia. I want to look at the Ferreira Mexican League find, Miguel Gonzalez. When Ferreira saw Gonzalez pitch in the Mexican league before the Orioles signed him in 2012, he saw a pitcher with average stuff who had great command and a good plan when on the mound. Gonzalez was not a stranger to the professional game, having bounced around with varying degrees of success and varying degrees of health in the minors. However, Ferreira saw the Orioles’ organization was in need of starting pitching depth and Gonzalez could, at least, provide that. He did that and more. Again, his pitches look average, but his command is stellar. He was a major reason why the Orioles made the playoffs last year and is a major reason why the team has a chance this year to do the same.
One thing I find interesting is comparing two metrics that try to describe how valuable Miguel Gonzalez actually is: bWAR and fWAR. Wins Above Replacement is a generic name given to a variety of metrics used to discern production levels in players by translating everything to wins. Two of the predominant systems available in the public sphere are those used by Baseball Reference and FanGraphs. They do not use the same methodology. However, both (as of this offseason and now retroactively applied) are on the same scale. The major difference between the two systems is that Baseball Reference treats pitchers as responsible for contact quality while FanGraphs assumes that contact quality will typically regress for all pitchers over time. In terms of a population, I think that Fangraphs’ approach is more accurate, but it results in a few players being incredibly under or over valued. Innings Pitched for the 2012 (105.1) and 2013 (107.2) are fairly similar, so lets compare the rest of the big numbers.
Although I would not call two points associated with 105.1 and 107.2 IP definitive, I would say that there does appear to be an emerging pattern (again, not a known) that Miguel Gonzalez is capable of producing poor contact. His fWAR suggests that he is performing at a level that is rough a 3/4 slot pitcher. The assumptions are that his batted balls should regress to population standards and that he has been fortunate with runners stranded on base. These assumptions may not be accurate. The longer that Gonzalez outperforms his defense independent statistics, the more we should consider that maybe he does something special that is difficult to discern using our current statistical toolbox. If this perspective sounds a little familiar, it is one that has often accompanied Jeremy Guthrie who significantly outperformed his FIP even with some pretty shoddy Orioles defense behind him.
Another reason why he might be able to outperform his FIP is because he prevents stolen bases. During his career as an Orioles, a runner successfully steal a base on Gonzalez once every 71 innings pitched. For the Orioles’ starters not name Miguel Gonzalez, a base is stolen every 22 innings pitched. That seems pretty exceptional. What is league average? One base stolen every 16 innings pitched. In other words, Gonzalez sees about 4 fewer stolen bases every 80 innings. A stolen base is worth about a third of a run with respect to linear weights. If you account for that, then his ERA this year would be about 3.77 or a little less than halfway from his ERA to his FIP. So, stolen base prevention is not the only thing that may be helping him prevent scoring.
As we have seen before with Chris Tillman, pitching strategies can change greatly depending on whether men are on base or the paths being empty. The average pitcher in bases empty scenarios faces batters who wind up with a slash of 252/311/409. When someone gets on base, things stay basically the same except that walks and singles increase creating a slash of 262/330/409. With Gonzalez, he has shown very similar slash lines during his two seasons. Combined, with bases empty: 238/298/426. Combined, men on base: 255/352/387. We see walks shooting up tremendously and power disappearing. It is impressive to see ISO drop from .192 to .132 (similar to Tillman’s .207 to .145 in those respective scenarios).
Looking at Pitch F/X we also see his pitch selection changes:
Now, considering how performance changes between overall batter performance and men on base batter performance, you get a difference in wOBA of .017. That is a run difference of 1.8 runs every 100 plate appearances. That is worth roughly 3 runs…which takes us up to a 4.01 ERA (which includes the stolen base figure we derived above). At the present time, I cannot account for the remainder of 0.21 runs. It may be something that could be simple chance or maybe some element of pitching that I cannot think to address here or an element that as of yet has yet to be measured well.
Anyway, the take home is that there are good reasons why we should think the real value of Miguel Gonzalez’ pitching to date is better represented in the bWAR approach and not the fWAR approach. This does not mean one is better or worse than the other for all cases. Only that in this instance, for this player, bWAR might be the one you should glance at first.