Two of the most popular players in recent Nationals history are Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark. They are the story of perseverance in their baseball careers, and this season the Washington Nationals were counting on the pair to anchor the middle of their starting rotation — and the issue now is the anchor is dragging down the ship at one of the worst times with Stephen Strasburg and Jeremy Hellickson on the disabled list.
To figure out what is wrong with Gio and Tanner starts with them being honest with their coaches and themselves. If you aren’t feeling well you have to say that is the case. To think this is all mechanical may be ignorant — but to guess this is physical due to an injury could be construed as being ignorant with no proof which makes any assessment by an outsider just an ignorant guess.
So let me be ignorant. Gio Gonzalez’s June statline before Monday’s start in Tampa was awful at a 6.20 ERA and got progressively worse after Gio was pulled with 1.0 inning completed and 6-runs cashed-in by the Rays on Monday night. Because of that, Gio’s June statline over 5 starts pushed him to an 8.44 ERA for the month with a 1.828 WHIP.
Some would say that Gio’s recent starts reminded them of his September/October 2017 stanza and maybe that disaster all went back to that 121 pitch outing at the end of August of that season in the way cause and effect works. There was no reason for Gio to throw 121 pitches in an outing then and there was probably no reason Gio should have throw 4 games in a row in May where he went at least 110 pitches in each of those starts.
If you ask Gio how he felt after his start and finish on Monday, he would tell you in a few pissed-off words:
“I’m perfectly fine,” Gonzalez said.
Clearly, Gonzalez didn’t want to talk to the media, but he did. He had just had his worst start in his Nationals’ career. He said he’s fine — actually he said “perfectly fine” but we knows he’s not. He is a competitor who was looking like one of the best pitchers in baseball at the end of May with his 2.10 ERA. A great excuse would be that he is hurting because then you could give him some rest and restart him like the Nationals plan to do with Stephen Strasburg.
Gonzalez is not perfectly fine because “fine” doesn’t pitch to an 8.44 ERA for an entire month. If you go to Gio’s last 4-starts in the month of May, you see he threw 446 pitches and at least 110 pitches in each of those starts as Gio pushed his season’s ERA down to 2.10. Just like last year, heavy usage could have been the culprit that put him in a downward spiral, and it is hard to criticize manager Dave Martinez as it was Gonzalez who jawboned Martinez publicly for pulling him out of an April start. It was the same issue Gonzalez had with Matt Williams in 2015. A manager’s job is to sometimes protect a player from himself.
Gio Gonzalez wears his emotion on his sleeve, and many people think he was a disgruntled employee in 2015. He seemed to make that fairly clear with comments he made in 2016.
“In the off-season I was actually excited to come in,” Gonzalez said about pitching for Dusty Baker in 2016. “Last year was tough because I was minimized in a lot of innings, and any damage that was going on I couldn’t get out of it because it was already immediately into the bullpen.”
During the 2016 season when Dusty Baker let Gio Gonzalez work out of trouble, Gio immediately took that as an opportunity to throw some shade on his previous manager:
“It’s crazy how it is when a manager lets you pitch more than 3 innings,” Gonzalez said with a hint of sarcasm. “When your manager believes in you so much, I’m just happy to see [Dusty Baker] has all the confidence in the world to let me pitch. I’ve been doing this for quite a while. I’m just grateful that he believes in me every inning and he lets me go out there and become the pitcher I am. I’m glad he’s giving me a little more rope.”
Gio wanted more rope and he got it with Dusty Baker, and in return Gio was awful in both the 2016 and 2017 playoffs pitching both times with ERA’s north of 6.00+.
When we studied film on Gonzalez from his last start compared to April starts he looked stiff coming around through his wind-up and was rushing to throw the next pitch. His velo was fine, but he wasn’t locating pitches. In the month of May, Gonzalez threw 88 curveballs out of 424 pitches during that month which was 20.8% of his pitches. On Monday, Gonzalez only threw 5 curveballs in total out of his 62 total pitches. Using his averages, he should have thrown 13 curveballs. Why did Gio throw so few curveballs? We would be ignorant to guess why.
How much further can you go with “bad Gio?” He has taxed the bullpen in the month of June with starts of 3 1/3, 4.0, and 1.0 innings of work. In those 3 games he didn’t even reach a complete 9-inning game combining those 3-starts.
The Nationals have almost a mirror image issue with Tanner Roark who is also struggling. If you look at Roark’s 2018 season, it is actually slightly better than his 2017 season. Yes, that’s a fact and neither is particularly good as he is above 4.25 on his ERA year over year.
The Nationals are 5-11 in Roark’s appearances this season. Roark at least helped the Nationals last year to a 16-16 record in his appearances. This year, the team is 36-26 when Roark isn’t pitching. The last two starts from Roark have been 4 1/3 and 4.0 innings of work. Like Gonzalez, he has stressed the bullpen in the month of June.
Roark’s situation seems very different from Gio’s body of work. Roark is worth a +0.5 fWAR although that could be debated as the definition is wins above replacement. It is not that hard to find a pitcher who could help his team go beyond 5-11 in wins and losses which is Roark’s record so far this season. The team is 9-7 in Gio’s starts and Gonzalez still has a +1.0 fWAR which is understandable since Gio had an amazing April and May.
Is the answer as simple as what other teams are doing and give these players a rest and reset to give their arms some rest? Both players seem to have some arm fatigue as their pitches just are not crisp. Some would say it is all mechanics. It certainly could be a combination of both, but clearly something is wrong. Why not game the system and get these pitchers some rest and see if they can resurrect their seasons and help the Nats win.
What did Tanner Roark last week say after his start?
“I stunk…,” Roark said. “Didn’t really have much working for me.”
It is time for the braintrust to get to work on this, but the most prudent thing to do might be to trade for a #3 pitcher to seed behind Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.