2012 Player Review: Michael Gonzalez
The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. Today we take a closer look at the other left-handed Gonzalez on the Nats pitching staff, Michael.
Every year, some teams make big splashes around the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, slinging prospects for superstars, or vice versa. The Nationals made one modest trade, landing catcher Kurt Suzuki, but one of their more intriguing pickups came well before then. In need of an extra reliever due to a bullpen thinned by injury early in the season, Washington took a flyer on veteran free agent lefty Michael Gonzalez.
While he flew under the radar much of the season – as non-closing relievers often do – Gonzalez played an integral role in Washington’s 2012 success. The 34 year-old found a home as both a lefty specialist and a high-pressure situational pitcher for the Nationals.
The Corpus Christi, TX native got off to a great start, as he did not allow a run in his first 11 appearances out of the bullpen and carried an ERA under 3.00 until the final week of the season. As expected for a southpaw with a sweeping delivery, he was particularly strong against left-handed hitters, holding them to just a .179/.257/.269 line with 23 strikeouts in 75 plate appearances. But it was his success in high leverage situations, the ones that often dictate the outcome of close games, where he truly shined.
Gonzalez was often called upon to get the Nationals out of jams, coming on with runners on base in the middle of innings. In his 47 appearances, he came on 18 times with a runner on base and 12 times with more than one. Of the 33 total basrunners Gonzalez inherited, only seven scored, meaning he stranded 26 of them (79%), the most of any Nationals reliever this past year. He also notched 39 strikeouts in just 35.2 innings of work, good for 9.8 K/9.0 IP.
Originally a 30th-round pick by the Pirates back in the 1997 Draft, Gonzalez has put together a solid 10-year Major League resume, with a career ERA of just 2.94 in nearly 400 innings, all out of the bullpen. As a free agent, it remains to be seen whether Gonzalez – who has also pitched for the Pirates, Braves, Orioles and Rangers – will return to the Nationals for the 2013 season.